Dead Men Walking
The Tivoli, Buckley
Saturday 11th June 2016
The tour, billed as ‘The Return Of Dead Men Walking’ arrived in Buckley, North Wales – a fairly inauspicious town close to the England/Wales border, generally referenced as being “near to Chester”. As we arrive in Buckley I am struck how the town resembles the opening scenes of ’28 Days Later’ – albeit the Aldi production! The streets are deserted, there is no traffic; the venue, bar one flickering bulb in an upper floor window looks to have closed decades ago – then I recalled that England were playing there opening game of the 2016 Euro tournament, a tournament the Welsh national team had made their mark on earlier that day.
The venue, The Tivoli defines provincial past glory, previously trading as both a cinema and music hall, its more Phoenix Nights than CBGB’s, though it retains an air of charm and defiance, as posters for future gigs from New Model Army, Hugh Cornwell, and Dr Feelgood adorn the walls – tonight we are confronted by a large screen suspended above the stage, the live England v Russia match being projected across the dance floor which is laid out with sets of tables and chairs that looked to have been borrowed from the local WI; it seems Dead Men Walking are being supported by the England squad this evening!
But then consider who comprises the current DMW line up; Ruts Dave Ruffy, and Segs on drums and guitar respectively, Kirk Brandon of Theatre Of Hate/Spear of Destiny on guitar and Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers on guitar and vocals – all bona fide punk icons with an arsenal of material to justify the claim.
When Rooney and his countrymen finally limped of the field, DMW took to the stage; Dave Ruffy being helped on having very recently undergone hip replacement surgery; perhaps because of this all four performed seated and proceeded to run through an all acoustic set list that included some of the most recognizable songs in the history of punk, post punk and beyond.
Segs, who opens proceedings, as is traditional is resplendent in a fitted suit over a black T-shirt, the ensemble topped with a colour matched fedora counts the band in to a mesmerising version of the Ruts classic ‘Something That I Said’ – I’ve previously seen The Ruts in both their traditional full band set up and as an acoustic set up at The Rebellion Festival, however the addition here of Brandon and Burns added a level of nervous vitality, each looking towards Segs and Dave Ruffy for subtle timing indications; Jake Burns followed up with ‘Nobody’s Hero’ – now Jake is a man who clearly enjoys a drink, and the chatter that accompanies the drink is equally important, his own perfectly delivered preamble, honed by hours in an array of hostelries hilariously referenced him being brought crashing down to earth by a young Northern Irish lady who back when SLF had released their ‘Nobody’s Heroes’ album entirely failed to recognise him, despite him wearing a SLF T-shirt bearing his picture, the stripped rendition DMW delivered added poignancy to an already charged lyric; from here on in it was clear we were in for a rather special evening…there was a tangible intimacy between each of DMW, despite their collective histories, it was instantly apparent that ego had been left behind; what that left was genuine respect for each other, and that respect allowed for some superlative covers of each others material; Kirk Brandon led them through ‘The Price’ taking time to reference a member of the audience sporting an NUM button badge, before enthusiastically praising the NHS for helping him through his own well documented personal issues – Segs spoke of the issues Malcolm Owen had succumbed to as a lead in to ‘Love In Vain’ – the musicianship was peerless, but what took this gig beyond a mere performance was the interplay between each band member and the gentle banter with the largely seated audience; this was…a dignified happening which perhaps seems odd considering the energy and anger that inspired much of the material performed.
‘Wasted life’ was originally recorded as a snarling retort to the troubles of late 70’s Northern Ireland and remains one of SLF’s most passionate tracks; here tonight played with three acoustic guitars and a brushed drum skin it took on a whole new intensity, Burns lightly gravelled voice carefully delivering the lyric whilst Brandon, Segs and Ruffy offered almost lilting harmonies during the choruses – the rage of ‘Inflammable Material’ matched with the delicacy of a gently strummed acoustic guitar.
Despite the format of the group, this was no greatest hits karaoke; Dave Ruffy ad Segs jokingly apologising to their fans for the delay in putting out The Ruts next album, before then launching into ‘Kill The Pain’ which will feature on the album “when we get round to recording the bloody thing”…Jake Burns picked up on the theme and bluntly discussed his own battles with depression – his stark honesty was as surprising as refreshing before he whispered the count into ‘My Dark Places’.
Dead Men Walking were onstage telling stories, painting rich pictures; and we had all been invited along – as I said earlier, this was not a standard gig, this was a private affair, like being allowed into a rehearsal or a jam session, and as crass as it sounds – it felt rather magical for it. Brandon spoke of his families long ties with the UK military, referencing the pageantry surrounding HM The Queen’s Official 90th birthday celebrations, before reminding us of the anti-war lyric of Spear Of Destiny’s ‘Young Men’ – Brandon’s voice remains as strong as ever, perhaps gaining gravitas as he himself matures, there was something quite eerie as his lyric floated above a melancholic guitar refrain.
It was clear that each of DMW was enjoying themselves, the relaxed atmosphere, the appreciative audience allowed for an engagement not often seen at a gig; we were led through SLF’s ‘Silver Lining’, Spear’s ‘Never Take Me Alive’ and into a (politely) raucous rendition of the Ruts ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ which prompted an equally polite sing-a-long from the crowd, prior to Dave Ruffy with a beaming smile telling us to imagine them leaving then returning to encore – his hip injury actually preventing such interruptions, he lifted his left arm high, bringing it down to begin to brush out the familiar drum pattern to ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld’ which again demonstrated the controlled power Brandon’s voice holds; as the track ended Jake Burns recounted the well known tale of how ‘Alternative Ulster’ was written with the derisive “its shit” comment from its intended benefactor – to hear such a familiar and powerful opening riff delivered entirely in an acoustic form was something very special, as Brandon, Ruffy, and Sugs complimented on fragile backing vocals.
The set ended with The Ruts ‘Babylon’s Burning’, a fitting conclusion to a fantastic evening, the perfect way to end what was truly a spectacular show put on by a quartet of punk’s finest.