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There’s nothing quite like a good ol’ fashioned Battle of the Bands. It’s arguably rock and roll in its purest form; pick a rag-tag bunch of ambitious, up and coming musical gladiators and let them fight to the death in a heated arena of vicious musical combat.
And these battles are not just the preserve of films starring Jack Black either. Over the next few weeks bands from across campus will compete against each other for a genuinely impressive prize, a slot at the Beach Break Live festival. Lonsdale Bar was first up to showcase a selection of campus talent, and the bands on show gave some very solid, if unspectacular, performances.
Muse famously began their world-conquering career at a Battle of the Bands way back in 1994 (they then went by the unfortunate moniker The Rocket Baby Dolls), and although I don’t think the next Matt Bellamy graced Lonsdale with his presence, a couple of these bands might have the potential to make a challenge for the spot at Beach Break.
Lonsdale Bar was absolutely packed by the time the first band, acoustic duo Me + You, entered the stage. They reminded me of She + Him, a similarly named band with the same acoustic set-up, although they didn’t really approach the standards of that particular twosome because a) neither one of them was Zooey Deschanel and b) their songs weren’t particularly strong. Angel was an especially poor moment on the lyrics front, with words that might as well have been pulled from the inside of a particularly cheap Valentine’s card.
When both of them picked up guitars things improved musically, though the vocals and lyrics remained slightly off. They were singing so close to the microphone that the lyrics to one chorus sounded like “summer days are over”, although it could have just as easily been “Socrates fell over” (a better lyric, in my opinion). It wasn’t all bad though; they were confident performers and their guitar playing was lively and bright, so with a bit of work on their lyrics they could quite easily become a very decent act.
Me + You were followed by another acoustic act, Ollie Gaskell, who is fairly well known around campus for his musical exploits. He put in a solid solo performance in front of the rapidly growing crowd, with some nice guitar playing complimenting his strong vocal performance. He was much stronger than Me + You in terms of interaction with the audience, with the best bit of his set coming mid-song when he asked everyone “to imagine some sort of sick, screaming guitar solo over the top of these chords”. He’s a natural performer who quickly charmed the crowd with his awfully cheery demeanour, but the major weakness of his set was that it didn’t stand out. Aside from the aforementioned guitar solo and a couple of other quirky lyrical couplets nothing was particularly memorable; there was nothing approaching a catchy rhythm or a hook that could have given his sprightly folk-pop songs the lift they needed to compete with the acts that followed him.
As soon as Ollie Gaskell’s performance had finished The Lash took to the stage, their singer greeting the enthusiastic crowd with a cry of “how’s it goin’, Lonsdale!”. Not a particularly original opening line but they were certainly the best crowd-banterers of the night, chatting confidently with the audience in between their songs.
Their set was just as well practiced as their chatter; their performances were polished and professional, although their drummer occasionally strayed out of time with the rest of the band. The songs themselves weren’t half bad, either. They played an entertaining mix of rock and blues and whilst no song was particularly exceptional, none of them could really be faulted, either. But on more than one occasion their lyrics let them down, with one song boiling down to little more than a list of words that rhymed with cry. It therefore came as no surprise that the best performance of their set (and the night as a whole) was an excellent cover of All Along the Watchtower. The ability is obviously there, so if they can refine their own songs to the standard of their covers they might just have a shot in the final.
The wonderfully named Makrel Jak brought the heat to a conclusion with the most interesting performance of the night. Their performance was extremely rough around the edges, though when their ideas worked well the relatively sloppy playing could quickly be forgiven.
Makrel Jak’s eclecticism was very much apparent from the start – after a relatively sedate opener they surprised everyone in the room with a song that was part bongo-driven headbanger, part spoken word poetry recital. It was very odd and more than slightly pretentious but, most importantly, a lot of fun. Compared to swagger of The Lash their stage presence was a let down, moving awkwardly around the stage between songs. But after mumbling something or other about “how this song is a bit heavier than the others” they launched into an extremely schizophrenic number that rapidly switched between a relaxed boy/girl vocal duet and a ridiculously distorted guitar breakdown. ‘I Bought you Flowers’ was a much more down-tempo affair and didn’t work as well as the rest of their set, although they impressed yet again in their last song with the unexpected addition of some surprisingly effective harmonica playing.
Overall it was a very interesting night, and although the acts weren’t fantastic they certainly showed a fair bit of potential and they’ve all got plenty of time to develop further. After the contest was over the panel of judges solemnly decreed that it was to be The Lash who would progress through to the final, with Makrel Jak taking second place and a shot in the final as a wild card. Both Me + You and Ollie Gaskell had their strengths, but ultimately their basic acoustic-pop lost out to the professional sheen of The Lash or Makrel Jak’s abundance of ideas.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how these two fare against some of the more established names on campus (if they win their heats, of course) at the final in Pendle Bar. Both of them have the potential to succeed, but they both need work on their weaknesses to stand any chance of earning that slot at Beach Break.