An insane battle with roadworks, diversions and sat nav mischief meant that we didn’t get to the gig until the group were taking the stage. The once proud old town hall had a great atmosphere of decaying beauty, with its impressive staircase and elegant tiles, and some real rootsy touches like the big “Boxing Club” sign on the wall. Given the political edge of most of the night’s music, it was hard not to reflect on the maligned Victorian capitalists who at least felt some civic pride in putting their names to libraries and other public buildings; unlike the current band of elite gangsters plundering our heritage and giving nothing back. Okay, rant over! The venue and a committed audience made for a promising atmosphere, and with a real “Romeo & Juliet” style balcony providing a perfect platform for Inga’s projections and visuals, everything was set up for a good night. But with pleasure there’s often loss too, and tonight it came with the news that it was to be violinist extraordinaire Chris Brierley’s last show with the Band. He can take the instrument to places I didn’t know existed - listen to his playing on the Butterfly album for proof, Holy Joy’s “Forever Changes”, if I may be so bold.
‘Forever changes’ in fact describes the Holy Joy ethic pretty accurately, with a new younger line-up making a fresh and joyous sound. James S Finn switched from bass to lead guitar, and looked like he was enjoying himself, especially with some cool Curtis Mayfield-style choppy riffing. Indeed, there was a kind of funk and swing to the sound tonight that I hadn’t heard before, along with a dense, kinda industrial, Can-like throbbing undertow generated by the layers of keyboards. Casper Ziemanis’ ‘noise’ had a distinctly “Phantom of the Paradise” feel to it, which tallied well with the stained glass windows and pulsating projections (the eyeballs were especially effective - see photo). Meanwhile Bill Lewington and new bassman Conor Harrington kept everything tight at the back, although I’m still trying to work out how Bill made those Albert Hall kettle drums noises on “I Have Travelled the Buses Late At Night” (one of the strongest new tracks, and one I was really happy to hear done live).
There was a real sense of release from the group at being able to play the ‘City Of Tales’ material live at last, and naturally the set concentrated on the albums, along with a couple of oldies (“Capture My Soul” and “Rosemary Smith“) - and just to prove the night’s theme of moving on, two completely new songs - “When a Gift Is a Curse” (introduced with wry George Best allusion from Johny). Like the group itself, some of the new material is already evolving and changing, with the opening salvo of five “City of Tales” tracks making a real statement of intent. By the end of the set, the small stage was packed with musicians making a joyously pulsating noise, with a sweat-drenched Johny Brown grinning from ear to ear, while label boss Johnny Mugwump danced away with the stagefront throng. Meanwhile the “City of Tales” project is already evolving and expanding, initially with videos to accompany the songs (go to www.bandofholyjoy.co.uk) and downloadable pamphlets. The ripples will spread out further in the form of readings, events and any other media suited to the fight against the “economic cleansing” we’re being subjected to - so hopefully we won’t be waiting a year for the next live action from the revitalised Band of Holy Joy.
All that remained on this sultry Saturday night was a final burst of sat nav psychosis and running the gauntlet of weekend boy racers and cops, trapped in glass and concrete finance house canyons - it all felt just right, somehow…
Line Up: Chris Brierley – Violin, James S Finn – Guitar, Cacper Ziemanis – Noise, Conor Harrington – Bass, Inga Tillere – Visuals, Peter Smith - Keyboards, Sax & Vocals, Bill Lewington – Drums, Johny Brown – VocalsReview by Den Browne