I’d waited two and a half long years to catch The Everlasting Yeah (four-fifths of That Petrol Emotion, for those out of the loop) live, but there was a worry at one stage last weekend that I wouldn’t even get to North London in time for their latest, fairly rare appearance.
I was certainly up for the trip, down for the weekend from Lancashire, and suitably buoyed by a Saturday afternoon FA Trophy win for my beloved Woking FC, with my fellow former London gig regular Alan in the driving seat as we headed up to the capital, all set to relive old times.
If anything the evening traffic ‘up town’ seemed worse than ever, but having moved away from the South East in 1994, there was a nostalgic feel to a journey once so familiar, even if several London landmarks have since changed or been substituted. First, up the A3 from Al’s gaff in Guildford, beyond the Kingston bypass to the Robin Hood roundabout (not a roundabout for 20 years now, I gather) and in and out of Wandsworth, the sound of Squeeze’s Cool for Cats playing in my head. With benefit of hindsight, we might have headed off via Roehampton and Barnes to cross Hammersmith Bridge. But never mind, our chosen route at least allowed this passenger a chance to see what they’ve done to the big city in my absence.
We ploughed on until we joined the South Circular, joining York Road towards Battersea, wondering what became of the old Chopper perched on a pub. By now you could almost smell Old Father Thames, Clapham Junction not far off to our right and Squeeze still serving as my earworm. On we went, past Pink Floyd’s power station to Nine Elms Lane, close to the long-gone railway shed where my Dad worked the shovel to as a steam loco fireman six decades before.
Many a time in the past we’d have headed to nearby Brixton or, closer still, Kennington Cricketers, that long-lost venue in the shadow of the mighty gasometer overlooking The Oval, seeing everyone from Wilko Johnson and Geno Washington to That Petrol Emotion themselves back in the day. But on this occasion we held our nerve, taking the Embankment, not tempted by the Vauxhall, Lambeth or Westminster crossings, comparing Britain’s busiest railway station then and now while thinking of Ray Davies’ Terry and Julie on this not so chilly, chilly evening as we headed over Waterloo Bridge, across that dirty old river.
From, the south side to the north side (The Yeah’s New Beat On Shakin’ Street now on the mind) we somehow missed the Strand underpass but quickly found Holborn, a diversion around Bedford Place not deterring us from our goal, although time was ticking on, furtive glances at the time display on my phone becoming less subtle. But pretty soon we’d hit Euston Road, taking in Kings Cross and St Pancras, albeit with no time for a respectful nod to Betjeman. Pentonville Road was now in sight, and for all the changes I was thankful we could still park off-road after dark in these parts, as we legged it to The Lexington.
I could have been hurt by the fact that the burly bouncers outside saw me as no threat, but I was pleased to get straight in, wandering past a busy cloakroom attendant and up an ominous staircase. Again, I might have been irked that no one seemed to want to know if I had a ticket. I didn’t actually, but I did have a booking reference to share. No one was bothered either way and we were soon necking bottles of real ale in a packed room (and it’s somewhat ironic that two days after narrowly missing the Flying Scotsman in Lancashire, I was quaffing a beer named in its honour, 200-plus miles south).
En route, I worked out that the last time I saw a band up in town was more than a decade ago, a trip to The Garage, Highbury Corner – barely a mile away – to see reformed idols The Undertones, one of many such pilgrimages over the years to see Derry’s finest and the related bands that followed, most during a golden 10-year period before my move North. And as it turned out it was seeing ‘Tones guitar idol Damian O’Neill on stage on this occasion when I knew for sure I was in the right room.
I’d seen mention of a 9pm ‘prompt’ start, but Dee and fellow six-string supremo Raymond Gorman were still doing technical things with gaffer tape alongside June Brides trumpet legend and TPE/TEY man-mountain roadie Big Jon. We didn’t have long to wait though, and from show opener Myself When I Am Real – a new offering – it was like old times, comparing favourably to so many halcyonic early TPE nights out in the capital, from the nearby Pindar of Wakefield to the Enterprise, Chalk Farm, the Boston Arms, the Sir George Robey, Bay 63 … before word spread and less intimate experiences followed.
How long the band were with us last Saturday I can’t say, but from A Little Bit of Uh-Huh & A Whole Lotta Oh Yeah and (Whatever Happened To the) Hoodlum Angels onwards we were treated to every solid gold nugget from debut LP Anima Rising plus three more new tracks, only one semi-familiar, Hurricane Nation, reworked here to great effect. There was also an inspirational Whatever You Do, Say Nothing and life-affirming penultimate number Dylan 65, all teasing indications that part two of The Everlasting Yeah story will be every bit as thrilling.
