It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and Venus Grrrls have just taken to the stage at Ramsgate Music Hall. The Leeds band are unknown to most of the audience, but it’s great to witness the venue already packed to the rafters. If this were a London gig, most of the paying crowd would still be in a nearby pub, or standing in the venue bar talking, and paying the musicians very little attention. The seaside crowd are often more thoughtful and, looking at the gathering tonight, this is no exception. It actually feels even more crowded than when Electric Six and Red Snapper played at the small venue at the end of 2021. At a time when people are still concerned about Coronavirus, or the cost of living has made casual nights out difficult for many, it’s a sight that really restores hope.
When the Levellers visited Margate on the ‘We The Collective’ tour in 2018, it coincided with one of the hottest days of the year. Dreamland’s Hall By The Sea was like an oven, but it didn’t stop the Saturday night crowd and the band giving their all. By comparison, their welcome return to the seaside town on a winter Wednesday couldn’t feel more different. Aside from the icy cold, inside and out, there’s not much in the way of obvious revelry. That’s understandable; most people are automatically more restrained on a “school night”, but its more than that. The global pandemic has given the slow return to gigs an uneasy atmosphere anyway, but this night has also been prefaced by Boris Johnson announcing another tightening up of restrictions, meaning that an already cagey mood is heightened by a nagging feeling that this big gathering might be the last for a while. Rather than using the night out cut loose in a carefree way, a lot of the assembled crowd seem rather tentative. It sort of makes sense. The world does feel like a powder keg. On the plus side, the unwelcome news – delivered in the Prime Minister’s usual bumbling fashion – has prompted someone on Twitter to liken him to a “sentient bag of custard”. The fact is, the world has changed since summer 2018. It might never be the same again. Nevertheless, Mark Chadwick, Jeremy Cunningham and company are here…and not before time.
This gig was supposed to take place in March 2020, so for many people it’s been a long wait. The delay has brought a couple of massive changes too. The planned ‘Peace’ tour – which would have showcased the then new album along with old favourites – has been replaced by the ‘Levelling The Land 30th Anniversary Tour’ and, due to unforeseen circumstances, guitarist/vocalist Simon Friend isn’t present. It could be argued that a full performance of the band’s career defining album will offer a superior set, but there’s no getting around the fact that Simon’s presence will be missed by many.
As November breathes its last, the changing weather has been a keen reminder that we’re moving from autumn into winter. Parts of Britain are being battered by strong winds; other parts are experiencing snow. Luckily, the Kent coast seems to have escaped the white stuff – for now – but it’s cold. Very cold. Outside the Music Hall in Ramsgate, it feels like the arctic, and those venturing out could feel like Captain Oates. To be fair, everyone has been – and will be – subjected to far colder, but a year’s worth of not going out much due to the global pandemic has made it seem particularly harsh. It’s worth braving the cold tonight, though, as Detroit’s Electric Six are in town as part of a last minute addition to their UK tour.
Goodbyes can be drawn out. None more so than the arrival of Martin Rossiter’s farewell London show. The ex-Gene frontman’s final curtain call was originally set to take place in June 2020, but it shifted date – and venue – more than once, before finally settling into its final resting place at the Kentish Town Forum in November 2021. At this point, larger gigs still haven’t made a full return following months of Covid related restrictions and cancellations so, understandably, for some, this night comes with a certain amount of unease. Fortunately, Rossiter quickly puts that right, firstly with a self-curated playlist in place of a traditional support band (his choice of tunes, heavily weighted to rarer Northern Soul bangers is excellent) and then the main event.
It’s approximately 8.25 at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Jim Bob has not long finished an excellent acoustic set and Alice Cooper is bellowing ‘Hello, Hooray’ across the PA system. Whether or not this choice of between set music has been chosen deliberately or is just a welcome coincidence remains to be seen. However, its lyric concerning letting the show begin and pulling in the audience is certainly apt. Tonight, the near capacity crowd are very keen…and – in some cases – especially so, since they’ve got a good idea of the night’s set list. Stourbridge’s finest, The Wonder Stuff, have promised that their first two albums – 1988’s ‘The Eight Legged Groove Machine’ and 1989’s ‘Hup’ – will be played in full. These are albums that still mean the world to most of The Stuffies’ loyal fanbase. They’re also albums that have the potential to be enjoyed by listeners who might not have connected with them that first time around. More than just nostalgia, the coming set is automatically geared towards fantastic songs. High spirits and a lot of crowd singing are both guaranteed.