In a first piece for Storge Shelley Jane Newman (of Sex Jokes, Mighty Kids and more) gives us an ode to the Derby music scene as inspired by the summer all-dayer at Dubrek Studios.
A lot is being written about the fate of The Hairy Dog (long may it live) as if it is the only “grassroots” venue in Derby but I’m turning my attention to Dubrek for its all-dayer and unreserved persistence to bring quality, original, live music to Derby in a homely setting, on a weekly basis at circa 1998 admission prices.
First to perform is Chas Palmer-Williams, or just Chas from Lightyear – a ska punk band, formed in Derby in the 1990s. Their gigs were a thing of legend to me, having never been to one, but hearing stories about everyone stripping naked at them. Seems like Chas has had a change of pace, he’s forgetting his lyrics, apologising for not practising and telling us that he hasn’t slept due to a teething baby (been there, man). It sounds like I am giving Chas a bad review, but I loved it.
I like my musicians as whole, real people, not consummate performers who have honed their craft to within an inch of its life. The quality of the songs shines through in spite of any hitches Chas experiences. In the song I’m A Musician he conjures an image of GG Allen stuck in a lift with One Direction. Brutal and very funny. He must really hate 1D. Chas’s lyrics move from astute observation to clever witticism with ease but they feel honest in a way “clever” lyrics often don’t.
Next up is Umbilica, the musical pseudonym of Josephine Lewis, a champion of female and non-binary voices in Derby through She Speaks events and her work as leader of the Rebel Women’s Choir. Alex Bowen and James Machin (of Grawl!x) provide perfectly placed, lilting backing vocals on select songs but leave Jo alone to sing her final song where she sings “It’s easier when nowhere feels like home”.
Jo’s own voice brings such class to everything it touches. With shades of Joni Mitchell’s jazz days in the melodies, but with more than a hint of raw, Mancunian character, it soars through her beautiful, personal songs, moving as one with her immaculate guitar playing and luring the listener into an emotional response. I swear I was not the only one with tears in my eyes!
Night Stages are the newest Derby supergroup. It’s their first gig together in this incarnation. Made up of Dubrek proprietor, Jay on guitar and vocals (formerly of Cato, Fixit Kid, Gold Codes and currently also of Goddesses), Debbie from Twinkie (who I believe played their last gig 10 years ago),on vocals and guitar, Martin on drums (formerly of YouNoGoDie and Chris Martin) and Tim on bass (from underrated instrumental noise rock outfit Them Are They) Night Stages are a band with no regard for the neighbours.
They are loud, shimmering sludge, and at one point the rhythm section sounds like pure, glorious metal. The guitar sounds Jay provides at times sound like shattering glass and if he hits that red pedal of doom you know it means trouble for your hearing. There are a lot of layers to get lost in but the one I’m missing out on is Debbie’s vocal, which is just too low in the mix to hear any of. I’m desperate to see them again, but beg that this is corrected, as I’m so sure that Debbie’s credentials mean she was doing some great vocals were sadly lost this time.
Next up is Grawl!x, AKA James Machin AKA Mach. I have truly never known another artist who is so gifted and prolific (he seems to write an album’s worth of material every month) whilst remaining so completely unpretentious. Mach is unassuming to a disarming degree and simultaneously inspires me and makes me want to give up music entirely because here is perfection, already attained.
Playing solo today, there’s only one old song on the setlist, but the new songs are bathed in the trademark reverb that shrouds every lyric like it’s a dirty secret. I’m sure the lyrics are pure filth, as the name Grawl!x suggests. The new material is bleepier, bloopier and with more beats than before, accompanied by an atmospheric backing track merging one song into the next like he doesn’t want the audience to applaud in appreciation. By the second track in this mix of new songs, a 4-to-the-floor ethereal dance-pop track, we rebel and clap anyway.
Jo Lewis is back to add some vocals – together they have beautiful “blend” (a technical term I learnt from a documentary about a boy band) where their voices merge and blend into one voice. There’s more looping than at previous gigs, and more Mach is always a good thing. Emotionally, I experience a meditative effect when I see a Grawl!x gig. Breathing his music in and out like life is a tough exercise session and Grawl!x is the “happy place” I must to go to to get through it. My only theory I have to explain the proliferation of his art is that the man has the power to stop time. Either this or he’s proof of what a person can achieve when they have no TV, no internet, a massive heart and a ton musical talent. At the end of the set I send a text of a much shorter review to my husband which reads: “F***ing Jesus f***ing sh***ing Christ. Mach was amazing. FFS.” Because the guy has no business being so talented. It’s just not fair on the rest of us.
