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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

We Go To A Secret Gig...

Even the University Of Hull decides to charge students the maximum tuition fees of £9,000 a year. Now no offence to Hull but it’s hardly a hot bed of academic achievement. Madness. Surely this is going to backfire on them. I’m tempted to setup my own Uni and undercut them. I’m not sure what courses I would offer but I don’t think it matters does it? As long as it’s cheap and there’s alcohol.

After work I pick L up from the gym and we head into town. We’re back at one of my favourite venues tonight, The Bodega Social Club. Built in 1901 by The Bodega Wine Company and now the self styled ‘coolest bar in Nottingham’, famed for catching successful bands on the cusp of super-stardom or in tonight’s case... giving a low-key airing to new material from the band Hard-Fi or perhaps they’re returning to something approaching their true level... time will tell.

The last time Hard-Fi were in Nottingham was December 2007 and it was to play the Arena, which surprised me. I didn’t know they were that popular. Ok it was only half full but that's still 4000 people, tonight they play to less than 300. Not that I'm complaining, as I've said the Bodega is one of my favourite venues.

To be fair to them, their fan base probably hasn’t collapsed; this is a 'secret show' which wasn’t even mentioned on the Bodega's website until yesterday. I got to know about it because they are one of a multitude of bands I get email from.

There’s no support and the band emerge at around 8.30 to the strains of Ennio Morricone to tell us what they’ve been up to for the last three years. Which is... ‘nothing really’ as lead singer Richard Archer admits. So Rich, just what did happen to that album you promised us for 2009?

‘Tied Up Too Tight’ from their debut album ‘Stars Of CCTV’ kicks off the night as the boys attempt to ‘sharpen ourselves up and get match fit’, presumably for a more substantial tour later in the year.

‘Nothing’ isn’t what the entire band have been up because Ross the guitarist has been training to be a hairdresser... Ah, so the money from 'Once Upon a Time in the West' has run out then. Welcome back. Looks like Ross has a ring on a significant finger as well. If he’s got a wife burning the cheque book at both ends then there’s no wonder they’re back to ‘working for the cash machine’.

Archer tells us that ‘we're gonna play some new songs, so you’re gonna have to roll with us’ before playing a couple for us. With no big Arena style screen to distract the punters, the focus really is on the band tonight to show us what they’ve come up with.

Well, there’s clearly not going to be any great change of musical direction because neither ‘Bring It On’ nor ‘Lovesong’ are big departures from what they’ve done before but both seem acceptable indie rock, although obviously it’s hard to judge on one listen.

Tonight is one of just three dates they announced last month, Bristol and Brighton being the others, with tickets only a tenner. They have since added a London date next month. So why Nottingham and why the Bodega? Archer explains they played perhaps their second or third ever gig here. That’s cool, I like that. A band revisiting an early venue of theirs.

They are chatty throughout, particularly Archer, but it’s mostly of the ‘are you alright Nottingham’ variety. ‘We need the practice’, he concedes, perhaps he means with the banter as well.

Oldies ‘Can't Get Along (Without You)’ and ‘We Need Love’ lead us into the new ‘Stay Alive’. Which starts off a bit more dance orientated and passes me by a bit until the guitars come in but it never reaches any great heights.

The band remain heavily reliant on backing tracks and all the keyboards come pre-recorded on tape, unless one of those equipment boxes is housing a secret fifth member. In fact all the old tracks are so perfectly reproduced I begin to wonder what else is on tape but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and just say they were very proficient. Even if I wasn’t sure Archer was playing that blow keyboard thing for the intro to the breadline anthem ‘Cash Machine’.

‘Good For Nothing’ is to be their comeback single. It’s not the most instant of their new stuff but still has some promise. Their biggest hit ‘Suburban Knights’ follows and gets the Bodega jumping. Not that I’ve every really understood the popularity of what I think is one of their weakest singles.

So far they’ve not played anything, old or new, with the Clash-like reggae-ishness that they used to dabble in, that is until we get to ‘Sweat’ which is quite funky, for want of a better word.

By aiming this gig at their mailing list they know they’ve not got to win anyone over tonight but still yet another new track perhaps stretches things a little bit. That’s eleven tracks so far and six of them new ones. Someone calls out for the title track of ‘Stars Of CCTV’ without success and we get ‘Fire in the House’ instead. Which turns out to be my favourite newbie of the night. Darkly mysterious and brooding.

‘Hard To Beat’, which closes the set, remains, well ‘hard to beat’ and is a storming way to finish, with the now lively Bodega lapping it up.

Bands either come back very quickly for an encore at the Bodega or take ages. This, I imagine, depends on whether they decide to return to the dressing room, which is on the floor below or just loiter at the top of what are a fairly fearsome set of stairs. Hard-Fi take their time but when they do emerge it is with an interesting choice for the start of the encore.

‘Television’ enables Archer to demonstrate his guitar prowess for the first time tonight as he does the intro solo and it probably provides the best moment of the night. Then to close, we get a frenzied ‘Living For The Weekend’, which sounds reassuringly messy tonight, proving that they’re not as polished or as taped as they look at times. It’s a song about dead end jobs, which begs the question, what’s it to be Ross? Hairdresser or rock star?

An entertaining evening but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything here that’s going to propel them back to Arena-dom. Still, they’ll be hoping that despite their affection for the Bodega that this won’t be their destination the next time they drop into Nottingham.

(Wednesday 20th April)

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