11th December 2015
Review and Photography by Graham Hilling
Another evening at the Forum in Kentish Town, arriving in time for the support, She Makes War I’m struck by the rather empty venue. It’s a shame that I’ve just walked past droves of people at the Bull and Gate, obviously making the most of the cheap(er) drinks. I also notice that The Forum has the faint odour of old punks and patchouli, transports me back a good number of years….
No matter, She Makes War is basically the solo project of multi instrumentalist Laura Kidd, although this evening she will have a full band playing with her too.
Completely independent, self releasing and not bound by record company stipulations, she is a role model for many. Thankfully, once she is actually playing, the crowd at the front of the stage swells and in the end it is a decent turnout for a support.
She Makes War are difficult to describe or pigeon hole. It’s a mixture of indie folk rock. Starting off as a full band, I’m immediately struck by how good the sound is for a change. The drumkit, normally a deep thumping “thing” in the mix, is clear and bright with the toms sounding great. Indeed it is the drums that propel the music along and keep everything together.
After 3 or 4 songs the band leave the stage, leaving Laura Kidd alone. She then ran through various songs, playing guitar and ukulele (yes, you read that right). She has a couple of mics on the stage which was a little strange but it soon becomes clear that one is setup on a delay loop. With this, she manages to create harmonising loops (primarily with her very impressive vocals). These build and build to give some impressive depth and texture to the sound. Strange there is just one woman on the stage!
Even with this technological help, impressive as it is, there’s no denying that the songs with the full band do sound more complete and ready for public airing. While Kidd looks more than happy and confident playing on her own, in a largish venue like the Forum, it just sounds a little thin. I could definitely see this working in a more intimate environment….
She leaves the stage with a megaphone at one point and wanders amongst the crowd, then apologises to half the audience for not making it to their side of the venue – she only has so much time after all! The band return for the last few songs and they close with possibly their best song of the evening “Drown Me Out” from the forthcoming album “Direction of Travel” which is due out in early 2016.
This showcases everything that is good about She Makes War. An impressive way to prepare the crowd for New Model Army.
And by the time New Model Army take to the stage, I’m pleased to report that the venue is heaving. Opening with “Bloodsports” and swiftly moving into the classic that is “Christian Militia” there’s much smiling around the venue. Despite their sound changing significantly over the years (as you’d expect), Justin Sullivans lyrics remain a razor sharp commentry on the world, always thought provoking. They have also retained a hard core following who have followed them through good times and bad.
Tonight seems to be one of the good time though and I’m pleased to say that the great sound continued throughout the New Model Army set, adding immense power to the songs, especially those from the latest couple of albums with pounding rhythms. These sound so good when played through a loud PA and when the kit just sounds crystal clear and so punchy, you can’t help but be drawn in.
Most of the set ignores the middle period of New Model Army (pre 2007 at least), as expected there’s much material from the last couple of albums and some nods to the earliest material too. “No Greater Love” takes us right back to 1985. Justin Sullivan jokes that there’s just a few people on the stage tonight, referring to the massive ensembles that have joined then on the stage in the past, including a string section, harpist and extra drummers!
Some of the songs see newish bass player Ceri Monger lose his bass in favour of playing along with a set of toms on the stage, this just adds to the amazing presence of the drums and emphasises how important percussion is to the current NMA sound. And these sound so much better live than on the recorded material.
“Devils Bargain” drives along, “One of the Chosen” and “Another Imperial Day” all sound great and have the assembled masses moving in unison. It takes “Stormclouds” to really raise the temperature though, this song just thunders along and is true testament to what NMA are about in 2015 and how relevant they still are.
“Heroes” and “Angry Planet” sound great together despute nearly 3 decades separating them. The crowd in front of the stage is a swaying mass of bodies and NMA close up the set with “Get Me Out” from 1990’s “Impurity” album with the assembled crowd singing along as one.
NMA return to the stage for a couple of encores, taking us back to the classic album “Thunder and Consolation” and finishing up with “I Love the World”. It’s been a while since I’ve caught NMA on one of their regular Xmas bashes but I’m pleased to be able to report that they sound as good, urgent and important as ever.
Definitely helped by a great sound this evening, I’ve enjoyed NMA even more than expected! It’s a shame I didn’t get to hear “Horsemen” or earlier classics like “Smalltown England”, “Notice Me” or “Vengeance”. Still, there’s always next year…..