Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
A very good friend recently commented, of the current touring calendar, “It’s like being in the midst of a six month-long festival!” He’s a wise individual, and he’s struck the nail firmly and squarely upon the cranium.
At The Globe this is the third NWOCR gig in the space of just seven days! Last week rock n’ soulers Robert Jon & The Wreck, supported by the King of Slide Troy Redfern, kicked off their UK tour here.
Whilst two days prior rapidly ascending Mason Hill brought their tour into town with aspiring NWOCR outfits Hollowstar and Empyre alongside them. Both played to good sized audiences and tonight is no different. Well there is one difference, namely an abundance of small furry comedic puppets. There’s been an outbreak, more of which later.
Whilst furry critters run amok outside there’s a palpable anticipation building up within the environs of The Globe. By the time opening act Chris Catalyst takes to the stage the venue is healthily filling; it’s hot and sweaty already. The harbinger of approaching kinetics and thermals.
Chris and his musical sidekicks – bassist Peter Human and drummer Charlie – are given a warm Cardiff welcome. We’d been forewarned that tonight’s proceedings were being recorded and that Chris’ mum would be listening. “Could you make us sound really popular” the affable fronntman requests.
Hailing from Leeds the trio blast through a 40 minutes, 9 track long set that harked back to the edgier side of the mid 90s Britpop with a healthy dollop of good old punk.
Opener ‘Make Good Art’ is followed by ‘King Of Everything’. It’s punchy and catchy and after the second track Chris reminisces about a previous performance here during which a punter made a ‘deposit’ of sorts right on the dancefloor. Minds suitably boggled CC and co. roll along; bouncing and clattering through the riffs and beats. There’s energy aplenty and a varied undercurrent within which there’s Green Day right through to Dodgy.
Chris confesses to “wholeheartedly ripping off Super Furry Animals” in ‘Wake Me Up On Monday; a brave thing to do considering this is SFA’s home city. ‘Happy’ does precisely what it says on the tin whilst the jarring rhythms and vocals of ‘The Ride’ are warmly received.
A rousing buzzsaw-riff filled rendition of Bowie’s 1979 top 10 single “Boys Keep Swinging” wraps up proceedings. The opening act have been warmly and politely, if not wholeheartedly, received. Perhaps tellingly the loudest cheer of the set followed Catalyst enquiring whether the gathered horde were looking forward to The Wagons. That’s a given isn’t it?
Now returning to the aforementioned outbreak of furry puppets; as the house lights go on it’s noticeable they’re everywhere. On the drum kit, over on the merch stall, in the audience and up on the balcony are two familiar looking well-attired elderly gents. The CEO’s nod to one another and the house lights dim.
“It’s time to play the music.
It’s time to light the lights.
It’s time to meet the Wagons on the Wagon Show tonight.”
The crowd are rocked up to eleven with AC/DC’s anthem ‘For Those About to Rock’ and as Massive Wagons, one by one, take to stage there’s a tangible electric atmosphere. The now trademark ‘Wagons, Wagons’ chant gets louder as the 21 gun salute is unleashed and the Lancastrians pound straight into ‘In It Together’. However there’s something missing?!!? Enigmatic vocalist Baz Mills can be heard but it appears that rock-steady bassist Adam ‘Bowz’ Bouskill has honed his vocals. It soon becomes apparent that this is no ordinary entrance; well it’s the Wagons right? A roar goes up on the balcony and Baz, vibrantly suited and booted, appears in the midst of the elevated punters; much to their collective surprise.
Baz whirls his mike-stand and spins like a manic dervish; high-kicking as he belts out the words. This is what happens, folks, when you feed a gremlin extra caffeine in the post midnight hours.
The Globe is going utterly nuts by the time The Wagons roll into ‘China Plates’ and it’s playful sideways swipe at social media culture. The crowd are word perfect and worship with the loftiest reverance. This is good, old-fashioned rock n’ roll; no thrills, honest good time boogie but with a present-day twist. There are influences, of course, but the mirror into the past is ignored and rather the quintet are hell-bent upon setting a course to 21st century damnation!
There’s not let up, no time to gather one’s thoughts let alone breath. The Wagons have emerged from lockdown on fire; breathing flames, an incendiary beast. Re-energised to a higher level; the realisation that fellow musical peers had, a couple of years previously, been catching them up has fired the Wagons right up. There’s a steely determination to put the competition firmly in the rear view mirror.
