I made the trip across the Sussex/Kent border and up into Maidstone on a wet Thursday night with the knowledge that I was going to experience yet another great night of solid dirty 70’s influenced hard rocking blues from the fabulous Gallows Circus. Add into that two solid performances from the support acts in front of an unfortunately small crowd, a few good pints of cider and lots of conversation with the band members and an exceptionally good night was had.
Calamity Script are a 3 piece Kent based band who cite their style as a combination of rock, hard rock, funk, blues, jazz and reggae. They are made up of Sean on vocals and guitar, Rob on Bass and Perry on drums.
Now, I have to admit I missed the first song of Calamity Scripts set as I was mid conversation in the beer garden when they came on stage but from the sound of the drums, it was a real rocker. The band ripped through a superb 10 track set, from opener “Covelish”, second track “Reek” and the really bluesy “Second Look” it was quickly apparent that these three young musicians were a talented and tight band. “Bring You Down” was up next and this had a wonderfully delicate guitar intro that led into a real rocky crunching riff. This was followed by “Mirrors” and then the bands drinking song, “Too Sober” another bluesy number, which Rob introduced as he sipped on his Beer Stein. At this point, the set seemed to take a real up turn in tempo as they played brand new song, “Situation”, an almost angry little number, with a heavy as fuck riff and split vocals between Sean and Rob with an almost punky vibe to it at times. “She’s a bomb”, a fast paced rocker with a chugging bass line came next before “XTC”, sung by bassist Rob, another almost punky little number with a great harmony break and some superb dual vocals. They finished their set with “Get off Trax” which came at you like a runaway train, a real solid riff, good guitar solo, heavy chunky bass and some growling aggressive vocals. The small but enthusiastic crowd obviously appreciated the set they had just heard as they gave the band some rapturous applause as they left the stage.
Next up was the young four piece band Off Topic who formed in Kent in 2017. Comprising Emily on vocals, Kate on bass, Tom on guitar and Robert on drums and with the three of them still in their teens they entertained us with an 8 song set of alternative rock, classic rock, pop punk and post grunge material.
Pulling influences from such great luminaries as Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Taylor Momsen and the Foo Fighters, they kicked their set off with “Magnetism” and then “Regrets” which is a song about shitty relationships. “Green Eyes”, one of the first songs they wrote together as a band followed with it’s scintillating opening riff and Emily sounding a bit like Ann Wilson in places. Mid set and the band ripped into a very solid cover of Queens’s “Tie Your Mother Down” which suited Emily’s vocal style perfectly before playing the bluesy “Karma”. Next up was “Catch Me”, a lovely little haunting ballad which gave Emily the chance to show her vocal range to the full. The last two songs of the set really kicked the band into overdrive. “Drive” came first, a real straight ahead rocker with a scintillating guitar riff and then the set closer “40 Days and 40 Nights”, with young bassist Kate providing the song with a Sabbath-esque bass line to die for, another killer chunky, chugging riff from Tom and some powerful drums from Robert. So powerful and heavy it sounded like Sabbath with a classic female vocal. Just a perfect way to bring their set to an end and leave the audience wanting more.
After a quick refreshment break, it was time for headliners Gallows Circus. This band have been making some noise in the industry since forming in 2016 and are fast gaining a solid reputation for their live performances, both locally in Kent and now nationally after undertaking a small tour in the North of England in April. In fact, this was their first show since that tour finished and was the perfect warm up for their semi-final showdown at the Big Red in London the following night to try and claim a slot on the Rising Stage at this year’s Ramblin Man Fair in Maidstone in July.
The line up of Ian Day (Vocals), Jim Rycroft (Guitar), Richard Tunbridge (Bass) and Steve Kitchener (Drums) play blues tinted heavy rock with catchy riffs, vocal melodies and a robust rhythm section that pulls from influences such as Led Zeppelin, Free, Reef, Pearl Jam and Thin Lizzy. Tonight, they treated us to a scintillating 10 song set that brought the curtain down on Day 2 of the Maidstone Fringe Festival at this particular venue.
I had barely got myself comfortable on one of the long bench seats and table that filled the floor before Jim’s electrifying opening riff of “Above Snakes” came charging out of the PA system. The band hit the ground running and there were no signs of rustiness as Ian tore into this rip snorter of a track with his dread locks flailing everywhere from underneath his bandana. You could just tell that the band were so up for this performance as Richard, in his little bit of stage, jumped up and down and Steve showed what a powerhouse of a drummer he is and how they as a rhythm section provide the solid, powerful, engine room to the band.
