Yard Act
Yard Act
Yard Act
Yard Act : photo : Naomi Dryden-Smith

Yard Act
Manchester YES
25th Jan 2022

One of the great thrills of pop culture is that moment.

The rare moment.

When a scrawny bunch of underdog outsiders grab the moment and are suddenly swept to the toppermost of the poppermost.

Yard Act look astonished at their own ascendancy tonight as they play their fourth gig of the day in a frantic week of non-stop promo for their grabbing of the moment debut album in its battle for the number one spot.

It feels like most weeks now there is some dislocated guitar noise scratching away at the shiny shopping centre pop of the charts. Lurking in the top 5 there is a bunch of Oxfam attired oddballs shouting at the bright lights being followed by store detectives and stern-faced naysayers.

Post-punk has become pop music! What was once the domain of critics and mini music gang is now the plaything of the masses! What was once in the 80s a furtive John Peel session is now in the race for the number one. Yard Act are the latest post-punk gang to have been catapulted from the outside after years of playing in other bands like the excellent and LTW backed Post War Glamour Girls and Menace Beach. It was a life of big dreams, warped music, empty venues, hopeless ideals, second-hand records, grubby bedsits and pub nights of one pint and a packet of crisps between a few mates talking the music talk and now it’s the spotlight turning on to a wilfully eccentric but oddly brilliant post punk pop.

Tonight in-between hilarious ranting between the songs from a red wine slugging James Smith that details the band’s bizarre position they deal out their take on the grand old tradition of post-punk – an underground musical form that has now become as ubiquitous as a Joy Division T-shirt.

It’s often quite bizarre that the interval after punk that was never called post-punk at the time has become such a fertile hunting round for inspiration. Bands appear with off kilter and unexpected influences way beyond the lazy labels. Influences plucked from the ether and they then turn these fuzzy John Peel session bands and dog eared old review albums into splendid modern pop.  Armed with streaming and YouTube a new band can find so much inspiration down that sharp and angular rabbit hole.

The curious mish-mash of sound rushing off the stage tonight is enthralling in the hands of a band where each player is at the top of their game. Yard Act are so much more than a jovial documentary on the crummy side of British life – which they are good at.  There is also a vibrant propulsive musical unit at play here. They have not opted for the light touch indie that could have paid big dividends but have crunched the discordant side of post-punk into pop music and added a few indie classic choruses to the mix – kinda like Blur did when they too were nodding at more awkward underground muses. 

You can hear the tight pounding New York No Wave agit funk and death disco minimalism of ESG somehow in there as well as other semi dusty and forgotten genius of the anti-rock period when the death to trad rock banner of punk was actually raised properly. Like other no wave bands like Liquid Liquid and maybe the genetic splinter guitar of bands like Delta 5 that once lived in the same Leeds city that the band are based in. There is even the classic Glitter Band drum beat in one song and a nod to more raucous knees up indie in other tunes and a hint of teenage years of hip hop and its cut and paste culture and non singing vocal delivery.

This is a sound that is a bric a brac of culture of junk shop seven inches, Spotify dredging and arcane reference points. They have gone down the post-punk rabbit hole and come up with the goods. Stripping away the dark noise of former bands there is the aforementioned stripped own minimalism of No Wave but anglicised with those observational lyrics full of pathos and humour – self-deprecating missives full of twists and turns and words that look at the world with bemusement. They are delivered in the half-sung half-spoken manner that is so de rigour in the current take on post-punk. It’s that almost English rap style stripped of all American macho bombast, that introvert sketching, that deadpan delivery of a Black Country New Road, Wet Leg, Dry Cleaning and probably already arch enemies Sleaford Mods in varying degrees that roots back through music from Bob Dylan and Lou Reed’s street hipster poetry and reemerged in pink with the deadpan delivery of a Hugh Cornwall and re-emerged in post-punk where often singers who couldn’t sing developed their brilliant lyrics in a monotone delivery that is equally effective to any operatics.

Sam Shjipstone wiry, scratchy, spindly and obtuse yet wonderfully enthralling and melodic guitar is like Marc Ribot through a five quid distortion pedal whilst the rhythm section is killer. Bassist Ryan Needham and drummer Jay Russell’s tight and angular rhythms set the framework switching from No Wave funk to hypnotic repetition. The drums are drum machine tight – that robotic edge is key and when they lock in with the bass it’s an impulsive, compulsive, propulsive beat.

