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Have you been keeping up with Lancaster’s Battle of the Bands? The past few weeks have seen four tough heats take place across campus, with the four winners and one runner up reaching the final at Pendle Bar. I’ll recap, just in case you haven’t been following (in which case, shame on you). The Lash were triumphant in heat one, outshining their competitors with their blues-rock. Heat two saw Tailored to Fit progress, whilst Oban were victorious at the third heat in Grizedale. The final heat at Cartmel was won by Morain, with the runners up, The Yuppies, also progressing. These acts had already defeated quite a bit of the good competition in their respective heats, so hopes were high for an excellent night of live music.
The Yuppies had reached the final after an impressive performance in the Cartmel heat. Their lively combination of folk-rock and blues quickly won over the crowd, with every element of the band working extremely well. Though the Yuppies will probably be remembered for the amazing harmonica of their bassist. His playing was nothing short of sublime, and unless the library currently have Bob Dylan residing in the special collections section I’d have to say he’s probably the best harmonica player on campus.
The highlight of the Yuppies’ set was their foot-stomping cover of blues-rock standard Crossroads, which swapped out the famous guitar solo for an equally emotive harmonica one and climaxed with what must have been Lancaster’s first ever harmonica vs. guitar face-off. The Yuppies were consistently good throughout and the only thing that really let them down were some slightly dodgy vocal harmonies. Apart from that minor quibble, they were pretty damn good.
After seeing a much improved performance from The Yuppies, I was hopeful that the winners of the first heat, The Lash, would have tightened up as well. Their riff-laden blues rock went down well at Lonsdale, and they’d had plenty of time to tune up for the final. So it came as a bit of a surprise that their set was actually a lot worse than last time. The drumming was all over the place, the guitars were unnecessarily abrasive and the lyrics… well, the lyrics were unforgettable. In the same sense that a man does not easily forget the drill that bores into his skull. OK, perhaps that’s a little harsh, but when a very decent performance turns into a pretty terrible one, you can’t help but be critical.
It’s a shame they put in such a disappointing performance, especially considering the obvious talent they have for writing extremely catchy songs (the t riff from One Life Stand refuses to leave my ears). Nor is there any denying that their singer had one of the best voices of the night, so again it was a shame they were used to sing such terrible lyrics… ‘I met a girl from Barcelona!’, went the first line of One Life Stand. I can’t entirely remember the second line, but suffice to say that it ended with ‘wanted to bone her!’. Nice…. The Lash make good songs with terrible lyrics – that’s OK, lots of rock bands have done perfectly well with that combination. But when the performance is as bad as it was here it only serves to detract from the best parts and amplify the worst.
Tailored to Fit were the next band to grace the stage, and they took to it with some authority. They were the only band to really own the stage all night, with vocalist Dave Moran strutting around the stage with bags of confidence. They subsequently proved that they weren’t all talk, either, launching into a set that was professional and tight throughout. Their rhythm section deserves a particular thumbs-up, the bass and drums rumbling along together for the duration of their set. The combination of Moran’s half-spoken/half-sung lyrics, the uber-tight rhythm and some interesting guitar playing meant that things were, technically, pretty brilliant.
However, even though their performance was excellent, the songs didn’t match up. Their final song, complete with Muse-esque instrumental outro, was exciting and powerful, bringing their set to a stunning conclusion. Yet the main body of their set was full of songs that were easily forgotten, even if they were technically accomplished. In a way, almost a reverse of the problem that had afflicted the Lash – great performance, good lyrics, but forgettable songs.
Morain were the fourth band to take the stage. They had impressed the judges at Cartmel with their powerful song-writing and even stronger performance, which was certainly the most professional of any band at the heats. They didn’t disappoint here, either. They were obviously extremely well practised and had the best overall sound of the night. Every part of the band worked perfectly – the vocals strayed toward the “whining line” but constantly kept just to the good side of it; the guitars were big and atmospheric; the drumming was second to none. Though, perhaps unexpectedly, I felt it was the wonderful bass playing of Sam Humble that kept everything together. Bassists never really get any credit, but he sounded fantastic, and his playing added a real extra layer of ‘oomph’ (that’s a real technical term, honest) that every other band was missing. Their songs were amongst the best of the night. ‘Animals’ was the stand out of their set, with its powerful beat and dynamic guitar playing acting as the backdrop to what was without a doubt the best vocal performance of the night.
Oban finished the night with an interesting folky performance. They stood firm in front of a crowd that was getting a bit restless and played a decent set that was actually quite unique, which stemmed from the inclusion of a violin to what was otherwise a fairly typical folky line-up. They went down less well with the crowd – again, probably because it was the end of the night. I talked to one 2nd Year Cartmel student who said ‘both my friend and I thought Oban were a little bit boring to be honest, perhaps a bit too repetitive with the lyrics. They just weren’t as lively as the earlier bands’. There songs were good but by no means stand out, and it was the violin playing that was most popular with the crowd. ‘They were by no means awful or anything, they’ve obviously got through to that stage of the competition on merit but they weren’t really for us, they were our least favourites’, said one student, before adding ‘but one of the band members had a violin which was quite different!’. Proof, if proof be need be, that traditional string instruments make everything better.
After a tension-filled wait it was announced that Morain had triumphed yet again. Ultimately, the best band won. Every band had something interesting to bring to the table – the charm of The Yuppies, the Lash’s riffs, Tailored to Fit’s stage presence, Oban’s unique instrumentation. Morain weren’t perfect, and lacked some of the things that the other bands did so well, but there is no denying that their performance, sound quality and song-writing were the best of the night. They will now be playing an opening slot at Beach Break Live and I have no doubt that their music will go down a treat there, either.