The Black Heart, Camden, London
Saturday, 14th October 2023
The Black Heart in Camden – always too hot, always overloaded sound, but tonight it didn’t matter. Rushden’s finest, The Fierce And The Dead, are here to officially launch their new album, the wonderful sideways shimmy that is News From the Invisible World, and with a crowd that had been anticipating the gig for as long as the band – a crowd that seemed to all know each other as well as the band – it could hardly fail.
Before the main course, we were set up nicely by local boys in violet. They have been going ten years – you wouldn’t think so given their youthful appearance – and have two albums and a few stand-alone singles/EPs under their belt. Main man Jake Murray has an appreciation of the concept of “the album” too, and they have produced a rather tasty mini coffee table book of his artwork related to the last album, amber (fond of his lower case, is Jake!), that couldn’t be reproduced in restrictive CD case format. This was on the merch desk, and was snapped up by my companion – how could she resist? Another nice addition to the usual wares on sale was a TFATD beanie hat, which I bought. Just the thing to draw quizzical glances as the nights draw in, methinks.
Pumping out a fulsome racket in the form of pulsebeat electro-clatter with added spiked guitar, they pushed The Black Heart’s poor old limited PA to the limit with their three guitars, two sets of keyboards/electronica, drums… and a kazoo! Sadly, the vocals were largely rendered indecipherable. Needles lived in the red, but despite that the beats became increasingly less resistible as their short set wended its way through four songs, ending with the manic driven speedfreakery of Cathedral Thinking. Not so much sonic cathedrals in the sky as sonic cathedrals stripped to the bone, shuddering in simpatico to the relentless rhythmic waveforms vibrating the air. If this one didn’t make you at least nod to the beat, you were probably – and maybe understandably – already deaf, or maybe dead. Yep, this is a band I shall keep an eye on.
Jake Murray – Vocals, Keyboards & Pads, Guitar
Chad Murray – Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar, Kazoo (no, really!)
Matias Duarte – Bass Guitar
Edmund Dable-Heath – Lead Guitar
Kieran Murphy – Drums
During the break, we decamp downstairs to the main bar, where the bellowing of punters at each other was probably as loud as the gig itself. Months in the anticipation, this gig was set up to be a celebration, and that’s what it was. The Fierce And The Dead make their way on to the stage to a roar of approval. By now mostly slightly inebriated, the crowd laughed off early minor glitches and a false start with the good humoured bonhomie that comes from a mutual appreciation forged between audience and band over years of slowly growing tiny gigs.
Rushden is a strange place for this long-time London based band, or indeed for any band to hail from. It’s a strange place full stop, I know as I only live “up the road”. It’s probably no surprise therefore that they appear to have arisen from a scene that has forged itself. Largely unclassifiable, you think you have them pinned down and they take another turn off the beaten track. “It’s all so strange”, as vocalists Kev Feazey and Tom Hunt sing at one point.
Ah, vocals… a band formerly known for a solely instrumental heft of great weight suddenly reveal a light under the bushel with this new album. Singing! No-one saw that coming, eh? Combining those meaty riffs of yore with excursions up several unexpected new alleyways courtesy of Kev’s lyrics and his more than accomplished vocals, here given strong backing by new recruit, keyboard player Tom Hunt, has all served to kick their sonic template up to the tenth floor, and then some.
Lead plank spanker Matt Stevens, who like me is an urban worrier, fretted this musical volte face would lose the band a lot a fans. As I and several others assured him, not a chance, in fact the opposite was more likely. Given how quickly this gig has sold out, and the recently announced 2024 tour has all but done the same already, if anything they undersell themselves. Tonight, for instance, they could have filled a venue twice the size.
The band took no time at all to get into the groove as they roared into The Start, its concluding sprightly riffage pointing the way ahead for tonight’s proceedings. Playing selections from the new album along with several established crowd favourites, the audience and band was a hot sweaty joyful mutual appreciation society by the end.
The postage stamp-sized stage gave little room for movement, and we all know how Matt likes to throw the guitar wrangler shapes when in the mood. He restricted himself to chucking his guitar around a bit near the start and at the end, having to make at least a token gesture to the high spirits of rock’n’roll zinging around in the thick air. Kev’s dry wit was present and correct, and before starting the last number of the set, the trusty old Parts 7 & 8, Kev announces it as the concluding song, adding, “then we’ll go and stand in the corner over there for bit while you all shout ‘More’ and ‘Encore’, and then we’ll come back again, ok?”
As ever, the rhythm section of Kev Feazey on bass and Stuart Marshall on drums wasn’t so much solid as fused in a series of sonic rabbit punches on the feistier numbers. Stuart drives the rhythm with a deft muscularity, and is an essential cog in the machine. Providing a perfect foil for Matt’s bursts of controlled geetar fury is second guitarist Steve Cleaton, a player not to be underestimated. He remains nonplussed that a kebab costs £9 in That London, and I concur! The addition of Tom Hunt on keyboards, actually invisible from where I was standing, is essential to be able to reproduce the songs from News From the Invisible World, and has added another layer to the band’s sound, becoming the textural glue holding it all together. Hopefully this is a permanent fixture, as they have gone up a level or two with this new album. No good band should be content to stand still, after all, and if the current momentum granted by News From the Invisible World can be maintained, then hopefully a venue like Bush Hall could be filled next time.
A trio of good ’ol TFATD rockers found new number Wonderful with its shoutalong single word chorus fitting snugly between the established instrumentals Part 2 and 1991, showing the connection between the old and the new. There is a thread that runs through it all. A Golden Thread, probably. Speaking of which the head shaker of a riff from that little dance choon always puts me in mind of speeded up Black Sabbath. This is not a bad thing. That song is actually a neat encapsulation of the past and present styles, combining the monster riffage of yore with a kind of heavy psych shoegaze thing. Live it is ENORMOUS!
Following Golden Thread in the set and on the album is the epic cosmic ballad Photogenic Love, which must have been the one song that worried Matt the most where frightening off old fans was concerned. To my mind, it’s this kind of brave move that sets a great band apart from a good one, and is to be encouraged! If there’s one song that showed why Tom Hunt was there, this was it!
After the aforementioned 1991 comes the calming Non-Player, a song that enables us to catch our breath before the barnstorming finale of What A Time To Be Alive and Parts 7 & 8. Then, as promised, they went and stood over there in the corner for a bit, we all shouted, a-whooped and a-hollered, and then they came back to deliver the delightfully contrasting encore, starting with the introspective Nostalgia Now, which blended into a storming charge through crowd favourite Truck, from previous studio album, the gorgeously raucous The Euphoric. These two songs morph seamlessly into one another, both being in a drop B tuning, making for an epic ending.
The audience, all with sated grins as wide as Spencer Park are to a woman and a man exhausted, exhilarated, and on cloud 9. That was a storming gig, oh yes!
[Photos by Ruth Duckworth, Alexander Wooldridge-Smith, Steve Clark and Rosamund Tomlins, used with thanks.]
Shake the Jar
What A Time To Be Alive
Parts 7 & 8
Matt Stevens – Lead Guitar
Steve Cleaton – Guitar
Kev Feazey – Bass, Vocals
Stuart Marshall – Drums
Tom Hunt – Keyboards