The Novus Explode at their Secret Show in Birmingham!
Now I am a newcomer to the Birmingham music scene. Which means I’m like a kid a sweetshop and liable to get a little giddy each time I see each new element in the myriad of local talent. But it’s clearly not just me who is feeling a palpable sense of excitement and hope in the air at the moment.
Which makes it even more important that the emerging scene – if that’s what it is – produces not just bands and music but significant events. Providing a fulcrum, rallying point and impetus for all involved. Sugarthief’s EP launch was one such event. With it’s sense of coronation around the band’s local achievements mixed with, I felt, a fond farewell for a band clearly seeking and deserving wider horizons.
The Novus’ secret party has been another. The build-up having been over several weeks as the band have grasped the fundamental point of Independent music, owning and driving everything from date, location to the line-up. It’s all about agendas and this seems to be The Novus making a statement about theirs. Be the change indeed.
All of which brings us to Muther’s Studio. An incredible little warren of bars, venue and (presumably) recording rooms. All decked out in a cool and at times quirky decor. Somehow, having an ultra-cool place like this tucked away in the desolate industrial and retail space south of The Bullring, and behind a huge warehouse called Barry’s Fabrics, seems to me to be peak Brum. Even the entrance is perfect, the buzzer entry giving the place a Speakeasy feel. I, for one, think this should be replicated at all small gig venues.
If a bunch of bands is to become a movement they need to support and nurture their young and so it seems fitting that Watermark kick off proceedings. Raw and energetic, their Britpop soaked sound is driven by some nifty guitar work and a lively and confident performance from their singer. I actually preferred their own songs to their covers and I’ll look forward to hearing more of them as they develop.
By now Muther’s is both warming and filling up. What follows next is an intriguing half-hour or so in the company of Birmingham three-piece Tall Stories. Their avowed intent is to make noisy music, something they achieve with comfort but which also slightly undersells what they are doing. Yes, they do indeed make a fine, loud noise with just guitar, bass and drums but it is a structured, articulate noise. They seem perpetually on the brink of letting rip but always just hold back and are happy to contain the crashing riffs and rhythms and build a dense, layered tension.
The band are seemingly content with smouldering on a long fuse and the effect is enthralling. They finish off with their newly released first single Lost in Translation, already surely one of the debuts of the year and one I must have listened to about 50 times over the weekend. It also highlights their potential ace in the hole, being one of the occasions when the lighter and cooler backing vocals of the drummer blends perfectly with the darker noises elsewhere. This is something that could maybe define their sound.
I’m not sure what was agreed with Young Garbo tonight as the only out-of-towners on the hand-picked bill. I imagined that they were invited to simply support The Novus, not descend on Birmingham like a bunch of marauding Welsh Vikings set on sacking the place.
Yet you quickly learn a few thing about Young Garbo – first, that they do what they want, second that they do it in an uncompromising and ebullient manner and, third, that they do it superbly well. They kick in with their first song and it’s vicious, blues-tinged guitar immediately replies me of The Folk Devils, a short-lived band who blazed and burned up in the face of their own intensity. From this inflammatory start they follow with a rampant set of shambling, attitude-led Indie that evokes a lineage from the likes of The Fall and The Mekons right through to Cabbage.
They are boisterous, funny and hyperactive and their demeanour alone warrants their place here tonight, even before you consider the effect on the crowd of their unpredictable and ultra-addictive tunes sparking off like tracer bullets in all directions, their songs covering social commentary from Saturday night activities to Lloyd George’s sexual habits. Nothing sums up their attitude of irreverence more than an extended romp through Abba’s Voulez-Vous that takes in so many diversions and goes down so many lyrical side-roads it’s a wonder they ever manage to bring it to a halt. Young Garbo have played an absolute blinder tonight, no wonder The Novus trusted in them to set up the night to a tee.
All of which leaves just one question remaining for the night and it’s whether The Novus live up to their billing amidst the rising expectation, and self-inflicted pressure, of the evening (plot spoiler: they did – well, what did you seriously expect?).
They have the start of their sets off to a tee by now but it still takes the breath away to hear the searing, frankly vicious guitar sound and see Connor sweep on to the stage as his band-mates pivot and twist as they apparently grapple with what they are unleashing. The impact is extraordinary and immediate. Post-Modern Fairytale, the musical equivalent of launching napalm across the stage, is less an opening number and more a manifesto with its beseeching, pointed lyrics reminding that politics starts within your self.
In fact, for all the glorious and unremitting movement on stage, some of the more compelling moments are when Connor leans over the audience and fixes them with a wide-eyed, mascara-rimmed stare. At these moments he is one part old-style preacher, one-part Marxist polemicist and one-part Shepherd, entreating with his flock to think, to act, to believe.
The mayhem continues and by the time Man On The Bridge comes round the band are confident enough to play with the crowd, the intro sounding half the speed of the recorded version and the rest of it bursting out like a breached dam. By this time the audience, of which Connor is an increasingly regular member as the set goes on, are in any case absolutely gone – in complete bits – and are leaping around with pure, unadulterated glee.
In fact, there’s an incongruous relationship between The Novus and their audience. The band seemingly want to warn them of the perils of a forthcoming dystopian future while the crowd just want to party and appear in complete adulation of the spectacle on stage. I think we might be heading for a peculiar sort of Novus summer of love, one full of joyous laughter and passion and simultaneously draped in black.
For not just their blistering set but the whole event, this was an agenda set and a statement made in the most emphatic manner – a triumph in fact. Well played lads.
Words by Paul Moreau