The punchy lyrics of ‘Pressure’ are quintessential rock n’ roll. The very essence of in fact. The crowd lap it up as Baz tears into critics and fans decrying Wagons selling out; no doubt of it The Wagons have come of age!
Up on the balcony of the suited gents looks at the other and remarks “We have the band everybody loves to hate! Fronted by the biggest douchebag of them all!” His companion replies “You’re sick of ’em, I’m sick of ’em. Save yourselves and tune out now!”
‘Banging In Your Stereo’ is hammered through, much in the fashion that raw ore is crushed to a finer grade. With more than a dash of Quo this track has been transformed into a live medley by the addition of a trio of 70s snorters in the form of The Clash’s ‘I Fought The Law’, Dr. Feelgood’s ‘She Does It Right’ and Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’.
The Wagons stray into Manowar territory as they dust off 2016s ‘The Day We Fell’ which sees guitarist Adam Thistlethwaite step forward to whittle the first meaningful six-string from the fret of his Gibson Flying V. A quick breather and a bluesy intro leads into the AC/DC styled ‘Hero’ with the other half of the Wagon twin guitar assault Steve Holl taking stage front to showcase his six-string savvy. ‘Sad, Sad Song’, tackling mental health issues, roars out of the traps with an intro Randy Rhoads would have been proud of. Baz is the consumate front-man; engaging and energetic whilst alongside him Adam works high up his fret.
Once more the retirees look at one another, unbelievably full of ire “Since that label got involved, they’re losing direction!” notes one whilst the other retorts “Give me back my band, and I’ll be out of your hair!”
The roof is lifted by the familiar strains of Wagons’ anthem ‘Ratio’. This is the school of hard knocks rock n’ roll. Both Adam and Steve bounce along with Baz as the crowd sings along with the chorus whilst behind Bowz and drummer Alex Thistlethwaite steer a steady ship with a tight-as-you-like beat. Dedicated to “The man who left the show” ‘Hallescrewya” is heralded in by its reverential ecclesiastical beginning before the Wagons set about, successfully, turning up the dial even further.
The atmosphere permeates the far reaches of the venue with our aging duo conceding “They’re takin all of the notes and the words that they wrote and arranging ‘em so people care”. Having witnessed the maelstrom beneath they agree that it’s great to “Sing when you wanna sing. Dance when you wanna dance”.
The hyper-destructive ‘Nails’ sets about a wrecking ball routine with a powerhouse steamhammer; this is metal with a punk energy and ethos. Baz asks “Cardiff are you still enjoying yourself?” before launching headlong, like a breakaway freight train, into ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’. The crowd, once again, respond in floods of vigorous enthusiasm.
There’s an overriding feeling that this is going to explode! The Wagons, simply put, are on fire. Baz sticks out his tongue as he gathers a breath, midsong, before encouraging the crowd to “Make some fucking noise”. Side by side the twin six-string attack of Steve and Adam get their heads down for the serious business of a no-nonsense Quo-infused boogie jam. This is THE Quo at their zenith ripping through ‘4500 Times’ or ‘Big Fat Mama’. Catch this while you can as, if there’s any justice The Wagons won’t be playing this sized venue for much longer.
‘House of Noise’, the title track from their 2020 release, closes the main set in rumbustious fashion. The Wagons have won hearts and minds alike; there’s appreciation from the silver haired chaps looking from above. The brown suited one comments “They rock like it’s ’73! Everywhere from the East to the Irish Sea!” with the one donning the black pin-striped affair concurring “They give em some big time rock and roll. Big riffs big licks big moves”. They nod agreeably at one another.
A phone rings and the crowd know what’s coming! No messing The Wagons hit up the encore with the utterly riotous ‘Curry Song’. Baz sings the punchy lyrics with the speed and grace of a flyweight but with all the power of a heavyweight. He’s the 21st century heavy metal Ronnie Barker; a wordsmith of note and a master of his craft.
The absolutely Quo-mungous ‘Back To The Stack is the set closer as The Wagons set about tearing The Globe apart brick by brick. Steve and Adam flank Baz for some Rossi-Parfitt-Lancaster fashioned moves as the place erupts. Glasses, most empty at this stage, and fists alike are raised in tribute to Rick; an inner Telecaster rings out before Adam sneaks in a cheeky Pink Panther right at set end.
Arms around each other’s shoulders our OAPs sing out “Glorious! Solid Gold!” No more need be said.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM