LAST night Watford foursome, The Spitfires, graced the stage for a night of progressive mod-rock and to test the waters with tracks from their upcoming LP. Our entertainment reporter Rae Coppola went along…

Setting the bar high, Leeds based rock quartet The Barmines were up for their first gig of 2016. From their performance it was easy to spot that they had taken the time off to polish up their set, and write new tracks including: ‘Control’ and ‘24/7’, which are set to be hits. Wearing all black they looked the part, and from the audience reaction they sounded it too, thanks to Rob Burton’s raw vocals, and Liam Hayes intricate guitar work driven by a tight rhythm section.

The energy radiating from guitarist Hayes was infectious, especially during ‘Sky’s the Limit’, where he leapt down from the stage starting his one man mosh-pit, all whilst impressively continuing his guitar solo. Support bands should take note, as they did not just warm up the stage, they more than proved they could headline one in their own right.

It was a shame not all the ticket holders arrived early enough to catch their performance, as they would have been in for a treat.

Next up were The Spitfires, who kick-started their headline slot with a number of their heavier tracks, instantly encouraging most of the crowd to get into the groove and join their modernist movement. This opportunity was not wasted, with fans eagerly dancing, and heckling about where they’re from in hopes of getting their length of travel noticed. The usual banter occurred, with frontman Billy Sullivan pausing and joking that “there’s always one f****** Cockney”, despite being secretly appreciative that they had made the effort.

Although their music seemed to get the crowd moving, perhaps they should mimic the energetic stage presence of support act The Barmines, to ensure all members of the audience felt engaged rather than the select few who were already fans.

Played soon off the bat was newly released favourite ‘So Long’, a track that hit number one on the UK Vinyl Singles Chart earlier this month.

However,  ‘Stand down’ was easily the best tune of the night, illuminating political angst against a Conservative government, and proving Sullivan’s song writing skills speak volumes about the world we live in – “Get a job and fight to keep it […] Get a degree but you’ll never need it.” Also, the lyrics: “spend a lifetime ignoring the fashion” depict the quartet perfectly, as they have their own style despite taking influences from bands like The Jam and The Specials.

The first note of the track had the crowd moving closer to the stage, obviously preparing for the onslaught of smooth keyboard chords and conflicting guitar playing. From then onwards, they were dancing like a ska mating ritual, fuelled by mutual appreciation and understanding of the lyrical genius.

It was not long before the audience needed a break, and omniscient to that factor, The Spitfires broke up the night with some slow paced melodic songs, including new tracks ’On My Mind’ and ‘Spoke Too Soon’. The lack of speed did not affect the quality of their sound, with their playing remaining controlled and refined, even being able to change tempo with ease during ‘On My Mind’ and have band members count themselves in ready for brief instrumentals.

The slower tracks seemed to suit them, with Matt Johnson on the drums building up momentum as they reached the crescendo, but faithfully slowing back down again for the verse.

After the abrupt exit of the band, Sullivan re-entered the stage alone for a solo rendition of ‘4am‘, a melancholy portrayal of life’s struggles. Doing so showed confidence, and likened them to bigger bands that have the confidence to do so on their own tour dates. This was especially the case when he handed the microphone towards the crowd and stopped singing himself, clearly taking the vocal audience as a sign they would fill in the gaps at random intervals.

The audience appreciated how special the song was, and one day it will no doubt be sung back by a larger audience.

The full band reappeared for another song, before ending on the weird and wonderful ‘Spark to Start’, whereby keyboardist Chris Chanell ensured a techno vibe with his 90s synth chords. The backing notes of the track resembled that of a spaceship landing, hypnotically encouraging even more individuals to dance, and leave with a happy reminder that it was a good set.

Musically tight, with clever observational lyrics, The Spitfires bring fresh faces to the modernist subculture.

By Rae Coppola

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