Review: Bang / Gorilla / Brule – Borderline, London April 16 2016

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Somewhere along the line, there’s been an awful cock-up. Either (a) legendary Scots heavy-proggers Iron Claw never fully confirmed their appearance to begin with, thus rendering all subsequent advertising extremely misleading, or (b) a breakdown of communications occurred somewhere along the way between them and the promoters- but whichever way you look at it, they’re not here. A shame for many who had travelled (some from abroad) with the intent of seeing them, but when dealing with a band whose average age is somewhere between 65 and 70, also par for the course.

The upside of this is that after openers Brule have plied their trade in powerful-if-uncertain doom (that’s uncertain as in ‘whether to go for full-on early 70s Pentagram-style occult retro or remain somewhere betwixt the late-80s vibes of The Obsessed and Candlemass’, but they’ll work it out eventually) we’re treated to an unexpected treat in the shape of Gorilla. Having long believed them defunct following frontman Johnny Redfern’s unexpected latterday success with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, their energized, light-hearted yet heavy-ended Marriott-meets-Motorhead approach is a welcome trip down memory lane: most of all, even in spite of Redfern’s notoriously grumpy demeanour, they seem touched with genuine joy at being on the same bill as one of their favourite bands (and most easily discernible influences) and the resulting enthusiasm makes for a far more enjoyable viewing experience than some of their frankly bad-tempered 00s shows did.

Then again, who wouldn’t be happy to be on the same bill as Bang, making their first ever appearance on UK soil? This is the kind of gig which, years from now, umpteen self-aggrandising legend-builders will claim to have attended- and frankly, tonight, nothing short of a full-blown Bloodrock reunion could top the feeling of shared expectation. More to the point, they sound exactly the same as they did on record in 1971, and are still tight as fuck- which, considering the amount of extremely disappointing reunions I’ve witnessed this decade (er, Dr Strangely Strange, anyone?) is quite an achievement. Of the trio, only the youthful drummer is a non-original: his exuberance behind the traps is quite possibly the secret to their renewed vigour (often the case these days- witness how revitalised the Pretty Things have become since the three veteran members added a triumvirate of fiery twentysomethings) yet guitarist/vocalist Frankie Gilcken and bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara are no slouch either, attacking each number with a swagger uncommon in most musicians over 60.

Whilst Ferrara, still sporting the long hair and tressed leather so beloved of the early 70s, remains outwardly the rocker, Gilcken, in a red roll-neck, a pair of beige trooz one could easily don for an afternoon’s golfing (more Bing than Bang, maybe?) and a haircut not unlike that of the Standells’ Larry Tamblyn, comes across more as a distinguished senior garage head; in this regard, the roots of all American rock’n’roll between 1965 and 75 are laid bare, and several barriers broken. Yet it’s Gilcken, perhaps surprisngly, who still possesses the higher, banshee-like range to counter Ferrara’s now-slightly-gruffer vocal: just as on the records, the likes of Lions Christians, Future Shock and Idealist…Realist are sung in ghostly, faux-English harmonies that emulate ‘for real’” the double-tracking FX favoured by Ozzy on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath as much as they do the genuine duets of Lennon & McCartney. In fact, it’s the very juxtaposition of this top-line with heavier, dirgier riffing and flailing, Moon-like rhythms that very much forms the basis of the ‘Bang sound’ as we know it: undiluted by time yet sounding every inch the work of a contemporary band, it’s a refreshing alternative to 90 percent of the diluted crap today’s rock scene currently has to offer.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the show, though, is that for once, the audience is entirely hipster-free: sure, they may flock in droves to Dalston venues like the Alibi or Hand Of Glory to faux-enjoy some man-bunned pillock of a DJ spinning this stuff, and will immediately drape themselves for five minutes at a time over newer bands (Wodun, All Them Witches) that reference ‘occult rock’ or ‘hauntology’ but here in Soho, a good three miles from their comfort zone and with a ticket price low enough to be fair yet still prohibitive enough to literally ‘sort the men from the boys’, they’re nowhere to be seen, leaving the enjoyment for once to a room full of genuine fans. There are also far more here tonight than I’ve seen before at other similar gatherings (Leaf Hound, Incredible Hog, even Blue Cheer) – admittedly, a fair few of us may be on the guest list, but it must still be encouraging for the band to receive such a rapturous reception. In short, we do exist after all- it’s just a shame we don’t show up more often.

Granted, in an age where the whole  world and their cat are either (a) namedropping ‘classic rock’, (b) pretending The Wicker Man is their favourite film and prancing round pop-up pagan festivals in urban car parks birching each other with twigs, (c) appropriating ‘occult’ imagery from early 70s exploitation films or (d) donning off-the-peg hippy threads at the behest of any one of a dozen coke-addled fash mags, one could be easily forgiven for proclaiming that such ‘cult’ interests now mean little or nothing.  Yet when a band like Bang- happily ensconced in their home state for the last 45 years getting on with the business of rock’n’roll, entirely removed from all trends and fashions and clearly unaware of the difference betwixt a sigil, a vigil and Virgil – ride into town, all those connotations fall away as you remember the reasons why you got into this stuff in the first place.

In a way, the fact that they clearly have no occult leanings of their own, yet are still capable of conjuring such dark atmospheres (not to mention summoning a crowd best described as ‘the cast of Dracula AD 1972 catapulted forward 42 years’) is the ultimate irony: while they may not have the mystique of a Pentagram or (obviously) a Sabbath, the band, their fans and even the clothes worn tonight are every inch the genuine article. Likewise, the riffs, the tunes, the magic and the mystery within are everything your average post-punk, indie-schmindie, received-wisdom-fed music press hack, culture snob or post-modern ‘ironist’ never dug, never will dig, and will never allow themselves to understand  about the mysterious and fascinating world of heavy rock. Aren’t you glad you’re not one of them?

So mote it be.

DARIUS DREWE

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