Friday 6 May 2022 – St Leonards-on-Sea.
This was to be the first gig I’ve attended since January 13, the first since we’ve been back in the UK and the first at The Piper since February 2020 when we went to see Penelope Isles; the last gig I attended before the country went into lockdown the following month. I was a little wary approaching this event as a number of people I follow on various social media platforms have caught Covid at gigs in the past month; while no one was particularly ill, I still didn’t want to join them on the ill list. As I write this two weeks after the event I am day three into a nasty head cold. I’d forgotten just how unpleasant a streaming nose and blocked sinuses can be, I guess it not being Covid is a blessing.
The headliners, Gnod, are an English psych/noise rock band that have been around in various forms since 2006, though they didn’t come into my radar until the 2017 album ‘Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’, a title that surely attracts attention. They have released four albums since then, of which I have three, though the latest album ‘Hexen Valley’ has yet to arrive in my letterbox and is very late due to vinyl pressing issues.
I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight, the last records have been heavier and sludgier than the early drawn out psych jam style tracks which I have been listening to a lot lately.
The Piper has undergone a refurbishment over lockdown and is quite a bit bigger, with the stage moving 90 degrees into the new extension. This is good. What they haven’t fixed is the crap lighting, and tonight was pretty bad, The Black Arches under a red glow and Gnod under the even worse (from a photo perspective), blue.
The night started with a set from the Black Arches, a Hastings group led by the writer Gareth E. Rees. Gareth wrote the book ‘The Stone Tide’, comprised of part fiction/part non-fiction tales of Hastings. It was released just as I looking to move to St Leonards and was in part one of the reasons I decided to move here. The other, non-musical, Black Arches are three arches carved into the side of East Hill in Hastings in the 18th century. On a good day when the scrub is clear and viewed across the valley from west Hill, they look like the entrance to a church. No-one really knows why they were carved, possibly as an elaborate prank. It took three attempts for me to find them, finally achieving that goal in Jan 2021. As you would expect I wrote about them at the time.
I enjoyed The Black Arches set, they were a better band than last time I saw them, tighter and a bit heavier, maybe the sound last time was poor? Apart from going to a lot of gigs I know nothing about sound and systems, but to my ears the Piper has a decent PA, loud enough and oomphy enough to allow a good wall of noise that doesn’t sound like sludge. Anyway, The Black Arches set was good.
As the light was so poor I was shooting at a very low speed so some of the images are a bit blurry. These are the best of a poor bunch of images. Red light, it sucks.
For the final song of their set the band were joined on vocals by Medway artist/poet/musician Sexton Ming, producing one of the best songs of their short set.
You have to admire a band that has two drummers. The last band I remember seeing with two onstage was Swans and they were amazing and set a high bar for how well two drummers can synchronise a beat, before that it was probably The Fall, an even higher bar. Two drummers means a lot of volume for the guitars to compete with so it was loud, very loud; not oppressively so but definitely loud; my ears were still humming in the morning as I stupidly didn’t use the earplugs that were in my pocket.
I had a good position close to centre front. Paddy Shine, vocals and guitar, stood in front of the low stage, making it more difficult to take photos of the rest of the band as they were in deeper shadow. He has a very expressive face and it was interesting just watching his performance.
The band played a few songs I recognised, none of the log slow jams with repeating keyboard and guitar riffs and drones, but I knew that due to the lack of keyboard on stage. The set was pretty aggressive, very much the heavier end of their musical spectrum.
They started with ‘Regimental’, one of my favourites from the their second to last album ‘La mort du Sens’ (The death of meaning), followed by a track I didn’t know and then ‘Pink Champagne Blues’, also from the La Mort LP.
The fourth track was the 15 minute , repeating two note ‘Spotlight’ off the most recent LP ‘Hexen Valley’. This was the track where the two drummers truly excelled, 15 minutes of pummelling in perfect synchronicity; with no apparent flagging; just fantastic.
Spotlight was followed by two more songs from Hexen Valley, then a couple I didn’t recognise. The set finished with a cracking, fast version of my favourite of their heavier tracks ‘Bodies for Money’ from ‘Just say no to the psycho right-wing capitalist fascist industrial machine’, an album title that sums up the political stance taken in their lyrics.
It was a great gig, well attended, loud, hot, sweaty and I enjoyed it immensely. I heard the following day that apparently the band did as well, and they will be back to play St Leonards on a future tour. Yay.
10 minute walk and I was home, who can ask for better than that.