Ruby Lounge, Manchester
19th September 2013
Barnsley and brilliant. Two words you’d never expect to read in the same sentence. Until now. Jason Wynne upsets West Yorkshire.
Following on from their eponymous debut album, Exit Calm, the brilliant Barnsley based four piece (there you go), are back with the ‘difficult second album’ and have produced an album that dispels the myth. The gloves are off and they’ve succeeded the best debut album from a British band with a masterpiece and a little help from producer Rob Mcvey, previously of the great and so underrated band Longview.
The boys are on tour promoting album The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be and tonight they’re playing Manchester. A place I believe the band feels at home in thanks to their countless triumphant gigs played in the city. Tonight is no different. It’s a sort of homecoming and the loyal fan base they have built up are taken somewhere else – to a different plane. Higher ground. They’re taken on a journey (me included) of high intensity and euphoria thanks to the swirling, psychedelic sound accompanied by their trademark heavy bass lines (Simon Lindley) and cinematic guitars of the impressive Rob Marshall creating a beautiful landscape for the gravel voiced, pacing the stage, frontman Nicky Smith and equally brilliant, underrated, drummer Scott Pemberton. Although tonight Scott ditches his trademark suit for a more casual look perhaps indicating a more relaxed and confident approach!
The thing I like about this band is there is no fuss, they’re an unassuming, honest bunch of lads but when the four of them play they create something special. They want the music in your ears, not in your face. It’s a minimal approach creating maximum sound …. and what a sound it is.
My biggest mistake coming into this gig was checking out earlier setlists from the tour. Exit Calm, being Exit Calm, like to do things different. They’ve still got this passion, this hunger. So, rather unexpectedly to me, but a pleasant surprise, was the opening song. As the band entered the stage to rapturous applause from a diehard following and, hopefully, newer fans too, they kicked into one of their finest songs – Hearts and Minds. The band are probably sick of hearing comparisons to ‘early Verve’ but that’s not a bad thing and as an opening song goes sets up the tone for a storming set. A storm in heaven so to speak. As Smith sings “No time for your moaning that the end is nigh, Just walk through my fear and reach for my own blue sky”. Beautiful.
Without further ado they launch straight into one of the new album tracks – Rapture – it’s a shoegazey intro until the opening line is belted out “Forever dancing with the devil” when there’s a Bono-esque tone (early U2) to the frontman’s voice. Thus, making all the ingredients to a killer tune. Having heard this track played on the Champions League football adverts I got the impression this was going to be the springboard for the band to kick on with the success and acclaim they deserve. For now though they seem to be still under the radar and, rather selfishly, I quite like the fact they can still play these small rooms and make them big with the music. The songs are nothing short of epic and anthemic. The appreciative crowd sing along to every word and the place is rocking.
Fiction gives the audience “something that’s worth celebrating”. Another great song from the superb new album. It’s a northern song for those with northern soul and it’s damn catchy too with a soaring melody and a baggy groove.
Already crowd favourite Albion is immense in every sense. There’s an Ian Brown like stance, gaze and vocal on this one showing Smith’s varied vocal range through the vast amount of great songs they now have. The guitars and drums going together in perfect harmony, as the song builds up into something quite special. Emotionally charged, draining to both band and crowd, lifting everyone to a higher level.
As the song fades out the anticipation of the crowd rises on hearing the opening chords to the Verve-like Higher Learning. It’s a magical journey that the band take us through. There’s so much crap out there these days with soulless acts aplenty so to hear wordsmith Smith sing “I’m sick and tired of this frequency we follow, I’ve got no time for the music on the radio” you can’t but help to agree. It’s hypnotic and it’s euphoric.
Promise, another new song, reminds me of The Stone Roses in their pomp, sensitive but powerful vocals mixed with brutal guitar playing, impeccable drumming and heavy bass reverbing the room.
With no time to catch breath the band kick into the spell binding Holy War. One of the best songs off the new album and reaffirming the faith that this band are on the rise. They’re on the cusp of a wave. “We are holier than any religion” sings Smith to the congregation. Lyrically astute as ever and accompanied by the wailing guitar, heavy bass and fluid rhythm section drumming this is sure to be a crowd favourite in the future.
Open Your Sky, the new album’s final song is simply stunning. It lightens up the darkened room offering hope, belief and strength. “The future isn’t what it used to be” says Nicky Smith. Make of that what you will. It’s melancholic, has a brilliant melody, subtle bass and the standard perfect drumming that plays a part in every song tonight. Pemberton is quite possibly one of the most underrated drummers on the scene right now.
Looking around the venue I see people drained. Shattered. Mesmerised. Out of body experiences aplenty. This powerful yet calming music has provided a psychedelic, 60’s infused storm…in heaven. Exit Calm know they’re onto something really special, they look the part, yet it’s their vulnerability and down to earth attitude as they strive to make the music reach all four corners of the room that makes them stand out.
We’re On Our Own takes us back to the first album as Smith’s straining, yearning vocal is so sublime with the crowd singing along “I don’t need anyone”…this could be (and should be) Glastonbury 2014 on the Pyramid Stage. Now that would be something although for now “The past and the future doesn’t mean a thing, This moment’s the only place to be”. Never a truer word said.
As I look around, the whole place is transfixed on four men, who’ve earned the right to be playing this music, creating something very special. Nights like these don’t happen this often. It could well be an “I was there” moment.
With the crowd calling for more the band play You’ve Got It All Wrong and I swear some of the guitar playing reminds me not just of a Nick McCabe or a John Squire but the great Charlie Burchill too. A kaleidoscope of light mixed with the crescendo of deafening noise. Darkness and light before our very eyes, bringing everyone to their knees. Ten rounds (or songs) with Barnsley’s finest has left everyone in need of recovery. That comes in the form of Recovery. As the band fade out with Smith singing “Keep the light alive” it’s a clear message that this band need to be recognised. Criminally ignored by many all because they have talent and they’re not manufactured.
The band look joyous and it’s been a triumphant gig in so many ways. Playing songs off the long awaited new album as well as old songs and rarities too. It’s awe-inspiring stuff.
The only criticism for me is I was so looking forward to hearing three of their best songs in my opinion – Reference, When They Rise and Higher Bound – a new side to Exit Calm on record and one of their finest songs to date. The only regret being I haven’t seen them more on this tour.
Be part of the journey. Catch them live at a small venue near you before it’s too late. The continued longevity of this band is essential to the music world. Exit Calm…on the rise.
Hearts & Minds
Open Your Sky
We’re On Our Own
You’ve Got It All Wrong
All words by Jason Wynne. More work by Jason can be found in his Louder Than War archive.