Sunday, 6 December 2009

Gig Review- Swervedriver + I Concur @ Relentless Garage, London

2 separate and equally frustrating misunderstandings befell Swervedriver over the years. The first was that they were a shoegazing band, as they emerged from the Thames Valley in the early 90s at the same time as Ride, Slowdive, Chapterhouse et al, and were presumed to purvey a similar sound to the hazy, ethereal washes of guitar noise effected by bands of that ilk. The second and more alarming confusion surrounded their name, where the uninitiated were often immediately thinking of the ne0-nazi punk band of the mid to late 70s; Skrewdriver!

They were, of course, neither of these things, instead trading in a brand of open road, expansive alternative rock music that had its foundation in The Stooges, Husker Du and Pixies, and was then given a noise makeover courtesy of My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. The result? Some of the most exhilirating, rocket propelled tunes I have ever had the pleasure of discovering. Boy, the first time I saw them live, at the New Cross Venue in 1991, you could actually smell the petrol.

The first three EP's, on Creation Records (another reason music journalists lazily lumped them with the Shoegazing scene), which are littered with references to fast cars, desert highways, windswept coastlines and escapism, made the band taste deliberately of gasoline-fuelled America, with the vocals of Adam Franklin often sounding the same way. And, any lead track from a debut EP that contains the line "Been drunk for days now, been drunk to take the pain away", as "Son of Mustang Ford came hurtling out of my (admittedly) low budget speakers at the time, deserved far greater recognition and commercial success than it did....check out the dreads!
2nd album Mezcal Head is a lost classic, with "Duel", "Girl on a Motorbike" and, in particular, "Last Train to Satansville", all tracks easily making it into my top 100 most rotated of all time. I'm not normally big on lyrics, but "...Satansville" opens as follows;

"You look like you've been losing sleep", said a stranger on a train.
I fixed him with an ice-cold stare, and said "I've been having those dreams again.."
"In one dream there's this girl I love, and we dance every waking breath.
In the other they've thrown me in a cell, and they're trying me for her death".
Absolute bloody genius, and the tune itself clatters along with a rhythm section derived straight from the 0630 goods train from Salt Lake City.

After 9 years, only 4 albums and enough record label hassle to sink any band, Swervedriver called it a day in 1998, never achieving the mainstream success their music, in my humble opinion, deserved.
Fast forward 10 years to 2008, and suddenly "The Swervies", as their fans called them, were back, with the same line-up as the one they split with, and undertaking a major tour of the US, with a one-off UK date at the Scala in London, which I didn't become aware of until it had happened, and so spent the next couple of months brooding over missing it.
Not to be denied, however, they returned to London last weekend, to play the splendidly refurbished Highbury Garage, a scene of some of my greatest drunken evenings in the early 90s.
Suitably tanked up, we arrived early at the venue to catch the excellent I Concur, from Leeds, who have just released their debut album "Able Archer" on Club AC30 records, our hosts for the evening. They play a kind of "Green" era R.E.M. meets The Wedding Present, which sounds, and is, just like my neighbour and right up my street. However, it's 8.00p.m. when we arrive, and one and a half songs later, they are gone. Early curfew tonight, apparently (10pm!!), so sorry we missed you chaps, and by way of scant consolation, here's their superb ode to Stott Hill Farm on the M62..
And then, they were before us, a reformed Swervedriver (!!!), with a now semi-shaven headed, bearded Adam Franklin launching the band into the many highlights of their back catalogue. The opening chords of "Duel" and "Girl On a Motorbike" are greeted like long-lost friends, and it's clear pretty early doors that a 10 year or so hiatus has dimmed none of their raw power, nor talent. Never particularly talkative, Franklin and co burn through 15 tunes like their lives depended on it, with "Rave Down" and, from the back of the venue and on a beer run, "Sandblasted", sounding huge. 90 minutes later, and after a 2 song encore of "Satansville" (of course) and "Kill the Superheroes" from the first EP, they were gone, having made several hundred thirtysomethings extremely nostalgic. Drummer Jez Hindmarsh summed it all up rather neatly- "You've made some old men very happy"...


  1. Sounds like an enjoyable night. You are right about their name, when I saw the gig listed on here I'm not sure if I confused them with Skrewdriver or recognised the slight difference and assumed them to be a Skrewdriver tribute band. If such an outfit exists. Whichever way, I imagined loud noise, mayhem and a potential kicking for anyone not wearing one of those green jackets and skintight jeans.

  2. It's weird that I've never heard any tunes by these chaps, it's all a bit Wheels of Steel for me, but I'm sure this is right up Andy's Alley.

  3. I'll do you a CD, and then hopefully you will know why I nearly wet myself when I heard they were reforming..