In a world full of vacuous z-list celebrities, hell bent on spreading their god forsaken auto-tuned derge around the globe, it’s refreshing to know that out there somewhere, there are REAL bands, playing REAL music to people who want to hear it, that somewhere tonight was The Cavern in Exeter where they were putting on an evening of classic punk rock. Forget (insert name of desperate fame seeking celebrity), tonight was very much the turn of two classic punk rock legends called The Membranes and Goldblade. I saw the former at a local festival last weekend (Beautiful Days) and witnessed them playing in a bandstand to a healthy audience, I refer of course to the volume of people, not their health, it was the last day of a 3 day festival so I doubt that any of them were healthy in the slightest! I digress…..
The link between these two bands is a man called John Robb, for the uninitiated amongst us, this man is somewhat of a legend….
He wrote for mainstream music tabloids Sounds and Melody maker for many years and nowadays regularly contributes for The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Guardian and The Independent alongside many websites in the UK and across the world. Robb also runs his own music blog called Louder than War (which is similar in many ways to mine….) and his claims to fame are that he was the first journalist to interview the kings of grunge Nirvana in 1989 (I think he was the first UK journalist to interview them in the UK?) and was the person who coined the term ‘Britpop’. So there you go, a brief history of Mr John Robb and why he is so well respected in the music industry.
First up were a local indie rock act called Holy Solar, they opened with quite a dark edged song which intrigued me with a line ‘ringing on my door, passed out on my floor’, the track almost bordering on classic goth-rock with its brooding baseline. ‘My Last Day’ was more of a venture into their indie rock heritage with some great guitar and bass work. Their final offering saw the band fusing together well, the guitar sound reminded me of J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, all in all, a solid performance and a band that I’d definitely go and watch again.
Outside the venue, John Robb was trying to assist a 16 year old lad who was refused entry to the venue despite it being advertised as a 16+ show, he worked tirelessly, calling around, trying to get the promoter to speak to the manager of the club but sadly to no avail. It’s the little things like this that really change your perception of people, for me, this just cemented the fact that John is a real down to earth guy who would go to the edge of the earth to help someone in need, I’d best stop all this, his halo will need polishing soon!
Up next were the post-punk loveliness of mighty Membranes, a band that Robb formed in 1977 and went on to release a number of albums throughout the 80’s, eventually splitting in 1990 when Robb formed another band called Sensurround. They reformed in 2010, appearing at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival at the request of My Bloody Valentine and released a 7”single that was released exclusively on Record Store Day in 2012, the track reached the heady heights of ‘Single of the Week’ in The Guardian. Sporting a slightly different lineup from the 4 piece ensemble that played at the Beautiful Days bandstand, Peter Byrchmore on guitar/backing vocals, John Robb on bass/vocals and the very clever and super talented latin speaking drummer Rob Haynes.
Their set revolved around their latest album ‘Dark Matter/Dark Energy’ which looks at the life and death of the universe. It was launched earlier this year by a gig at the top of Blackpool Tower - this being the first time a band has ever played at the famous Northern landmark. Even with a bass guitar around his neck, Robb remains very much the front man, lurching around the stage, stopping to shake hands with the front row and inject his trademark energy into every song.
Midway through their set, Robb dedicated a song to Goldblade and thanked them for letting them use their equipment, he added that they’d be holed up in their 5 star hotel right now instead of watching the support bands!
After 30 minutes of dark, brooding bass and guitar accompanied with motorik beats painted a surreal lunar landscape, they played a killer tune called ‘Space Junk’ which was reminiscent of something that Señor Claypool and his Primus chums would have produced, the overall funk really got the audience going with a fair bit of pushing and shoving in the front couple of rows, just the way I like it!
After a short break, a mohawked local called Hena took to the stage armed with just an acoustic guitar to play some of his self penned punk rock, he dedicated a song to a friend who was having a hard time in hospital which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Ed Sheeran album with it’s part sung/part rapped lyrics. He recently played a gig in Bristol and after breaking a string on his guitar after the first track was forced to use an electric guitar with heavy distortion which kind of altered the dynamic and his punk attitude to playing raw music without the aid of electronic gadgetry. He sung about the effect that reality TV shows were having on the youths of today and also about why the World Cup football to be held in Qatar in 2022 defies all logic ever!
I heard that the Limo had arrived from the Royal Clarence hotel, it parked up in Queen Street and the members fought their way through the paparazzi and adoring fans down the fire escape of the Cavern and straight into the plush surroundings of the ‘green room’ to destroy the rider prior to their performance. Okay, it might not have been quite so glamorous but even so, Goldblade were due onstage any minute….
The band took to the stage, I must say that the singer, guitarist and drummer looked very familiar, I just cannot place where I have seen them before ;-) Robb looked like a changed man without the bass, free to run around (well, as much as the small stage would allow) and maintain the energy levels as high as he always did when I used to watch him some 10 years ago on the Isle of Man when they made a few visits there to keep the island inhabitants happy with some punk rock therapy instead of the usual folky mush that we had to endure!
Their setlist spanned their colourful career and included high octane classics such as ‘Fighting in the Dancehall’, ‘Jukebox Generation’ (which Robb dedicated to the guy who was refused entry) and newer material including ‘The Shamen are Coming’, lifted from their latest album. The temperature on the stage in the Cavern was reaching unbearable levels and it wasn’t long until Robb removed his top, leaving him stripped to the waist baring his chiselled torso, I hate to say it but he looks great for someone in his late 30's.....
I was waiting for a couple of key tracks to appear and towards the end of the set, Robb referred to the Cavern as a ‘hobbit house’ owing to its low ceilings and promptly dedicated ‘Psycho’ to the stoor hobbit, Gollum, the track lifted everyone in that room and it wasn’t long until the crowd were jumping along to the frantic sounds that emanated form these 4 seasoned musicians. ‘Riot! Riot!’ made it’s presence known and to complete the set, they played ‘Do You Believe in the Power of Rock n’ Roll’, Robb welcoming people to the front of the stage to take part in his punk rock communion where he placed a holy hand on the heads of fans and asked them if they ‘believed’. I think he managed to save a good few numbers of the audience tonight in Exeter and convert them to the Church of Goldblade, where the holy book is ‘Get in the Van’ by Pastor Henry Rollins and there are 3 services a day, culminating in a Goldblade set EVERY NIGHT, now THAT’S a church I’d attend!
It was great to see John Robb up on stage performing and I caught up with him afterwards briefly, he is akin to a walking musical version of Wikipedia, if there’s anything to be known in the music world, John will know, if he doesn’t know, it ain’t worth knowing, end of! After a few minutes signing records and books, he was whisked off by the Goldblade ‘suits’ to a limo and driven to Exeter Airport to board their private helicopter which was off to Penzance for the 3 Chords Festival!
If you get a chance to catch either The Membranes or Goldblade live in the future, get a ticket and go, it really will invigorate you and restore faith in that there ARE bands who care about their fans, are passionate about their music and want to do their little bit to make our stint on earth almost worthwhile.
Photography Shaun Histed-Todd