Blakfish & Friends / Shapes / James Cleaver Quintet / Conquistadors
19th March 2010
So good we reviewed it twice – RIP Blakfish – James Sharp writes about the final ever gig from the Brummie hardcore Gods….
Probably like every other fan of decent music in the UK right now, when I got the text that read “Blakfish have split up”, my first reaction was to reply with “Fuck off”.
It’s not every day a band with ten years of slog behind them returns from a European tour supporting Biffy Clyro with that news. Blakfish were as staple a part of Birmingham as stretched Hummers on Broad Street, so the prospect of a music scene without them doesn’t feel like a scene at all. It’s unsurprising, then, that their final show – ‘Blakfish & Friends’ – sold out The Flapper in a matter of hours.
The night is kicked off by Conquistadors. Now, this puts me in something of a predicament what with being in the band and all, so I thought I’d leave it up to others to do my job. Steve from Shapes said “You were as fresh as a bunch of daisies”, DemonFM’s Will Gavin said “Every time I see you guys, you get tighter”. Non-homoerotic testimonials came from Gav (Shapes) who said “Five stars!”, and Thom (Blakfish) who said “Sick”. Kind words, kind words.
Next up are The JCQ, whose unrelenting hardcore punk gets the crowd’s feet a-tapping and, eventually, phlegm a-flying. So in your face is opening track ‘I Do, You Do, We Do Voodoo’, most people watching don’t know whether to dance or run away. But by the time bassist Jimmy Diego is swinging his guitar around his head by the strap, the crowd seem possessed (possibly the voodoo element) by the spirit of 1977, and can’t wait to show their appreciation by hocking a fat one on anything that moves. Seeing Jimmy take one in the ear is a fitting seal of approval for a band who have written some of the catchiest punk songs since The Clash.
Blakfish’s fellow Brummies Shapes are next to take to the – now slippery – stage, and as ever they do so with limitless energy. Discordant vocals rasp sporadically over their unique mathcore, while their palpable onstage presence spills over into an already enthused crowd. Guitarist Steve makes playing the guitar look easy, drummer Gav takes his shirt off, bassist Rich climbs on something, the crowd yell “You butcher, you butcher!” sometimes in the wrong place; all in all, everything you expect when Shapes get onstage. But it is when they come offstage that the atmosphere changes noticeably.
Some had criticised the decision to use a venue with a maximum capacity of 150. Blakfish’s Thom admitted they had considered The Academy. But he argued that between a soulless auditorium and a small room packed with atmosphere, the latter felt like the better choice. It’s the right one. The Flapper is electric with the quiet, excited murmur of Blakfish fans. It might as well be a crowd of Scousers in The Cavern circa 1960, and when Wiz, Thom and Rich walk on stage, the roar is no doubt one of the loudest in The Flapper for years.
They burst straight into ‘Economics’, the first track from last year’s album Champions, and at once the audience loses it. At points, Thom’s vocals are barely audible over the crowds’ rumpus, and as the second song, ‘Scotland’s Worst Invention’, kicks in, the people down the front become a sort of makeshift human barrier protecting the stage from being overrun by frenzied would-be invaders.
After a few songs, sweat is dripping off the ceiling and walls while resident photographer Rhi Lee frantically attempts to capture as much mayhem as possible between defogging her lens and it steaming up again. It’s around this chaotic point when the ‘…& Friends’ aspect comes into play and members of bands Blakfish have met over the past decade join them onstage, each introduced by Thom’s uncanny Jools Holland impression.
Steve and Zendy (Soni-Quella) fill in on vocals and guitar for ‘Your Hair’s Straight, But Your Boyfriend Ain’t’, ‘We Beg, We Borrow, We Steal’ and ‘Randy Sage’, Jack and Maud (The JCQ) for ‘Jeremy Kyle Is A Marked Man’, Steve and Rich (Shapes) for ‘Make Your Bed And Lie In It’ and ‘9th Base’, and pretty much the entire room along with Toby (Shoes & Socks Off) for the closing song ‘Ringo Starr: Second Best Drummer in The Beatles’. Cue crowd surfing, fainting, bruising, laughing, crying, bleeding, probably vomiting at some point… in fact, the phrase ‘blood, sweat and tears’ has rarely been more apt.
Post gig, it’s difficult to gauge the mood inside the venue. To say it’s emotional is an understatement, but the overwhelming opinion seems bittersweet. As people go to congratulate Blakfish, it’s clear they know they have witnessed one of the most significant underground gigs for years. But this comes at the price of having to say goodbye to one of the most respected post-hardcore punk bands since Refused. A highpoint, though, is that the remaining members showcased a new track – ‘You’re A Guy’ which lacked none of things which made Blakfish awesome – big riffs, cutting vocals, heavy accented beats. All they need now is a name. One fan suggested ‘Original Experience’, which is shit. So, suggestions on a postcard.