The brilliant “Game On” was next up, such a powerful song live. This is dirty blues at it’s finest and from the look on Steve’s face as he peers out through his drum kit you could see he was leaving nothing behind, If this was a warm up for the London show the following night then it was perfect and the band were showing they were up for it! This really was a fast paced, electrifying start to their set. “Bones to Pick” followed. The quiet, delicate intro to this wonderful track gives Ian a chance to show us the exquisite soulful voice that he possesses before the track really kicks in and we get another slab of that dirty blues the band are building their reputation on. With the first three tracks of the set coming from their self-titled EP they then treated us to their first cover of the set, a superb jamming version of the Creedence Clearwater classic “Run Through the Jungle” with some sublime harmonica from Ian. This song fits in to the set so easily and you just feel the vibe from the band as they play it like it is one of their own.
“Good For My Fever” takes us back to that EP and we have now had four out of the five tracks on it, which Smokin Vinyl described as an “absolute must purchase”. It has a real funky, soulful feel to it and as a track is completely infectious. Jim is making his guitar bleed tonight as he prances around his bit of the small, low stage and he is as always, quite mesmerising to watch and listen to. We are then treated to a completely brand new track called “What’s Yer Poison”. That new, it is still unrecorded, but shows that the new material the band are writing is still in the same guitar driven, soulful, bluesy, hard rock vein as the first EP and will undoubtedly become a firm part of their set as time goes on.
They now slip back into cover mode with a brilliant, rip snorting version of Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”. This is just a brilliant song that is given a superb new lease of life Gallows Circus style, it is beefy, it is heavy but it loses none of the feel of the original! Ian absolutely nails the vocal with his soulful, bluesy voice and Jim is all over that riff like a nasty rash. Hard to imagine that it is now 50 years old when you hear it played tonight. After that last fast and frantic 3 minutes they take the pace down, almost for the first time through their set to play the truly emotional ballad “Holding My Breath”, the final track from their 5 track EP, which features a riveting bluesy guitar solo and to watch the emotion in Ian’s face and his movements as he sings the track is really eye catching. They bring the song to and end with a delicate and intricate guitar part that is just perfect for the feeling of the song.
What I have come to learn about Gallows Circus is they know how to write a killer riff and play one live and after that brief respite the penultimate song of the set takes us right back to where we started. “Shotgun With the Devil”, an unreleased track that has been part of their live set for a while now, has an absolutely killer opening riff that storms into yet another top quality heavy blues rocker. The rhythm section of Steve and Richard plunder away like their lives depend on it as Jim treats us to more enormous guitar parts whilst Ian snarls his way through another out of this world vocal performance. “Faith to Believe”, the bands latest single, which you can find the video for on You Tube brings tonight’s scintillating set to a close. Starting with a few taps of Steve’s drum sticks, Jim’s whirlwind guitars then kick in and the drums hit you like a hurricane. Ian sings “It takes a lot of faith to believe” and I have faith and believe that this Kent based four piece are on the way to bigger and better things.
Well all I can say is what a great night. All that was left to do now was have a post gig beer and chat to friends both old and new before making the journey back to Sussex. As I left the venue the music had changed and the younger, shall we say, trendy crowd had started to come in for the resident DJ and were up on those bench seats and tables dancing and singing. I am not sure if they were in for Gallows Circus, but if they were I hope they took some appreciation of what “real” music sounds like and the feeling it gives you inside when it is played that well.
Luckily for me, Gallows Circus are pretty local to me so I will get the joy of seeing them again at the end of the month, 28th, at the Lady Luck in Canterbury. They are also on the bill at the Four Sticks Festival in London at the end of September, so if you are free for that, get a ticket and check them out, you will not be disappointed. I came across the band by chance after another gig I was going to got cancelled last minute due to band illness and I am so lucky it did. They are definitely one of my finds of 2019 and the EP is still getting regular airplay in my house and car.
Finally, Ian, Jim, Steve, Richard, thank you so much and to coin a phrase from Joe Elliott, “Until the next time, and there will be a next time”.
Review & Photos : Darren Smith for metalplanetmusic