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The Deaf Institute is unquestionably my favourite gig venue. Originally a Victorian deaf and dumb school which now houses upstairs, the perfect location to watch and listen to live music. The high ceilinged room allows for a full rich sound and along with the standing area to the left of the bar, there are wooden benches at the back, again dating to the original use creating an auditorium ideal for viewing. If this wasn’t enough, there’s also an additional elevated, enclosed gallery with an excellent position overlooking the stage and on the wall behind the bar there are rows of old amps, surely making this the coolest place you can imagine. 

There could be no better setting for tonight’s bands as there is a definite element of transportation back in time, perhaps even to the age of the retro wallpaper. Opening act, The Doozer is very hippy in appearance with long hair and beard, sat on a chair with a floral throw, slightly at odds with the garish track suit top and trainers.  The 60’s influences are nonetheless apparent from the opening song, especially due to the Indian Terang being played, which presents a similar sound to a Sitar recalling the days of Ravi Shankar. The Doozer represents a period in history when people wore flowers in their hair and all roads led to San Francisco and Woodstock as he continued the set accompanied by just a bass player. While I liked the overall laid back vibe and the bass in particular, the vocal was a touch monotonic and the chord structures appeared relatively simple with the same shape being employed, moving up and down the neck giving a basic rhythmical sound.  This seemed slightly strange after the skilful way in which The Doozer had played the Terang.  An interesting, but not overly inspiring beginning to the night proceedings    

The second act of the night contained a more familiar band structure, as Spectrals took to the stage.  The five piece are the brainchild of “L” according to their Last FM page and obviously from the North West of England based on his accent. The sound is once more entrenched in the 60’s and it’s suggested they encompass a world of rat pack flair and punk rock eye!! We all see ourselves very differently to the outside world I suppose.  Again, while inoffensive and being well received by the majority of the audience it just didn’t quite draw me in.  After initially acquiring my attention with their brand of jangly retro pop, my mind started to wander to thoughts of whether the bass player and keyboardist are an item, as the knowing glances and smiles may have suggested.

Up to two days ago, I had never heard of Woods, but after reading a press release stating, “They have established themselves as an anomaly in a world of freaks. They were an odd proposition even in the outré company of vocalist/ guitarist/ label owner Jeremy Earl’s Woodsist roster, perpetually out of time, committed to songsmanship in an age of noise, drone and improvisation, to extended soloing, oblique instrumentals and the usurping use of tapes and F/X in an age of dead-end singer- songwriters,” plus the fact they were recording a session with Marc Riley on 6 music just down the road tonight, how could I resist the relatively short drive into Manchester.  Only having time for a quick run through of a couple of their albums on Spotify, when the band arrives on stage I am virtually oblivious to the delights ahead.  Jeremy sports a lumberjack look, bearded with check shirt, although the comfortable shoes belie a more tender side. Jarvis on drums and guitar is unassuming in more  straightforward casual dress, but it’s both the appearance of Lucas and his instrument of choice that initially make me realise there is something ever so slightly untoward about to take place.  In front of Lucas is basically a box, which emerges as a double tape deck / mixer with guitar pedals on top, played (if that’s the correct word) by accessing the tapes manually creating soundscapes of noise.  Now that’s peculiar enough, but further to the box, Lucas is also wearing a pair of headphones.  That’s not strange I hear you cry...... and yes, generally the sight of someone wearing headphones in our ipod age is less than unusual, although for one headphone to be covering his mouth and the other resting at the back of his head, I would suggest is not particularly routine.  It soon transpires that Lucas has the headphones plugged into the box as a makeshift microphone to provide backing vocals and otherworldly sounds.


Woods are far from novelty however and the whole set is absolutely enthralling. Jeremy provides strong acoustic rhythms and employs a high pitched tone to his drenched in reverb vocal.  Jarvis imparts sterling support whether on drums or via his complex guitar work, which coupled with the weird and wonderful Lucas and his box of tricks bestows intriguing and compelling psychedelic folk upon the audience.  There’s little interaction with the crowd or much in the way of song titles being announced, which coupled with the lack of a set list purports to the fact I can enlighten little on the material played.  I did manage to recognise “Rain On” from “Songs of Shame,” and “Say Goodbye” from the earlier Marc Riley session.

If you do like a challenge musically and aren’t swayed by main stream, middle of the road fodder, I’d suggest you head to a Woods gig near you soon.  It’s a truly unforgettable experience.

Just one personal point I would like to make, something that is a real bugbear for me at gigs, especially those of the quieter more introspective nature.  I understand live music acts as a social occasion, but if you really want to talk all the way through, go and stand at the bar, don’t stand at the front where the vast majority, strangely enough, wish to hear the musicians.  In the mosh pit at Bo Ningen it wouldn’t matter, at Woods it does.  I don’t wear a t-shirt with “Won’t you shut the fuck up, I’m just trying to watch the band” for the hell of it.

Review/photos by Andy Barnes - video by Callum Barnes