Review: Thee Hypnotics – Hare And Hounds, Birmingham April 6 2018

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Believe me, I know only too well the saying “if it’s too loud you’re too old”, but even by that yardstick, this registers fairly high on the decibel scale. And, naturally, within the confines of a heaving and adrenalised Hare & Hounds, one feels it all the more: thankfully, however, it’s the dirty, swollen, wah-wah infused, throbbing swamp blues loudness (as opposed to the piercing high-pitched screams favoured by My Bloody Valentine, God, Whitehouse etc) that was always – at least until their Stonesier period, anyway – par for the course with Thee Hypnotics, so it’s actually fine by me. Indeed, had tonight sounded any different, there would probably have been a riot.

In the two decades since their split, much has changed: axe-wielder Ray Hanson has become an audio-visual artist, Big Phil Smith spends more time behind the teacher’s desk than the drum kit, and Jim Jones, of course, has gone on to far greater success than ever imaginable with Black Moses, the Revue and most recently The Righteous Mind. In fact, so entrenched are all three key members in their new careers, one might easily have been forgiven for thinking this entire reunion didn’t even need to happen. Yet, paradoxically, it had to happen- not least of all because since their TS Eliot-style dissolution, there really hasn’t been one UK band capable of replacing them. Granted, some 18 months after their passing, the London scene was suddenly overrun with skinny-trousered, twatty little beat combos citing the very same Detroit, Frisco and Noo Yawk influences the High Wycombe quartet had namechecked since day one – but none of them possessed the Hyps’ fire, urgency, power or genuine love of music. More importantly, had Jones and his cohorts still been around then, they would have devoured and shat out most so-called ‘garage revivalists’ before breakfast.

It seems only befitting, then, following a thwacking dosage of dirty blues-punk from local support Black Bombers (featuring ex-Gunfire Dance/Steppin Razors bassist Birchy Birch, whose DJ sets at the long-lamented Stay Sick Club were more influential on the teenage me than you’d ever know) and some fine inter-set disc-spinning from local legend Percy, that the three veterans (ably aided by new bassist Jeremy Cottingham) choose to crash the stage with the two-fingered assault campaign of Soul Trader and Heavy Liquid. Within just eight minutes, normal service has resumed, causing the intervening years to vanish in a Berber-carpeted puff of seditionary smoke: true, Jones’ vocals are a little low in the mix to begin with, but by the time we hit Come Down Heavy, he’s snarling like his old self, thrusting his snakehips ‘twixt drumkit and Orange amp and brandishing maracas like an extra in a Forties voodoo movie. Meanwhile, to his left, Hanson – Buckinghamshire’s very own Ron Asheton – morphs variously into something between a liquid panther and the lesser-known Satanic Clanger they never allowed on kids’ TV, playing not so much an instrument as an explosive weapon. Thee cult is alive.

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Admittedly, having known him personally for years, it’s actually quite bizarre to see the bloke I’ve been down the pub with suddenly morph back into the entity that used to stare at me from the pages of Kerrang!, Sounds and Melody Maker: yet on the flipside, this is also the Jim I missed out on first time round (not precisely sure why, but I did) and thus, also, the last vital part of the jigsaw. Moreover, it seems I’m not the only one here to whom this applies: despite many a high-profile support slot and a rabid following ranging from Mods to crusties, the early Nineties rock scene (particularly in this ass-kissing, trend-following country) simply wasn’t ready for a band who existed in some alternate netherworld where Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, James Brown, Sly, Iggy, Rob Tyner, Brian Jones, Killer Kane, Dickie Petersen, Dave Brock, Lee Brilleaux, Paul Kossoff, Mick Farren and Viv Prince all jammed together in deviant harmony, so now, there’s a lot of catching up to be done. And from the looks of determination on their faces, they know that as much as we do.

Sure, the fuzz-dripping throb of Hanson’s stringwork, coupled with the ominous, looming bass sound (duplicated perfectly by Cottingham on Kissed By The Flames and Choose My Own Way) made them an ideal shoe-in for grunge, and indeed, both Mudhoney and Tad worshipped them – but even so, they were always too rock’n’roll for the plaid shirt generation. Hell, they’re too rock’n’roll for this generation: at least four ‘younger’ punters both look and sound extremely nonplussed by the straight-down-the-line Dollzy sleaze of All Night Long and Girl’s All Mine, and again, I find myself at a loss trying to imagine a contemporary act – at least, one who aren’t Swedish – capable of such carefree, gadfly insurrection. Or, conversely, crowd-baiting antagonism: if they spot a lull, particularly during the slower, bluesier moments, they don’t let it go unmentioned for long, and though stoic behind his traps, Smith is just as vocal as the frontman in his exertions of “come on Birmingham, this is supposed to be the birthplace of heavy rock!!” A gauntlet which, when thrown down to a West Midlands audience, will be very quickly grabbed with both hands.

Of course, even today, there are some fans who still don’t quite get it – to a certain contingency, there’s always been something vaguely questionable about three middle-class white guys from the Home Counties (and one re-naturalised Canadian) yelling out things like “preach!”, “testify!”, “righteous” and “brother!” with unabashedly straight faces, and sure enough, as Jones ends Nine Times with his by-now-customary calls to arms of “fuck the fascists!! Fuck the racists!! Fuck the establishment!! Fuck the Tories!! Fuck capitalism!!” there is the odd mutter of “I’ll have me ticket money back then” and other similar bon mots from the more stereotypically geezerish attendees lurking at the back. But if ever a band should be permitted to say such things, it’s Thee Hypnotics – not only do they truly mean it, but their unwillingness to toe lines, swallow bullshit, drink the Kool-Aid or suck corporate cock has always fated them to stand alone as British rock’s true outsiders.

And, in 2018, some 33 years after they first strutted their velveteen, winkle pickered stuff, they still dwell perpetually outside the mainstream – something which I personally wouldn’t have any other way. As the parting declamations of Shakedown, Revolution Stone and a ten-minute-plus Justice In Freedom (thank fuck my plus 1 shelled out for a cab, the buses stop quite early round here) singe off what’s left of my unsightly ear-hairs, it’s reassuring to know that within this most fabled of Brumbeat venues still beats the heart of something decadent, misty and deliciously rotten. If only I could just remember where I put the intervening 25 years since I last set foot in it – the same length of time, ironically, since the release of the band’s aural parting shot The Very Crystal Speed Machine then I’d be even happier. Who is that grey-haired withered old bastard in the mirror anyway?

DARIUS DREWE

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