Monday 26 February 2018

Control Of The Going / Katie O'Malley / Hey Bulldog / Vanity Box / Slack Alices - Altrincham Honey Beat / Ashton-Under-Lyne Witchwood - 23/24th February 2018

Control Of The Going launched their debut album I Love You, But It's Going To Rain with two very different shows over the weekend. On Friday they travelled the length of the Metrolink network from their home of Ashton-Under-Lyne to Altrincham to play the first-ever in-store at the town's fabulous new vinyl cafe Honeybeat, before returning home in triumph on Saturday night to the legendary Witchwood venue closer to home. Support came from Katie O'Malley in Altrincham and Slack Alices, Vanity Box and Hey Bulldog in Ashton.

Opening the show in Altrincham is Katie O'Malley and whilst the singer-songwriter is involved in other projects, it's her solo work that is for us the most compelling. This stripped right back setting is the perfect environment to hear the way she squeezes every last drop of emotion out of the words she's singing. Her own songs like Eyes Of A Woman, Dawn Chorus and What You Need are beautifully crafted songs, delivered from the heart and with a voice that holds the audience's attention rapt.

Control Of The Going are for one night only a three piece as they deliver a six-song acoustic set. It's a big deal for them to lose half the band and a lot of what makes their songs work in a live environment, but whilst many bands might fall down in this situation, the quality of the songs and the way Liam, Matt and Tom perform them means that we can a very exclusive insight into how these songs are constructed. What they reveal is that whilst songs like You're Mine, Family and Love You More have blossomed, grown wings and flown in the studio, the very genesis of them is simple, but no less affecting.

The intimate space and set-up that Honeybeat have created is a perfect environment for this. She is a million miles away from the song that's kicked off a wave of interest in the band, but the close-up feel of the night makes us see it in a different light as Liam's voice feels lighter of touch than when he's fighting three guitars, a bass, drums and keys to be heard. There's a longing, almost inquisitive, tone to it that has hearts melting.

Fast forward twenty four hours and we're at the other extreme of the Metrolink line on the dark streets of Ashton-Under-Lyne. Hidden in the back of an assuming boozer that's survived new buildings going up around it over time is the Witchwood's music room. There's so many stories that could be told of gigs that went on here over the years, but the decline in live music attendance in towns and its polarisation to the big city down the track and other forms of Saturday night entertainment taking over means it's normally home to circuit tribute acts to keep afloat. This is a travesty as the room would be celebrated as one of the city's finest if we picked it up and dropped it somewhere in the Northern Quarter. The sound, lights and atmosphere at the gig merely confirm this.

First up after a delay starting are Ashton's own Slack Alices, a band that's far from lacking in confidence in their own ability, instructing us "this is the part where you clap" after the opening song and telling us we're not loud enough after the first and offering us the opportunity to follow them around the country. For most of the set that confidence is justified too as their songs are spiky, urgent blasts of adrenaline that dart from place to place and never stand still. fronted by Zach Davies, whose presence is an imposing one and whose voice he often uses as a voice, throwing shapes and adding shade to the songs rather than just singing them straight.

They don't hang around either, eleven songs lasting half an hour, each packing a very different punch to them, including a frantic cover of Buddy Holly's Oh Boy which they make their own and even fitting in a Happy Birthday to Zach's Dad and giving us a laugh between songs on the way with some irreverent humour. We liked them.

Next on are Nottingham's Vanity Box, a band hand-picked by the Control Of The Going lads, and they've brought an impressive following with them. They trade in big anthemic songs that have you involuntarily tapping your feet or more to them as they're laden with big hooks and soaring choruses throughout. They set their stall out with opening track Don't Go Out There which gives them a high benchmark to try and reach for the rest of their half hour.

Having been together over eight years, they're already an accomplished live band that understand the value of the structure of a song and the likes of Something On You and These Are The Times are prime examples of how they can lift an audience up and take it with them. Unpretentious, not trying to be something they're not, it's an impressive set with the only issue we'd have is that they finish with a cover of Oasis's Morning Glory which they don't do justice to, when they've probably got, judging by the strength of what they've played before, a whole bunch of their own songs that would fit the bill.

