Six By Seven
The Maze, Nottingham
4 March 2017
A homecoming gig for Nottingham’s Six By Seven thrills Martin Gray and gives him pause to reflect on the history, and perhaps the lost chances, of this band.
Of all the bands which deserve more recognition than they have so far garnered in their 20-year existence, Nottingham’s Six By Seven surely must be up there. Even if, outside of their devoted fanbase, they have practically disappeared off the radar in the grand scheme of things since their 2002 album The Way I Feel Today saw them break into the UK Top 75 albums (with the second single from it – I.O.U. Love – a surprising top 50 ‘hit’ into the bargain). Both these releases were, respectively, their highest charting LP and 45. Yet despite this rather humble breakthrough, their record label at the time, Mantra (a subsidiary of Beggars Banquet), responded by dropping the band shortly afterwards.
Undeterred, the band steadfastly soldiered on, and, among inevitable changes in personnel (guitarist/vocalist Chris Olley and keyboardist/sax player James Flower being the only constants throughout this later phase), continued to release albums and the occasional single on their own Saturday Night Sunday Morning label. Extra-curricular projects – Twelve, Fuck Me USA, Chris Olley (solo), Spotlight Kid (formed by drummer Chris Davis with Bent collaborator Katty Heath) – ran concurrently with further Six By Seven releases.
In 2007, what was the closest to the original five-piece line-up returned, featuring guitarist Sam Hempton alongside Messrs. Olley, Flower and Davis….(only original bassist Paul Douglas remained out of the fold). A welcome revisit to Glastonbury followed in 2008, captured on a live CD release which met with some rave reviews. In 2013, after another short hiatus (although that’s misleading because Chris Olley was far from idle during all this time, releasing numerous recordings as either himself solo, or under the Six By Seven and Twelve guises – many of them later via his impressive Muzik Klub mail-order subscription service), they resurfaced again with another new album Love, Peace And Sympathy, which received favourable reviews from many critics who were now wondering aloud why this band were ever overlooked in the first place.
Six By Seven’s profile unexpectedly rose further towards the end of 2015 when some fans – via social media – petitioned for one of their most popular tracks (Eat Junk Become Junk, from their blistering second album, 2000’s The Closer You Get) to be released as a download single to vie for the Xmas number one slot. Incredibly, this ruse generated and rekindled so much interest that they actually succeeded in getting said track to top the Amazon download charts – sitting pretty above the usual suspects like Slade and Wizzard! Mission accomplished!
With such an amazing achievement, even their former record label Beggars began reconsidering what they might have let go of – it prompted a scheduled vinyl-only reissue of their second album coupled with a new CD ‘greatest hits’ compilation. But the best news was yet to come. Sometime last year, the idea was hit upon by Chris Olley that the line-up which recorded the first two albums (1998’s The Things We Make being their debut) would reunite for a couple of special one-off gigs wholly financed by a fan-endorsed Kickstarter pledge campaign. One of these gigs would be in London, and the other, crucially, would be at a venue in the city of their conception: Nottingham. It made perfect sense.
And so here we are, full of anticipation for THE event of the weekend. The intimate Maze venue was rammed to the rafters and sauna-like as a result of 200 punters packing themselves into the small space eager to re-live the gloriously adrenalised head rush of that second album, cited by many fans to be Six By Seven’s definitive artistic statement. And who were we to disagree? Across town at the Rough Trade record shop, the hipper-than-thou hordes were jostling for space and the best view whilst celebrated rent-a-gobs Sleaford Mods (one man ranting, one man on a laptop – hardly rock’n’roll is it?) were regaling and preaching to the converted/perverted, but to be honest, if you craved a proper incendiary sonic assault, then you were clearly at the wrong place.
The premise was straightforward: The band would play two sets: the first, a clutch of old favourites culled from the first album, plus a smattering of lauded singles or B-sides from the same period and later. The second set would follow a short interval whereupon the entirety of The Closer You Get is faithfully revisited, track-for-track. I know many other bands have also done this schtick especially when it comes to ‘anniversary celebrations’ of their finest moments, but to be fair, and to their ultimate credit, Six By Seven seldom, if ever, play things the safe way – I mean, for a start, this was not the 10th, 15th, or even 20th anniversary of the album’s original release – but the 17th!! Like I said – gleefully perverse to the end!
Chris Olley lopes onto the tiny stage ahead of his compatriots and cheerfully addresses the gathered throng, ‘We’re gonna be playing some songs tonight…..[cheers from the crowd]…..we’re gonna do two sets, the first set will be a few songs from the first album, and a few other bits…and then we’re gonna go off for ten minutes…..then we’re gonna come back on and we’re gonna do the whole of the second album [even bigger cheers]…. in order….. and then we’re gonna fuck off…..and YOU’RE all gonna fuck off!! [laughter and cheering] Right?’ Charming as ever!
So, what better opener then, would you reasonably expect, other than the seductively slow-burning A Beautiful Shape? Looking around I’m catching sight of fans who have travelled from all points of the compass (some from as far as Denmark, Germany and Holland for this truly special occasion), and then some devoted followers who are immediately lost in a blissful reverie upon witnessing the fabled five in front of them conjuring up the inimitable European Me (still sounding like nothing else in the world with Sam Hempton’s eerie war siren-like bowed guitar FX ) following in almost inevitable succession from the welcome slap around the face that was Something Wild flowing neatly into Oh! Dear, which simply just climaxes until the tension can no longer bear its own weight before it implodes and fizzles out as if fully spent. Next comes So Close – sounding perennially dramatic and foreboding in its piano-looped build-up before it too explodes in an orgiastic firework display, Chris’s keening voice howling out over the maelstrom.
