Deaf Havana at Liverpool Academy

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Picture the scene; it’s nine fifteen, the dim lights cease along with the pre-gig banter, plunging us into darkness. The low ceiling and black walls seem to be contracting, pushing and pulling the zealous crowd closer. Seconds of anticipatory silence linger until the lights raise once again, met with howls of excitement from revved up fans. Feet scuffle, smiles widen, breath is held. That’s when Elvis Presley’s Teddy Bear kicks in. These guys know how to make an entrance because everyone loves a teddy bear! The six Norfolk-born lads saunter onstage modestly waving and smiling at the uncontrollably eager fan-girls and boys who make up the crowd, cheers of excitement bounce from the walls of the packed Academy and the six still look cool as cucumbers. There is no need to for these fellas to introduce themselves. Anyone interested in British rock will know this band. Ladies and gentleman, meet Deaf Havana.

Since 2005, when Deaf Havana formed with the original members meeting on King’s Lynn campus of the College of West Anglia, they have self-produced a number of EP’s and have just released their third studio album, Old Souls. The band, consisting of James Veck-Gilodi (vocals and guitar), brother Matthew Veck-Gilodi (backing vocals and guitar), Chris Pennels (guitar), Lee Wilson (bass), Tom Ogden (drums) and Max Britton (keys), have been grafting away in the underground rock scene for countless years, met with little critical recognition and disappointing show turnouts. Despite this disappointment, spirits were never broken, only tested at times. Their determination and valour was finally met with truly deserved success when they finally broke into the mainstream with their single Friends Like These in 2009. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Each album presents a fresh collection of songs, lyrically, vocally and instrumentally, as since Meet Me Halfway, At Least much has changed for the band. Then-frontman Ryan Mellor (who provided screamed vocals) departed leaving James to lead, if somewhat involuntarily. However shocking Mellor’s departure was to fans, for the band it was inevitable. The identity struggle was palpable with the lads feeling they needed to retain the scuzzed-up, punk rock sound to accommodate Mellor’s vocal style. Post-Mellor, however soul-crushed fans felt, Deaf Havana’s sound adopted a decidedly more melodic approach which has completely flourished and matured with Old Souls presenting influence from artists like The Smiths and Bruce Springsteen. When I asked James in my interview what the dream was for Deaf Havana, he simply replied:

“Nothing really. Back then I just wanted to do a good cover of a Fall Out Boy song…I had no expectations whatsoever! We literally started it because we were so bored and had nothing else to do!”

And man, all the people here are absolutely glad there was nothing to do in Hunstanton! Boston Square kicks things off; the emotionally resonant lyrics and rip-roaring sound renders this an instant classic. Safe to say, everyone goes mental likely to have heard this before when Zane Lowe premiered it in May 2013. The lads ooze cool and their humbleness is profound. James sincerely thanks everything for coming (“it means more than you will ever know”) and in true Deaf Havana style shouts “cheers!” proceeding to down a can of cider. The set-list presents a delectable combination of songs from their newest album and second album Fools and Worthless Liars. No songs from Meet Me Halfway, At Least were included due to the inability to adapt said songs without Mellor’s screamed vocals. But not to worry, this set illuminates the magnificent spectrum of Deaf Havana’s talent and James’s talent as a writer with staple rock numbers such as Leeches, Boston Square and King’s Road Ghosts to the thoroughly melodic (and brilliantly titled) Everybody’s Dancing and I Want To Die. Tracks from Old Souls present their new refined sound with layering of horns, strings and gospel choir over the existing instrumental textures affording yet another dimension.

The light-hearted demeanour they hold is infectious. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They purely, as James phrases it, “try to promote good, honest music”. They recognise the dominant band image culture of the 21st century music scene, where often image is given prominence over instrumental and lyrical style, but allow their music to speak for itself. Their utterly sincere bouts of appreciation towards the fans reiterate the emphasis on honest, inspirational music:

We are a band who appreciate it so much and I think so many bands these days are too f****** cool…to show their fans appreciation. And obviously the lead singer is a fat bloke with long hair, to my right [gestures to Matthew] we’ve got Long John Silver here and Tom Ogden looks like a cheese string with arms and legs so…we ‘aint cool whether we like it or not so we have to say thank you!”

This easy-going manner is positively refreshing. The confidence in their music means they are able to play popular rock numbers such as The World Or Nothing with an acoustic edge; slower tempo and exotic drumbeat from Matthew included. Alternating the deliverance of popular numbers seemingly adds another string to the bow. Attending this gig has cemented for me how comfortable and confident Deaf Havana have become, flourishing in their rightful place. I finally feel they are delivering the message they’ve been relentlessly in search of. Their exuberance only indulges fans who chant and stamp for an encore after the band exit stage. As gig-tradition allows, they re-enter performing three additional songs including recent single Mildred. A final ‘thanks’ is given, reminding me of James’s answer to the most rewarding part:

“One hundred per cent when people come up to you (and genuinely mean it) saying ‘this song helped me through this’…it’s the only reason I write music.”

This absolutely demonstrates the wonderful and genuine give-and-take mentality between audience and artist that is so unique with Deaf Havana. You’ve thoroughly impressed me, well done lads.

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