We waited a long time for this, but it was definitely worth the delay, Amsterdam visitors Pip Blom on fine form at The Ferret in Preston, Lancashire, more than seven months after they were first scheduled to visit.
This four-piece Dutch outfit have increasingly filled larger Manchester venues on North-West trips, but on this occasion instead gave a performance at a more intimate Preston music hub fighting for survival, post Covid-19 lockdowns, part of a National Lottery-funded Revive Live tour originally arranged for last September, a Music Venue Trust initiative supporting grassroots venues.
This date had long since sold out, but illness first time around meant Pip and co. (lead singer / guitarist Pip Blom joined in the band of the same name by brother Tender Blom on guitar/backing vocals, Darek Mercks on bass, and Gini Cameron on drums) had to rearrange first for mid-November, then, when that failed to happen, switched again to late April.
Amid all that, the band moved a couple more rungs up the ladder on the back of second LP, Welcome Break, this latest UK trip also including their biggest headline show yet, at Islington Assembly Hall, North London, a winning Sounds From the Other City festival appearance in Salford, a further delayed Revive Live show at Independent, Sunderland, various in-store LP launch events and more evening shows, including dates at Liverpool’s Jacaranda Club (Wednesday, May 4th), Barrelhouse, Totnes (Thursday, May 5th), and festival sets at Focus Wales, Wrexham (Friday, May 6th) and Are You Listening?, Reading (Saturday, May 7th).
There were also prestigious European supports with Franz Ferdinand recently, with Bloc Party next, and just last night we had another entertaining session for long-time supporter Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music show (Tuesday, May 3rd).
Last Thursday, The Ferret was certainly packed, but your scribe just about managed to get a Guinness in and carefully hoist it, using the limited space he had in front of his boat race while catching the back end of an inspired set by San Lorenz, Pete Harrison’s Merseyside four-piece another outfit with a highly-expressive female drummer, Bex Denton.
I certainly need to check them out again on the strength of this performance, the band recently changing name from SPQR to distance themselves from any white nationalist feckwits adopting that moniker. Instead, they’ve name-checking a fictional island in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, their Ferret set suggesting layered, intelligent pop craft on the respective edges of indie and electronica, somewhere between alt-J, Squeeze, XTC and Wire for my money (although that’s not a right lot of cash, to be fair).
The fact that I only saw a few songs will stop me from writing much more though, at least until next time, but their online product suggests they’re here to stay and are well worth checking out.
Then came the main attraction, offering a heady mix of tracks from 2019 debut LP Boat and afore-mentioned latest platter Welcome Break, a few great singles thrown in for good measure.
It’s been a strange time for the band, the latest album getting its CD and digital release in early October, but the vinyl version only just out. In fact, it was there on the merch stand, Pip and Tender’s mum tending shop, so to speak, while dad Erwin, of Peel favourites Eton Crop (fellow UK circuit regulars in days of yore) was in the throng of it all watching the band, his shock of white rock’n’roll quiff reminding me somewhat of late Jam manager John Weller. And while Erwin didn’t take his cue and step on stage to introduce the ‘best fucking band in the world’, he looked proud all the same … rightly so.
Set-wise, the headliners ordered anchors aweigh with Boat’s side two openers ‘Tinfoil’ and ‘Ruby’, stepping up the knot rate from brooding, intense and grungesome beginnings, Gini pumping away in steerage, the band’s road fitness there for all to savour, this punter allowing himself his first smile at around the minute-mark of song two as the chorus swept in, memories of early Catatonia rekindled.
From there, a giveaway wonky riff swept us into 2018 single ‘Come Home’ before a chance to breathe on the first of five tracks from the new record, the more dreamy Sundays-like open expanses of ‘Faces’ leading to the finely-crafted ‘12’, Pip’s assertion that they’d waited nine months to set their eyes on the vinyl version prompting Darek to chip in that it had been like waiting for a baby to arrive.
Rather aptly, with that in mind, we got 2017 lo-fi wonder singles ‘Babies Are a Lie’ and ‘I Think I’m in Love’ next, the latter’s insistent punk rock surge never failing to hit the spot.
The foot came back off the gas a little for ‘Holiday’ from the latest LP, perhaps more Wolf Alice than the rest of the set, but I guess this was more about pacing themselves towards a big finish, 2016’s rough and raw ‘Hours’ providing another bridge before the frenetic ‘School’ upped the ante – Courtney Barnett springing to mind – and along with the similarly wondrous ‘Easy’ showed they can still write those more off-kilter tracks we love.
By then, Tender was bare-chested, this quartet still giving everything, working towards a big finish, driving 2018 single ‘Pussycat’ (a more ballsy take on The Police’s ‘Spirits in the Material World’, maybe) followed by the sheer ecstasy of crowd-pleasing recent 45, ‘Keep It Together’ and inevitable show-stopper ‘Daddy Issues’, the might of this outfit and their songwriting flair again proven without doubt. And for the record, the last minute of the latter – the Blom siblings’ duelling vocals and false fade, then that big finish – never fails to grab by the tail and swing you around, regardless of available venue space.
On this occasion, there was no encore, but what more could we ask? Besides, I defy you to see Pip Blom and not leave with smiles on your faces. So good, every time. Here’s to a swift return to these shores.
For last year’s interview with Pip, marking the release of Welcome Break, head here. And for our first chat, from 2019, head here. You can also check out this live review from Band on the Wall, Manchester from that year.
For all the latest from Pip Blom, including live shows, recorded product and other merchandise, try their official website, and follow the band via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And for more about San Lorenz, heads to their Soundcloud page and their Facebook page.
And for all the latest from The Ferret in Preston, Lancashire, including its ongoing fight for survival, head to its website and Facebook page.