Looking out of the window on Monday afternoon revealed torrential rain and gusts of wind. Probably not the best weather to be venturing out into the darkening night. The headline band contact me and advise they are stuck in terrible traffic between Levenshulme and Salford and will be late. Fortunately the journey from Eccles to Blackfriars is not so disadvantaged. The 67 bus arrives early and I get to the Eagle much sooner than I anticipated. By the time I get to the pub the band, Harry Howard and the NDE have arrived and are loading in. That’s the peculiar nature of the Greater Manchester traffic system – west-east is easy, south -north not so much. What took them two hours took me twenty minutes.
But first, the back story.
Some months back Dave Graney had contacted me, after his visit to Salford earlier in the year, to suggest that we might host Harry Howard and the NDE in a similar way, a gig and a Marc Riley session. We are getting quite good at this promotion thing now, but we can’t make a habit of it mind you, so please don’t you bands out there think we can wave a magic wand and make these things happen all the time. With the assistance of Vicky Egan, who runs the excellent Roland S. Howard tribute page, Ian and I were able to get it all to come together. We had put on three bands for the Graney evening in the spring, but we decided to slim it down for Harry & co, a good move in hindsight, given the weather, as time was tight once everyone had settled in . We stayed with Poppycock as the support act, always reliable, always excellent.
Given the weather a huge turn out was not anticipated, especially for a Monday night, however fortunately there are enough hearty souls/Harry Howard fans to bring in a good sized audience.
Those who could not make it missed a stunning evening.
Poppycock have a slight pre-gig set back when Una’s keyboard starts emitting smoke, so a substitute is sourced. There’s always a gremlin hanging around in the ether to make life more stressful. Notwithstanding that the bands start only 30 minutes late. Poppycock get better each time I see them. Their well established repertoire mixes garage rock, folk, Dylan, and post punk into a package which brings new fans with every gig. The twin vocal line-up of Rose Niland and Anne-Marie Crowley is exceptional. I’m familiar with the tunes and I recognise a marked improvement. Heather, Nicki, Stuart, Lucy and Una weave a musical tapestry which marks them out as the best live band in Manchester at the moment. At times the sound they produce is incandescent.
The only minor niggle about the excellent Eagle as a venue is that there is not a plethora of places nearby to get food so the NDE ring out for pizza which arrives just in time for the band to have something to eat before playing.
The NDE are excellent. They play the first half of the new album “Sleepless Girls” for the opening section of the set. Dave Graney and Clare Moore couldn’t make this tour so These Immortal Souls alumni Craig Williamson and Chris Hughes have been drafted in. The new line-up has only had a couple of lengthy rehearsals at Seed Studios in south Manchester and the lack of time to practice means there are a few minor mis-steps during the set which are treated with friendly self-deprecation and do not spoil the overall enjoyment. A couple of excellent tracks from the debut album “Sick Sick Sick” and “The Old Man Blues” demonstrate the depth of the NDE song book. The other half of the current album forms the bulk of the rest of the set, a notable exception being a fitting tribute to Vicky Egan with a reading of The Birthday Party’s The Red Clock. Harry’s guitar work is fantastic, Edwina’s having great fun with her new Microkorg and producing an amazing range of keyboard sounds, which has Una Baines making a mental note to purchase one of her own. Craig and Chris are excellent and are more than able substitutes for the absent Dave and Clare.
This is live music at it’s best. Powerful, hypnotic, driven and played with enthusiasm. The four gig highlights of the year for me have been from Australians, two Dave Graney gigs in the spring, The Necks a couple of weeks back, and this gig from Harry Howard and the NDE.
Harry’s melding of garage rock and post-punk merges the best of both into a fresh and modern sound. Add to that great songs and you have a very special live experience.
The band play the Marc Riley session tonight and The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell, London on Thursday before embarking on a full European Tour (details below). I recommend you catch them live, they are fantastic.