In something of a downsizing from the various gigs I’ve been to of late, this was the most intimate show I’ve seen in a long, long time – and remarkably the first time I have ever attended a gig at this famous old basement venue. The pub appears to have been somewhat gentrified from it’s old reputation, although the gig space itself was still impressively dark and cramped.
The support act, I have to confess, I had to look up the name for post-gig. The blurb for Four Dead In Ohio suggests that they are following the lineage of various famous and legendary rockers, but the reality is perhaps a little more down to earth. Yet another British rock band in thrall to the nineties, I’ve heard too much of this before, I’m afraid. By the time the second song completed a distinctly Oasis-sounding five minutes, I’d had enough and retreated to the bar upstairs for a while.
Initial fears that a fair number of a healthy crowd were there purely for the support band were partially dispelled by the crowd swelling further in time for (The Death of) Six By Seven to take the stage. I should perhaps take this time to explain a little about the band, and their unusual name. This is effectively Chris Olley’s new project, that takes up where the sadly disbanded Six By Seven left off, and it is certainly in the same ballpark as his old band.
But it is, however, probably worth making clear now that this was no exercise in nostalgia. Like his recent gig in Nottingham, this was entirely dedicated to the new material (which you can purchase here), with no room for old songs.
If this is a way to make for a fresh start, some might see it as a strange way to go about it. I was one of a number of people there who have been Six By Seven fans for a long, long time (I first got into them around their first album, nearly fifteen years ago), and perhaps we knew what to expect. But it was sadly clear that a fair number of the crowd had no idea.
And so, a band with no drummer confused some, resulting in some drunken heckling and an apparently quite irritated Chris Olley, who by the end of the show looked like he wanted to simply be off the stage. But then, who could blame him – yet another gig affected by a large number people having conversations that were easily audible over the formidable volume of the music (kudos to the promoters, GoodSoul, who put up polite notices asking people to refrain from talking while performances were going on – a shame that many people there ignored it).
Ah yes, the music. Like the old stuff, this new album is built upon tension. Chris Olley’s songwriting has always been preoccupied with the build, assisted by ominous, heavy basslines and a slow creep towards furious release. And, of course, lyrics spitting fury and hatred of just about everything going. That heavy tension laid itself bare from the very start, with album opener The Writing On The Wall making it perfectly clear exactly how things were going to work out musically, and broadly it involves a lot of patience.
This song in particular is seemingly a lament about what could have been, and what has not quite gone right – and in the case of his musical career, that has been quite a bit. Six By Seven never really got the dues they deserved, but they had an unlucky knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, their first album coming out while electronics and nu-metal were all the rage, and their second album when The Strokes and a whole host of other bands turned attention back to the US again. That morose tone continued with the actually quite pretty – and awfully like an old Spiritualized song with that guitar melody – There’s No Loving Me, and it quickly became obvious that this gig was going to be a run through the entire album.
This was both a blessing and a bit of a curse. The album is great, but needs a few listens to fully appreciate it, and not only that, but playing it in order meant that the strongest songs of all got despatched early on. Chris Olley’s way with a biting lyric hasn’t lost him, either (Living in a town you misspronounce and cannot spell during Misspronounce is just brilliant), but as the gig went on, I found myself hankering for some release.
But as on the album, little came. Songs build to a near-unbearable tension, but never explode into life, and this felt like the flaw here. Maybe, though, he isn’t interested in perpetuating the scorched earth approach that his old band had to finishing off songs (seeing Six By Seven about ten years back in Leeds was an exhausting and extremely loud experience, as I recall). While many of us stayed right to the end, a fair number had given up well before the end. Perhaps some of them had come expecting something that they weren’t going to get here.
It wasn’t difficult to feel sympathy for Chris Olley, though. He is trying to move on, to try something at least a little different, but here at least he played to a half-rapt crowd, and a half-pissed and bored crowd. He was hardly disguising his unhappiness by the end of the show, but here is hoping he keeps going with this. He is a rare talent, writing and releasing music that is a genuine alternative to so much of the dross that clogs up the indie scene in venues like this, it is just a shame that more don’t appreciate it.