I don’t think I’d be over-cooking it to say that for each song I could sense the nerves emanating from the stage, Raymond bearing his soul among friends, at times suggesting his front-of-stage craft doesn’t come easy – as if addressing the class for the first time. But the passion was never questioned and confidence increased across the board from all four band members as the evening built, leaving us in no doubt that they were enjoying the ride as much as we were.
The casual observer might find it difficult to see how Damian – for all his six-string flair – is just one-quarter of the equation. Knowing his history, they’d expect him to lead at this stage of the game, nearly 40 years after his prime employers so memorably burst upon the scene. Instead we find him seemingly content, chipping in with occasional backing vocals and that esteemed fretwork. Don’t get me wrong though – that’s not playing down his role. This is a true collective, the embodiment of Aristotle’s line about the whole, the sum and its parts. What’s more, here’s a four-piece clearly easy in each other’s company and not obviously missing Steve Mack. It’d be nice to see him return, but I quite like things as they are. Besides, it‘s a good thing (such a good thing) they do.
Final note on Damian – he gives me hope. He’s got a few years on me, but looks as young and vital as ever, not subject to the added pounds of many of us out in the congregation, every bit the cool bloke who helped turn me on to bass and guitar in my teens. And long may that continue.
Harking back to that team ethic, I tend to see Brendan Kelly and Ciaran McLaughlin as the midfield powerhouse, providing the engine room fuel that allows those neat touches on the flanks from both Dee on the Yeah right (yeah, right) and Raymond on the left wing. And all four were in fine voice, those old Derry choirboy harmonies to the fore.
I mentioned Dee’s sense of cool, and there’s seemingly-effortless vitality from Brendan too at inside-right (yes, I changed the formation, but this is no static set-up), and a playing pose that defies swagger. He’s never cocky though, particularly when voicing fears that he was playing one song while his team-mates had moved on to another. We certainly never noticed. I can’t put a finger on his bass demeanour, but it’s somewhere between (the far less mobile) Bill Wyman and low-slung behemoth Peter Hook. Put simply, he owns that bass, that stage and that audience at times, while expertly trading those close harmonies with the other three.
That leaves Ciaran, the key to it all really, giving everything from behind his drum kit yet somehow finding more, not least through that impassioned falsetto in support of his left-hand man Raymond. And just when it all gets to a point of being emotionally over-wrought, in this case in the light of a storming All Around The World, he gives us an assured lead vocal on the heart-searingly wondrous Everything’s Beautiful when you’d expect him to be away for a quick lie-down. Glorious.
I like The Lexington. It’s got character and a touch of ramshackle quality and smallness that ensures a feeling of intimacy, even if there was at least one abusive idiot at the bar – nothing to do with the band’s clientele – out to darken the mood. The sound was great too, the only blemish via the monitors on stage, judging by a couple of slight off-key moments between guitars and vocals. It made it all the more raw though, any slight gremlins quickly ironed out.
I’ve said it before in relation to this band, but while I’ve long since championed the succinct three-minute song, I can’t for the life of me think where I’d cut back on any Yeah track, even though you’d need a shoehorn to get most of the songs on to a 12” single. I guess this is director’s cut rock’n’roll, complete with added unseen scenes. Perhaps I should hold Can responsible.
One thing’s for certain, The Yeah to a man seemed to relish this opportunity to share their rehearsal space. Again, that’s not being patronising – think of it more as our unique chance to be in on the next creative, collaborative period of this outfit’s existence. Mind you, while we knew at least seven of the songs well, I’d be hard pushed to work out which to drop as the repertoire grows, show closers Taking That Damn Train Again and The Grind proving a perfect finale.
For all the anticipation of finally seeing The Everlasting Yeah, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, after living off the fruits of their stunning album for at least 15 months. But the new songs suggest a fresh helping’s on its way. There was no brash statement of intent as to what comes next, and no talk of major breakthroughs or wider critical acclaim, but as Raymond put it – proffered as half-question, half-statement – it all seemed to go pretty well this time, didn’t it? Yes, it did, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Soon enough, we were away, heading towards the Westway out of town. Well, if it’s good enough for The Clash … A detour followed through leafy Barnes and beyond, our latest great night in The Smoke over and this punter fired up and all set for his next visit – hopefully not too far ahead.
For the writewyattuk verdict on Anima Rising, head here. For a November 2014 interview with Damian O’Neill try here. And for the first instalment of a three-part August 2014 interview with Raymond Gorman, head here.
Meanwhile, to snap up a copy of Anima Rising, follow this link.