Stoke on Trent, Bad Edit
26 May 2013
A new confidence is stirring within Stoke’s often undervalued music scene. Glenn Airey watches as three great new bands come of age.
I don’t know about you, but I despair at the state of the nation’s post offices. Once the finest and most imposing buildings in any British high street, these temples to brown paper and string often now lie abandoned, uneconomical for the beleaguered Royal Mail as they struggle to turn a profit by charging fifty pence to deliver your auntie’s Christmas card from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Those that still open their doors, in the provinces at least, do so as purveyors of all-day breakfasts and cut-price lager, occupied now by some rapacious pub chain. The queues still form at 8.55 am, but for vile blue vodka not postage stamps. In Burslem, Stoke on Trent, however, we find a refreshing exception to Wetherspoon’s Law. Burslem is known as the ‘Mother Town’ of the Potteries, and has always outshone her five daughters in terms of architecture. Its magnificent post office building has more recently been put to excellent use as an arts venue, the Bad Edit, and it’s here that an impressive line-up convened over the bank holiday weekend to remind the city of a musical heritage that even its inhabitants are sometimes too quick to overlook.
Organisers and headliners Camp Stag (see pic above) are partly driven by a civic pride that seeks to remedy any such tendency towards an inferiority complex. They’re an experienced bunch, steeped in years of local involvement as performers and promoters. This has given them the confidence to do things their own way, when they’re ready and on their own terms. If this sounds like just another every-band fantasy manifesto, don’t worry. Camp Stag have the material and the musical awareness to reap results from their single-minded approach. National and local radio stations have been quick to pick up on their potential, and the Bad Edit gig fell on the eve of their new single’s release. Walking with Broken Bones is a typically accomplished combination of sleazy guitar strut and refined keyboard embellishment. It also sounds tremendous live, as do their other key tracks Sirens, When the Lights Come Down and the paean to small town frustration, The Northern Dream. I imagine this thoughtfully textured, anthemic pop was constructed with larger stages than this in mind. It would easily grace them, and I hope it does, if that’s what the guys decide they want. Between them, they’ve seen the industry from enough angles to know that it rarely rewards the deserving. For now, they are leading by example in their retention of control and refusal to get gratefully giddy over the exposure they’ve received.
The opening act of the evening proved that the Stag are not alone in their drive to up Stoke’s game. The four members of Moscow (pictured right) have collectively racked up decades in a number of seriously good Stoke-based bands. Were it not for the fact that they started out so alarmingly young, you’d be tempted to ask for their birth certificates. All these roads, however, have led to Moscow where they find themselves more comfortable than ever. Singer Nic Andrews, always the star of any stage he might wander onto, dominates the show with his confident baritone and dapper duds. Think Dave Vanian in a snooker tournament and you’re halfway there. His band’s dramatic post-punk rock n roll growls away behind him and you can tell these boys don’t need any assertiveness training. They know a good band when they see one, and they’re in it. Gorge yourselves on Lizard Lords for now and look out for their EP in the weeks ahead.
Hands Out (see pic right) are a London-based noise outfit, on a tour that helpfully takes in their original home towns. Thus we welcome bassist Steve Clarke back to Stoke. Another stalwart of the scene as musician and promoter, Clarkey can’t disguise his delight at being back on his own patch and even a few technical snags on the samples front, nothing to disadvantage the delighted observer, can’t spoil the fun. Hands Out have a great churning rock sound that’s regimented by a shit-hot performance on drums by Steven Hodson, formerly of Kong among other bands. I once saw Kong turn in an awe-inspiring set down the road in Hanley, below a chain pub of all places. The closure of that pub as a result of the chain’s administration robbed Stoke on Trent of a fine little venue and precipitated the switch of this gig to the Bad Edit, a former post office as you’ll remember. Times are undeniably tough but, if it’s difficult sometimes to keep track of which venues are closing down and springing up where, rest assured that as long as there’s good people like those involved in this event, the DIY gig scene will find a way through one way or another.