Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
So, the evening starts off with a pleasant drive in the sunshine, I’m heading towards my favourite roundabout, the infamous ‘Pagoda’ on the A38 in the depths of Birmingham. Tonight, I’m photographing ‘Alunah’ and their headlining set, marking the release of their latest album, Strange Machines on ‘Heavy Psych Sounds’ Records.
With the traffic being less chaotic than normal, I arrive earlier than anticipated so after parking I take a slow walk to the venue. Once there I manage to get into the ‘Cellar’ where the bands play. Alunah have sound checked and gone, Hot Little Hands and Margarita Witch Cult are just prepping to do theirs. I head back upstairs, buy a coke, £1.60 for a full pint, how bloody cheap is that, in the city centre too, and sit down to prep my cameras.
Hearing the thud thud thud and screaming guitars from below, as the band’s sound check, I make sure my gentleman’s parts are safely packed away, it sounds like it’s going to be yet another night of gender crushing bass lines and eyeball popping guitar runs. Nice this is what live music is all about!
With 10 minutes to go before the first band are due on, ‘Hot Little Hands’ I head back down into the cellar. I introduce myself properly to the nice girl on the door, Siân has put me on Alunah’s guest list, so I’m in, my kit sorted while the band tidies the room before they can let the public in.
Both the bands on the undercard are new to me tonight so this will be great, there’s nothing better than going to cover a band and finding a gem of a band opening for them.
Hot Little Hands are up first. Their riff laden style of melodic rock has an 80’s post punk/alternative edge to it. The strong melody lines drive through as frontperson Daisy Savage, delivers a faultless vocal. Crooning into the microphone, held for the most part with both hands, her eyes closed, she delivers with conviction and purpose, and despite her petite size she has the stage presence to capture the crowd’s attention.
Even though the band being relatively new to the scene, they seem to be gathering a good following around the local venues. They have released a 3-track single entitled ‘Vantage Point’, back in May 2020, an EP is due to start recording soon so keep your eyes open on their socials for that one. Having made garbled notes of the night, I look on their socials for inspiration for the set list, sadly there isn’t a lot out there, although what is, is well put together.
Maybe an idea to start loading the YouTube channel with live performances, either by fans or simply self-recorded, just a thought.
‘Return to Form’ from their three-track single released back in May 2020 is getting asn airing. A marching snare beat and a driving bass leads us into an almost spoken vocal. Beanie wearing Redden, side on to the crowd stood in-front of a full Marshall stack cracks out a distortion laden lick as the bass guitar of Osborne drives forward, he’s grooving in his little corner. Savage’s vocal harks back to the post punk Indie sound of the 80’s, she’s really rather good.
‘Degeneration’ again from the 2020 release. A heavy bass line starts and is quickly joined by a thumping tomtom riff. A scorching guitar marks the breakdown into a slower mid-section, again the drums are prominent, the riff is full of ghost notes played on the snare. The melancholy style of vocal delivery weaves around the melody as the song builds to its sudden finish. Nice.
The final Track of the night is the opening track on the aforementioned ‘Vantage Point’ Single, ‘Flight Path’ full of brooding guitar and crashing drums. Distorted guitar flies around Daisy’s almost spoken lyric as she rocks out eyes closed at the microphone. Its a great finish to the set and a crowd pleaser judging by the reaction of the crowd.
The Band are
Vocals – Daisy Savage, Drums – Dave Loffman, Guitar – Steve Redden, Bass – Joe Osborne
Setlist -Sassolino, Return to Form, Croí Briste, Degeneration, Rearranging The dust, Straight Lines, Flight Path.
Magarita Witch Cult take the stage next. This three piece has a heavy, distorted sound that’ll simply rip your head off oh and did I say they’re bloody loud. Stood in either almost darkness of bathed in good old Porno red lighting they ply their high energy set to the crowd who are now totally awake, thank god for ear plugs.
With ‘Screamin’ Scott Vincent on guitar and vocals controlling the loudness on stage left they kick off with ‘Aradia’, from their debut single, which has the band making sure everything is turned up to 11. Vincent’s guitar, a superb mash up of Gibson flying V body and a 70’s big headstock Fender Strat neck, is grinding out, wrapped deep in distortion.
The doomy sound has a heavy, early Sabbath type drone to it, lovely. Jim Things bass is deep and thunderous as the strings cry in torment beneath his fingers. The steady drum beat from George Casual at the back cracks through with rhythmical regularity. Vincent starts wringing the V’s neck as we get a wah influenced solo, nice, that V sounds great. No doubt the drop tuning is giving it plenty of menace.
The band play a great set of pure ‘Doom’, I covered ‘Conan’ towards the end of last year and despite Margarita Witch Cult throwing down a lot more melodic riffs and searing solo’s, I find the general style very similar. Both seem to have that bombastic dirge driving the songs. Tuned to drop whatever, tastefully wrapped up in an Early sabbath-esque sound.
This is acknowledged as after ‘Annihilation’, that’s the one were bassist ‘Thing’ says to the crowd, “this is the one to form a Mosh Pit too”, we have a Sabbath Medley, consisting of a few of my old favourites like, Electric Funeral, Sweat Leaf and Children of the Grave, it would be remis of them not to mention that they did include a bit of Paranoid even if it was mind crushing in its delivery.
To be fair I had to ask the band for a break-down of the songs in the medley as I was too busy nodding my head, like Churchills Bulldog on a parcel shelf, along with the rest of the crowd, to make notes.