The Honeymoon Suite are young and cool, but don’t let that put you off. I know someone is cool, in an anti-fashion way, when I can see the entirety of their white socks even though they are wearing long trousers. It’s the universal symbol. I have waited a while to see them play live after clocking them on Facebook and Storge and rooting for them from the sidelines of social media. They have clearly been working hard on their music and have so much to back up the promise of their cool-boy image.
They have guitar riffs to rival that of Johnny Marr, mature lyrics with catchy choruses and one thing that eludes a good few young bands, space in the music. These guys have learnt early that space is as important as noise, as their sound has an accomplished modulation, which tells the stories of their songs in grand peaks and tender troughs. With a lead singer, William, who makes me reimagine Ian Curtis as a happy and more melodic young man, a solid rhythm section in George and Tom, and Lou’s afore mentioned excellent guitar playing, this is a band with boundless energy, in which all members pull their weight in both effort and musical ability. Nearing the end of the set Lou sings “only the good die young” a seemingly trite but often true statement which leaves me hoping this band live forever.
With the stage set up like a duel between guitar and bass a-tota-so prove themselves a mighty force. Like a wrestling match between two sonic behemoths, Chris (bass) and Marty (guitar) slug it out with only Jamie’s drums to referee. To me, there are two distinct parts to each instrumental bombast; when they argue, and when they agree – like the end of a row where both parties turn the volume down and say they are sorry. This is due to the conversational style of their particular brand of Math-Rock – moving from playing in unison to the sonic back and forth of duelling melodies.
Rhythmically they challenge even the most experienced dancer. Just when you think you have the time signature locked in they will throw in an extra beat, or three. I won’t pretend to know what’s going on pedal/effects wise but there are a myriad of tones and voices in this healthy musical debate.
Babe Punch are another young Derby/Nottingham based band, whose career I have been following from day one. At risk of sounding like an old creep, it is thrilling watching them grow as a band and develop their sound.
Molly’s vocals have long informed my thoughts on the band, likening them to Mariska Veres from Shocking Blue, Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. The newer material is punkier than before but still sounds so big, bold and classic that you’d swear they were a covers band (in the best possible way) until you realised these were their own songs. They do one cover, an inspired choice of Wicked Game by Chris Isaac.
Throughout the set Molly apologises for being hungover but I’m not sure what she’s sorry for because it’s a great, very together, set of throbbing bass, precise and melodic guitar (where it appears to be a rare aesthetic choice to not “over-egg” this punk pudding with multiple effects pedals), drums to rival my super-fave, Janet Weiss, and Molly’s exceptional earth-quaking blues-rock vocal.
Papayer are a band made up of Derby’s finest chef, Cob, on bass (no, really, I nearly cried when he guested at Terroir Bistro, the food was so good), Tom, one of my favourite songwriters to ever walk within Derby’s city limits, on vocals and guitar, and the faultless Niall on drums and backing vocals. In 2014 they released one of my most loved albums, Boo, and have been criminally inactive for too long.
Today they are back in Derby with seemingly equal numbers of old and new songs, all of which are welcomed by the growing crowd. One of my favourite elements of Papayer’s music is the effortless lazy-boy vocal that tumbles from Tom’s mouth giving the listener an assumed intimacy, as if you have happened upon someone’s bedroom recordings of future indie-rock classics.
Nottingham’s synth rockers I am Lono have the honour of the closing performance. Once a two piece, now four strong, they have certainly more than doubled in weight of sound.
Without wanting to sound rude, there’s a lot of experience in this band, and although none of them look old enough to have been in a band in the ’80s, it’s an era that has clearly informed their writing.
By the second song I know they are influenced by ’80s music as I am hearing Sisters of Mercy and Depeche Mode in a big way. They are MBV loud and provide a dramatic end to a consistently enjoyable day.
The day proves Dubrek is at the beating heart of a Derby live music scene that remains alive and well despite the challenges it faces – and long may that continue.
Words by Shelley Jane Newman and images by Richard McKerron/RMCK Photography.