This feels like the perfect place for Hey Bulldog. We've seen them play in venues where the sound doesn't do their craft justice and where they're playing with us six feet in front of us in plain sight. Tonight The Witchwood's sound, whilst loud as hell, also allows us to hear the detail in everything they do and the mix of lights and a zealous smoke machine provide them with a fuzzy backdrop through which they can deliver their art. And artists is exactly what Hey Bulldog are, they both make an unholy noise for a three piece, but right at the core of it is an absolutely mastery of their instruments, something that usually results in naval gazing of the highest order, but not for them.

Whilst Al Lupo, Under My Spell and Divide And Conquer might allow them to demonstrate just how prolific they are. Without a tune that talent is nothing, but as those three songs show it's not something that Hey Bulldog need to address. No Future II, and Rob's keyboards, harks back to a bygone age where doom-laden keyboard-driven songs were at the very core of their home city's musical outpourings, but they do it looking forward rather than back. It's the best we've seen them play and the response they get confirms that for us.

It is Control Of The Going's night though and there's a party atmosphere by the time they take to the stage. They open with The Message, a two-part song that straddles the two sides of the album before going straight into the album's opening track War Crime. Whilst the album shows a step up in Control Of The Going's game, they've transferred that to the live stage too. They've ditched some of the garish outfits and look more the part for it, looking more like a gang than they ever did. It's something that evident (most importantly) in the music too; these songs have them locking themselves into a groove and letting the melodies and harmonies that run through them take control. You're Mine feels like the perfect psychedelic love song with Liam as the romantic hero.

Their progression as a band is demonstrated by the return to the setlist of Day By Day. It didn't make the album cut and hasn't been played for as long as we can remember, but it feels like it could be the base of the next record. That and Wild Flower that follows it are no less well known to those down the front though and the bond between the band and their audience is cemented by Family. They're joined by Rob from Hey Bulldog who co-wrote the song with them, and he's invited on stage to play it. It is a song of community and of love and there's a lot of that in the room for a band that have fought against the odds for the last year and a half. Dedicated to "all of you, you're part of the family" its message is clear "music, rock and roll, you just saved my soul."

Love You More has a similar uplifting feel that has the audience hugging each other through the part smoke machine part alcohol fueled fog that's enveloped the stage and room. At points you can hardly see them other than shadows, but you can certainly hear them, the melodies, the backing vocals that elevate the song into the stratosphere before it rushes off into the breakdown and Liam ends up in the crowd with us fulfilling his wish "to watch my own band." Clouds, Sell Your Soul and Save Your Memories might be newer songs in terms of the live set as they play for close to an hour rather than their usual half-hour slots, but such is their confidence and precision these days. The latter takes the mood down a little, its claustrophobic feel accentuated as the smoke swirls around us, until it bursts into glorious light at just the right moment.

They finish their main set with Star, one of the album's many highlights and a clear live favourite judging by the response it gets. The repetitive loop of the hook feels like it's swirling round the room and lifting everyone up, including the band, as Liam sings "I want you to be my star." They're not done though of course and no one is leaving until they've played She, the song that has stepped the game up for them. It's a piece of timeless majesty, driven along by a relentless energy that feels like it's insatiable. The audience lose themselves in it, Liam and Ashley's mum crowdsurfing at one point, as if this is their success as well as the band's and in many ways it is as those lyrics to Family express.

It's been a privilege to watch this six-piece grow from scrappy beginnings, eager but with a lack of focus into where they are today. They've produced an album beyond our wildest expectations, one that stands above many of the bands we've stood in a crowd with them watching who they looked up to as heroes. They've got there through hard work and perseverance and the support of family and friends and this gig was a crowning glory, the end of one phase and the start of something else.

Control Of The Going are on FacebookTwitter and Soundcloud.

Read our interview with them about the album here.

Our review of the album can be found here and Liam's story about the recording of it here.

The album is released digitally and on vinyl and can be ordered from their Bandcamp.

Hey Bulldog's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Katie O'Malley is on Facebook and Twitter.

Vanity Box's official site can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Slack Alices are on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates

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