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Holy Moly And The Crackers - Sage 2, Gateshead 04.10.2019

I’d want to start this review off by doing something unusual, by apologising to a friend of mine.

A couple of years ago me and some friends did a Secret Santa thing. My buddy Ian sent me a signed CD of “Salem” by Holy Moly And The Crackers and I sent him some Lego and a copy of Nickleback’s “All The Right Reasons” as I told him he’d been on both the naughty and nice list.

Ian introduced me to a great band and I musically abused him, so I wish to say, publicly, I am sorry for that.

In the past year I’ve seen Holy Moly And The Crackers support New Model Army and Frank Turner, winning fans in the process, while their new album “Take A Bite” has had several friends of mine talking about where to put it in their top albums of 2019 list. To say that this year has been good to the band would probably be an understatement.

Friday saw them kicking off their UK tour at Sage 2 in Gateshead, the venue sitting on the banks of the Tyne, apposite their adoptive hometown of Newcastle. The nucleus of the band moved north several years ago and have based themselves here ever since. Sage 2 is almost full to the brim of fans, friends and family eagerly waiting to welcome the band.

Opening the night’s proceedings are GGAllan Partridge, a “Radge Pop” band from down the road in Teeside. Han, the band’s guitarist, takes the microphone to say that Dan, the band’s vocalist, is unable to be there tonight as she has a family emergency that needs her to be elsewhere, and that tonight’s set is dedicated to her (hope things improve Dan). It’s a brave and ballsy move with the remaining trio of girls opting to continue, something that’s applauded by everyone in the room. Han, Eve (Violin) and Soph (drums) attack their set with ferocity and it’s clear that if they were nervous they’re not showing any signs of it. I don’t know how it compares to a normal performance of the band, but their enthusiasm carries them onward. The guitar slices through the venue, the violin stabs away at the melody as the Moe Tucker style drums pound the beat. To my virgin ears they sound like Velvet Underground by way of The Slits, the gig only hinting at what they may really sound like.

A red washed stage appears warm as the song ‘Zorba’s Dance’ comes over the PA, a way of hinting at the band’s melting pot of influences. The audience start to clap along to it, it’s rhythm getting faster and more manic. As it reaches it’s deranged crescendo, the band come on to the stage. Tommy takes his place at his drum kit while Jamie and Nick grab their bass and guitar respectively. Squeezebox Rosie takes her place at the front of the stage, accordion strapped to her and looking like one of the Nexus 6 replicants from Blade Runner. Bringing up the rear are husband and wife Conrad and Ruth, the band’s dual vocalists. It’s good to see Ruth come onstage in her mobility scooter - she suffers from severe arthritis and EDS which means that even though she’s in pain she doesn’t let that stop her enthusiasm and love of performing.

They launch into ‘Sugar’ from 2017’s album "Salem" and it’s clear from the very first second that the band are so ready for this gig. Conrad prowls the stage, possessed by the song itself as he sings. His voice is deep but not quite raspy, adding so much character to the song. This is swiftly followed by ‘All I Got Is You’ the opening song from this year’s “Take A Bite”, Ruth’s sweet vocals taking over from Conrad and forming the perfect balance to him. Where his is gritty, hers is like honey, it rolls smoothly into your ears. To me, Ruth is the heart of the band and Conrad it’s mischievous soul.

Tommy is a flamboyant drummer, his shirt opened wide as he tattoos the rhythm onto the song, allowing Jamie, the bassist, to pin a melody to beat. Adding colour to the music with his guitar (as well as his colourful shirt) is Nick, adding an almost psychedelic flavour to the music while the sound is fleshed out by Rosie, her accordion thickening the sound and adding counterbalance to Nick’s playing. Add into the mix Ruth’s violin and Conrad’s acoustic guitar and trumpet and you have a full, carnivalesque sound that doesn’t sound cluttered. Everyone in Holy Moly plays exactly what needs to be played, no flash or ego.

Musically the band take whatever they want from various different sources, Eastern European Folk, Punk, Soul, Pop - a broad sonic palette to draw from. ‘Kiss Me Before You Go’ sounds like it’s escaped from a lost album by Joe Strummer and the Mescalaros. ‘Naked In Budepest’ is introduced by with the tale of Tommy, sans clothing, a few sheets to the wind and refusing to go home (Ruth does apologise to his mother from the stage).

The band clear the stage, all except for Ruth, who takes her place at in front of grand piano for a few songs without the band. She announces that next year will see her as one of the artists in residence at the Sage, allowing her to explore herself musically. Her solo version of ‘Salem’ is haunting and heartbreaking, giving new dimension to the song. She follows this up with ‘I’d Give It All’ and you can hear a pin drop in the auditorium as she performs. After enjoying the applause, the band come back and treat us all to the party that is ‘The Woman From Spain’ before running through ‘Cold Comfort Lane’, Upside Down’ and ‘Mary’ at such a pace it made the world spin that little bit faster.

Large balloons are thrown into the room, audience and band members batting them as high as they possibly can. The party has to wind up sometime and with ‘I Will See You Again’ and ‘The Devil And The Danube’ they do that. The grins on their faces match that of the audience, we are all truly part of the same great evening. Tonight has all been about fun and singing our hearts out along with the band and each other, a real celebration of the power of a great night of live music. I feel jealous of anyone catching them on any of the remaining dates as I can’t wait to experience this again.

Review - Scott Hamilton

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