See-sawing between slow and fast seems to be the order here, as Brilliantly Cute and Candlelight (a song which Chris seemed to express total contempt towards) further tease and enthral in equal measure. Somebody yells that the sound isn’t loud enough and begs them to turn everything up – much to Chris’s bemusement, and the approval of the rest of the crowd – to which he replies in typical self-deprecating manner: ‘yeah….Six By Seven not playing loud enough? That sucks!’
I.O.U. Love – their big hit – was next – and despite being quite possibly the most immediate thing they have ever done, it still never fails to make me smile hearing the simple poptastic melody which, as any fan will tell you, is a very contentious steal from ’80’s Aussie indie legends The Church (I wonder if the latter ever did get any publishing royalties for this one?). Anyway, I dig both songs, so there! It’s back to the brooding and menace for Get A Real Tattoo which, alternately sounds so defiantly, gloriously, brutal that it could mug you in a dark alleyway at 100 paces, leaving you shellshocked, and the finale: Always Waiting For – a swooning valediction and almost a sign of how prescient this reunion has turned out to be on the night.
Act Two is, as expected, a far more adrenalised and spiky affair and they liberally burst out of the traps when the signature intro to Eat Junk Become Junk initiates the first signs of a mosh pit at the front of the crowd! Some people are bobbing up and down frenetically, others are swaying about in a parlous state of inebriation, eyes closed, fixed perma-grin on their faces consumed by the wonderfully addictive rush of the moment. The moshing goes up a notch for Sawn-Off Metallica T-Shirt and then allows everybody to catch their breath during the gleeful mournfest of the sinister, droning, Ten Places To Die.
The great thing about this second album is its sheer potency and concentrated fury: every single track is either a no-nonsense punch in the gut or an insidious barbed-wire caress, but every now and again things really take flight: and nowhere is this more evident than on New Year which has a chorus that is so goddamn huge you have no option but to submit totally as you’re carried skywards by that euphoric, surging wall of sound.
Back down to earth again though, as the scuzz-infested rumination One Easy Ship Away contemplates other delightful ways to die (well, it either is or isn’t a sequel to track three above) – nice and cheerful does it! My Life Is An Accident was actually the very first Six By Seven song I owned, featured as it was on a free CD given away with an issue of RockSound. That song alone made me go out and buy the album – no shit – and tonight, it simply sounded colossal, a perfect soundtrack to the frenzy that the front few rows were being whipped into as proceedings got progressively more deranged. That’s the best advertisement for ‘post-punk headbanging’ I have yet witnessed, I guess.
The impeccably-paired two-punch salvo of Don’t Wanna Stop and Slab Square, both played razor sharp and as closely aimed to the cranium as possible, replete with that winning segue of the two, as Chris Davis runs riot on the toms, was nothing short of perfect – cue yet more frenetic thrashing and pogoing! Total fucking PUNK ROCK…..YEAH!!!!!!
England And A Broken Radio is missing the distressed/cracked vocal distortion of the recorded version but it’s no less affecting for that omission, whilst Another Love Song, as expected, takes on a whole new dimension in this most intimate of settings: the instrumentation simply soaring to unprecedented heights. It’s perhaps a love song about the sense of occasion: something celebratory even, given the circumstances. Maybe this was the album’s signature tune to rival that of Eat Junk Become Junk? Bliss is the word here!
The penultimate Overnight Success becomes a bawling, broiling, tempestuously slashed six-string-ravaged behemoth tonight – stretched out to almost ten minutes at the climax – so much so that it pulls off something quite incredible: it renders the already raging album version pithy and weedy by comparison – no mean feat. Contemporaries such as Mogwai aren’t even as thrilling as this when they let rip in similar fashion, as I suspect their modus operandi has always been tinged with a self-consciously ‘arty’ slant, but to be honest, Six By Seven possess no such pretentions: they simply pile it on anyway – and to hell with the chin-stroking. The rest of the band, seemingly satiated from this most emphatic and apocalyptic of climaxes, start to wind down, but instead of departing the stage, simply loiter about in the background taking much-needed swigs from bottles as Chris Olley deals the closing parting shot 100 And Something Foxhall Road solo, on guitar – as if by way of the final comedown from the previous TWO hours of magnificent cacophony – it’s as sweet a finish as we could posssibly hope for.
Make no mistake, Six By Seven were fucking magnificent tonight, and if only there were more people who had happened upon this mighty album the first time, then perhaps we wouldn’t be left pondering over opportunities and scenarios that have simply gone begging. Then again, if you weren’t astute enough to have been bitten by the bug back then and to subsequently check out any of their records, perhaps you never deserved them anyway. But hey – at least you have a chance to catch up on what you missed. Two hundred and fifty people crammed into the Maze in Nottingham on a Saturday night for this incredible homecoming, however, would happily each tell you a completely different story. If there was only one small regret, it’s that they could easily have filled out a venue more than twice the capacity for this gig.
Words by Martin Gray.