Smith is the maverick focal vocal point and the latest next awkward indie icon in his grubby gaberdine, NHS specs and ironic and acid wit which spills out of the songs like the red wine onto the venue carpet as he takes the piss hilariously out the bands’ chart battle and band life. The endless chat stumbles into the next song, launching into another short sharp shock indie anthem. The post covid student discos are going to reverberate to many of these songs and sing them loudly in the streets going home annoying older former students who have grown out of that sort of thing! Their adept shackling of the big choruses is a nod to Blur or even Kaiser Chiefs back when they were stumbling out of post-punk into pop.

At the moment though Yard Act are still wonderful abrasive and wonderfully of the moment. They celebrate the magic in the mundane and Smith’s word spew is the very Brit semi rapped semi spat out the magic in the mundane accounts of British life laced with dark humour and sharp dead eye observations. We love that kind of stuff here and from John Cooper Clarke to the Arctic Monkeys to the Sleaford Mods to punk we’ve been dealing with these bands who describe our grey sky reality with a poetic ironic twist.

The small things are what makes life wonderful, knackered cars, perfect mates, rude club owners, dodgy hangovers, the tick-tock of the boredom of life. The poetry in motion of a John Betjeman transplanted to north Leeds via Warrington and detailing the M62 corridor of endless rain, broken towns and the shittest trains in the UK.

The songs thrill with their abrasion and leave post-punk as a very misplaced term – what was once confrontational and experimental has become almost a comfy musical style for new bands and, to be honest, most of the bands from that period slogging on. Yes, what was once the shock of the new had become a highly effective tool. As much as AC/DC can still wrench something magical from the same three chords – the bass-driven/angular guitar/off-kilter drums minimalist thing can still pay dividends and Yard Act have enough vitality and freshness to make a great unholy racket and shoehorn it into pop.

Of course, they are knowing, of course, the banter tonight is a laugh at the pop process they disdain and embrace at the same time, of course, they honed their post-punk when it finally hit pay dirt after the big wave of non-aligned bands like Fontaines DC, IDLES and perhaps the key band in all of this, Sleaford Mods, who will be running a mile from it already. Everywhere you turn now there is a band dealing out this stuff now and you know what – for me, that’s a good thing

The trick for Yard Act is to somehow stay ahead of the mainstream.

This week is a thrill. They will storm the gates of heaven but need to make sure they are not slammed behind them – there are the temptations of the Kaiser Chiefs route or the wilful underground route or maybe they could plot a new course where they keep merging the experimental with the conventional. It’s all ironic in a week that the great Andy Ross, the former Sounds music paper colleague and manager of Blur died – Andy knew a few things about this and they played out in Blur. Yard Act have their own journey to make and it was thrilling to watch them tonight. Decades ago this would have been the Fire Engines – making great pop but being ignored by everyone. In 2022 the table has flipped.

The mini facebook brow worrying and theoretical analysis about them is middle-aged moping. Success always brings out the Twitter snarks somehow trying to turn the band into a guilty pleasure before they’ve even made it. Meanwhile the audience burns! leaping around in the venue. It’s a glorious racket and it proves that what we used to say in Membranes interviews way back in the early Eighties, that this disco-discordant, post-punk poltergeist, slipped disc dislocated madness was not awkward at all but a new form of pop music….it only took the rest of the world 40 years to get there.

 

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t get me wrong Yard Act have some decent songs and it’s great to see British indie/punk/alternative rock bands doing well in the charts. However I’ve been a bit disappointed by the footage I’ve seen of their live gigs. Perhaps I should wait until I see them live – Leicester Academy 2 May 26 booked – but based on what I’ve seen so far The Reytons and Bilk are a better bet for a good night out, even though it looks like Yard Act are going to enjoy more chart success. I challenge you to see them all live if you can and then tell me that I’m wrong.

  2. “It’s often quite bizarre that the interval after punk that was never called post-punk at the time has become such a fertile hunting round for inspiration” I am also a fertile, hunting round for inspiration! :) A great review John. I saw Yard Act play at Brudenell, wayy back when they had the much more angular Sammy Robinson playing guitar. Stemming from the punk band Chest Pains, he was no doubt instrumental in characterising YA’s punkier sound. Chest Pains rubbed shoulder with the likes of Orielles and Sports Team, but never really took flight. Now I see him occasionally darting around like a frightened rabbit in Brudenell, it kinda makes me wonder if some of the better musicians are destined never to ‘get there’, or in the case of Sammy, if a bigger day is yet to come.

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