Yes, you read that correctly – Live Review. My first socially-distanced gig, She Drew The Gun, at the opening event of an exciting new venue – Future Yard – in beautiful, downtown Birkenhead. So come along, don’t dawdle, we’ve a lot to get through.
Firstly a few words about the venue. The Future Yard project started out last year as a two day music festival showcasing emerging talent from Merseyside, North Wales and beyond. The draw of artists such as Anna Calvi, Working Men’s Club and local favourite Bill Ryder-Jones ensured the event was a success and proved that there was an appetite for live music on the Wirral that need sating. It was decided that a permanent live music venue needed to be created; but not just any venue, a venue with a social conscience and sense of community. The venue is designed to be carbon neutral, attendees are encouraged to walk or cycle to events, even the drinks are produced by local independent firms like Glen Affric and Love Lane Breweries (and are sensibly priced). It’s all very impressive.
Secondly, I promised a few people that I would discuss the ‘Social Distancing’ aspect of the gig and how it works. On first viewing, it appears to work extremely well. It all starts before you even enter the venue. Tickets are sold in groups of up to four people – your ‘pod’. All members of your pod have to arrive together. Each group is given a staggered arrival time to avoid congestion. Face masks are compulsory when you go through the door. On arrival you enter what I could only describe as a sort of ‘departure lounge’ area (I have a feeling that this area originally had another purpose which will become apparent in the future). Once there, your group stand on an allotted ‘green X’, there was a short video presentation, and once all the Xs are filled a team member comes in and gives a short safety talk before your group is lead to their dedicated table. Tables are spaced out and an area is marked on the floor for you to stand in. Once in this area you can take your mask off. Drinks are ordered via an app and brought to you by visored waiters almost as soon as you press ‘Buy’. There was even a tennis-umpire style lavatory monitor sat in a high chair operating an ‘In-Out’ board to maintain safe numbers in the toilets. Everything worked seamlessly and punters appeared to have no problems with limited restrictions placed upon them.
And finally, to the gig itself. Singer, writer and guitarist, Louisa Roach is the multi-talented driving force behind She Drew The Gun. For tonight’s thoroughly entertaining, and hugely enjoyable set, she is joined by the energetic Lucy Styles on keyboards, guitar and expressionist dance moves; the wonderfully named Jimmy Moon on rhythm guitar; Jack Turner on bass; and finally tucked away in the corner at the back, Jim Sharrock on drums. If that last name rings a bell (or cymbal) it’s because Jim is a relative of Chris Sharrock drum-meister with The Icicle Works and World Party, and any number of bands that has included one or more of the Gallagher brothers.
The set started strongly with two songs which highlight Roach’s versatility as a writer and a performer. The powerful Resister, a song whose driving, electronic beat always puts me in mind of Simple Minds’ I Travel; and the stunning Something For The Pain, a song that drips with 60’s sounding guitar riffs and whirling, psychedelic, Hammond organ style keyboards. Both songs were greeted with as much enthusiasm as a crowd denied access to live music for 6 months could generate.
Before the third song Arm Yourself, the unassuming Roach greets the limited capacity audience of 60 (full capacity under ‘normal’ conditions will be around 350) with the words ‘Welcome to the Near Future’ a reference to the title Future Yard are giving to their socially distanced set of gigs. This an apt description of how our gig-going experiences are going to pan-out.
The middle of the set featured the haunting and beautifully delivered Since You Were Not Mine and a couple of songs where Roach uses her powerful lyrics to express her passionately held political position. Paradise is a moody, dramatic piece attacking the capitalist ‘Paradise’ that we live in. Trouble Every Day has a blues start to it but Roach’s vocals hint at something deeper and then the beat kicks in. The song contains some of my favourite Roach lyrics about rioting crowds and admonishes the establishment for their actions: ‘Cats up in the boardroom should be going straight to hell’ and ‘The Holy Church of England (who)still have them shares in Shell’.
A vibrant set finishes with Russian Doll, a song which sounds like a Bond Theme in waiting and one which Roach tells the crowd was written in anticipation of Jodie Comer being announced as the next 007, and a reprise of Resister.
Having been denied access to live music for so long there was no way the crowd were going to leave it there. The encore consisted of Roach reciting an as yet unnamed poem extolling the virtues of local independent music venues over corporate spaces sponsored by fizzy lager companies, where you can drink that sponsors product from a plastic glass for £5 a throw (literally in most places). The night ended with a vibrant cover of The Beloved‘s classic-Sweet Harmony that, if I didn’t have the crowd dancing in the aisles, certainly had them rocking in their pods.
Overall, once the crowd got used to their new restrictions you definitely got that real gig feeling about the event. We’re not going to back to ‘normality’ any time soon and Future Yard and She Drew The Gun have certainly pointed the way forward. It’s not ideal, but it was enjoyable and real and beats the hell out of sitting on a raised platform in a field or being sat in a car on airfield miles away from a band.
In Birkenhead, I’ve had a glimpse of the future.