The Bristol Fleece is an independent music venue, full of character with cold stone floors and a sprawling bar that runs the length of the venue. Peering down from behind the bar are posters of the faces of many an artist / band, who had also at one point played the relatively small Bristol venue on their way to far grander surroundings. Just like those predecessors – Oasis, Muse, Amy Winehouse, Coldplay, and Radiohead, February 11th saw six bands starting out on that same journey.
The evening is promoted by T.N.G. (The Next Generation) who are a charity organisation run by a couple of enthusiastic local school music teachers in Terry Moore and Kate Rossiter. The purpose is to offer opportunities to young up and coming bands to fine hone their skills before heading out into the main gigging circuit.
The venue was comfortably busy by the time the first band, Scarlett, took to the stage, giving an impressive tight performance, especially from their stand in drummer and lead singer Leigh Ayres, who held the audiences attention with his confident vocals and guitar work on his hand crafted guitar.
We Came As One were next to hit the stage, and were well received by the now packed venue, delivering their own mix of indie rock and slightly rockier numbers.
The bands kept coming and the quality and ability kept reaching a higher notch throughout the evening. Next on stage to rapturous applause was Speed Pistol, hailing from Chippenham, Wiltshire. They were Chris Hutchinson lead singer and songwriter, Alex Young – drummer, Ryan Bianchi – lead guitar, Elijah Spencer – guitar, and Stephen Pearce – bassist.
Speed Pistol displayed a thoroughly professional performance to show they meant to put rock and roll back into Chippenham. Maybe it was their calling as rock ‘n’ roll legend Eddie Cochran had met his demise in Chippenham in a car crash. There was certainly no need for emergency services as Speed Pistol careered through a blistering a varied set that offered a variety hints as to where their influences may lie.
There was a powerful push from rock acts like Velvet Revolver and Stone Temple Pilots, but there is also a nod towards some British acts like Oasis and with lead singer Chris Hutchinson often slumped over his mic stand and boot resting on a monitor at the front, the band have a front man who crooned Bowie-esque as he probably had many times before.
The five-piece displayed some really well crafted songs starting with one of their earlier songs, "Heartbreaker", before Hutchinson led his colleagues into action with their second number armed with a megaphone. "Up The Ante" took on addiction, before we were treated to the beautiful "Forgotten Age" written by Spencer, which slowly enveloped the audience and just as we felt this tranquillity would continue, the Wiltshire rockers smashed through, ripping up anything in their path.
Bianchi, decked in a black leather jacket and piercing eyes, gave a guitar performance to match some of the greats in rock, like Angus from AC/DC, but without the need to appear in shorts. During the set he worked the Speed Pistol guitar work alongside Elijah Spencer and his black Les Paul guitar.
"Lights On Dark Streets" saw things take on a far more funky feel with drummer Alex Young giving a demonstration in powerful drumming and Stephen Pearce’s fingers rampaging up and down through the frets on his electric blue bass guitar, causing the audience to move in time with the danceable repetitive rhythms.
By the time Speed Pistol finished their set with Velvet Revolver’s "Slither", those present knew that this band still had plenty more ammunition to suggest they will be holding up further venues with their brand of intelligent rock.
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Next up were Rival, with Joe Spilman on vocals and guitar again giving a great front man performance and some impressive Red Hot Chilli Peppers Flea-style funky baselines from Nathan Dorney.
Another band from Wiltshire, but this time from Trowbridge. Alternative punk band Essence of a Dilemma are Max Hall – Drums, Jodie Christie – Bass, Becca Smith – Vocals, and Marcus Gobby – Guitar.
Becca Smith is a lead singer not to be crossed as she made the stage her own, hitting each note with ease and setting out the ground before them. Guitarist Gobby stood transfixed with his guitar with his long fringe hanging over his face. Pretty and elegant Christie on bass – not that there was any fluffiness involved and her concentration and focus on what she was doing left no room for anything but the intense display from the music being conjured up. All of this being perfectly held together by the drumming of Hall, hidden behind the depths of his kit of tricks.
The songs were full of depth a meaning and in "Hidden Scars" the band were not afraid to even address the demons of child abuse. Other songs such as "Me and You" and "I’m Sorry" shone a light across a dark void as Smith gave an honest and personal performance to all those who would listen.
However, there was an underlying punk menace to the music and get too close, and the retribution back would be swift and final. This clearly displayed that within tracks like "Eye For An Eye" and "Stupid Cupid", which found Smith spitting venomous words through her mic, reminding us who was in charge.
The set hinted at influences from other bands, but did not seek to mimic and was evident within the audience, who remained varied in appearances and not those just wishing to seek out bands like Bullet For My Valentine, Paramore and Pretty Reckless.
Founding members Gobby and Smith have clearly worked this through; the equation appears to fit. It’s not going to be smooth or predictable – like fine Gothic or Bauhaus architecture / art, it is held together by some kind of unorthodox magic and this appears to be something Essence of a Dilemma have created and will look forward to unleashing further.
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The final band on stage for the evening was Taking Chances, who’s large audience had been given several hours over the evening to get into the mood and this meant they were up for what ever came next.
This was the band’s second appearance at The Bristol Fleece (QRO review of the first), and this time they returned with their drummer Justin Wilkinson, who had been forced to pull out from the last gig. The ranks had also been further swollen with Archie Hatfield joining on bass guitar, freeing up Sam Hughes to solely concentrate on his guitar and vocals. Finally, the down to earth coolness and calming appearance of Tim Brown on guitar, ensured things remained professional on stage.
The four from Portishead brought further variety to an already impressive evening with Speed Pistols no nonsense rock, Essence of a Dilemma’s darkness, and now the busy Fleece was treated to a speed fuzz pop punk – that has been passed down from those godfathers of the genre – The Ramones.
Taking Chances offered that element of cheekiness and fun that kept spilling out into the audience as regular comments and jokes were passed between audience and the band throughout the evening, bringing a relaxed atmosphere of a band who were relaxed in their surroundings.
Every band needs a misfit and with Hatfield, Taking Chances have theirs (whether he likes it or not). A large part of the audience was there to cheer him on. Hatfield played and toyed with those who leapt around in front of him, clearly enjoying the limelight and at times easing this away from front man Sam Hughes. The Sex Pistols had two very charismatic figures in Johnny Rotten and bassist Sid Vicious and as Taking Chances grow, it might be that there will be further stories to be told about these two at a later date.
However, the quality musicianship came from the accomplished guitar playing from Tim Brown and the breath taking drumming from Wilkinson, ensured that the set of old and new songs were well received. Since the bands last outing, they have become notably tighter, confident and their following growing at a rapidly increasing pace, means the band are certainly heading in the right direction.