The A side to their debut single follows. ‘The Witchfinder Comes’ which is available on all streaming platforms and on their Bandcamp, margaritawitchcult.bandcamp.com This track digs in deep and rocks you in your boots. Full of dark riffs and crushing drums, Vincent’s screamin’ vocal commands fit right in to the theme of this dark song. The tempo change is marked by a great guitar lick as it switches gear before it drops back into the doldrums to round out this doom-tastic tune. ‘Sacrifice’ finishes the night off and what’s left of every one’s hearing.
The Band are –
Vocals – Screamin’ Scott Vincent, Drums – George Casual, Bass – Jim Thing
Set List –
Aradia, Diabolical Influence, Death Lurks at Every Turn, Theme from Cyclops, Lord of The Flies, Annihilation, Sabbath Medley (Electric Funeral, Black Sabbath, Iron Man, Sweet Leaf, Into the Void, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Children of the Grave, A Bit of Paranoid), The Witchfinder Comes, Sacrifice.
The night belongs to Alunah, as the headline set marks the launch of the bands second album ‘ Strange Machine’, with powerhouse, Siân Greenway on vocal duties. The band have, however, been together in one form or another since 2006, Siân having only been with them for the last 4 years, just in time for the pandemic, but despite that, they have still managed to knock out a couple of albums and an EP. With a set list derived almost entirely from the new album we do, however, get a couple or three thrown in from the previous ‘Violet Hour’ offering just to break it up a bit.
With a sold-out venue, probably in the 150 region, it is a small basement room with great acoustics and a solid sound system, making it a cosy night. Early doors wasn’t too bad as you could move about, but now everyone has filtered downstairs it’s created a great, if a tad sweaty atmosphere.
Now the band have set up we are off, straight into the closing song on the new album, ‘Dead Woman Walking’ this sets the scene nice as after its brooding intro full of snare snaps and bass rumblings and eventually being joined by Matt on ‘slightly distorted guitar’ the band go about their business, tight and effortless, Greenway’s deep vocal is sublime and the fans agree as they are fist pumping already.
With its intimate surroundings it feels like the band are playing in your front room, as they deliver layers of rich psychedelic fluffiness, each vocal delivery punctuated by soaring guitar, a great opener. There is a kind of familiarity to the sound which is both haunting and warm.
‘Dance of Deceit’ from Violet Hour follows with its deep riff of an opening, drums and bass crashing, both rumbling away dark and menacing as Greenways slower delivery seduces the senses as the song grinds on. Another from the new album follows, ‘Fade into Fantasy’ with a more folkie feel. It starts with a nice repetitive tom run and a sparkly guitar lick.
The bass is locked into the kick drum as Greenway’s voice, deep and delicious slowly unravels the songs lyrical story, sounding like it would fit in, played in a Minstrels Gallery to a gathering of nobility. The tempo changes keep you enthralled at the layers of musicality. Greenways vocals are exercised throughout as she hits the notes on point. Noble hits some interesting notes during the solo, sounding at times to be at slight odds with the melody as, needless to say it works out well. Yet another smooth delivery from Strange Machine.
Going back to Violet Hour we have ‘Hypnotised’ with a shadowy Classic rock under current, the solo break is light and bouncy as it provides an airiness to this dark track. Originally played by Dean Ashton of Diamond Head fame, Matt Noble who replaced him in 2021 has certainly brought his own flavour to the instrumental finish.
‘Psychedelic Expressway’ has an almost 60’s ‘Shocking Blue’ type vibe, more acid tripping than doom inspiring. Another from the new album showing a slight variation in musical direction. As the name suggests, its full of arm waving hippieness, feel good vibes. ‘Hunt’ is our last visit to the previous album. Its dark heavy melancholy sounds perfectly embrace the slightly echoey vocals of Greenway as she purposefully delivers the story.
Bass rumblings from Dan Burchmore push this tune along as Jake Mason’s cymbals crash around as he keeps time throwing in a superb drum riff as we get into the breakdown with its slight tempo change and great harmonised guitars. Greenway has hold of the mic stand as she bobs and weaves, her long hair flowing as she does so, the crowd love it shouting out as she performs in her blue playsuit.
‘Broken Stone’ now follows with its Tom drum opening joined by Burchmores deep bass offering, suddenly there’s a room full of distortion as Nobles guitar joins in. He’s stood at the side grinning as he breaks up the party.
His nasty guitar, cuts the song open like a chainsaw doing heart surgery. With smoke and backlighting giving this song a great vibe, the heat in the room as increased as the cheering and dare I say it, shoegazing is in full flow.
Over the Hills’ with its slight tempo change grinds out next, Greenways voice is as strong as ever as she threads her lyric between layers of guitar dripping in distortion and a bass trying to hurt your nether regions. The crowd are loving it, they have surged right up to the low stage, I’ve long since beaten a safe retreat to the sound board, which, incidentally, has done a grand job in such a small venue.
A strum of guitars and a repetitive bass riff hark the start of ‘Teaching Carnal Sins’ and yet again there is a familiarity to this extended intro. Classic rock riffs drive through as Greenway delivers a stunning vocal. The song is packed full of nasty guitar riffage that will delight many, but the vocal delivery, when you check it out on the recording afterwards shows just how good Greenway is, shockingly good in fact. Live music is awesome and must never die but when you can hear the ’fluffed’ up harmonies and multi layered guitars on the recording you appreciate just how talented a bunch these guys are.
The Title Track is up next ‘ Strange Machine’, A Psychedelic smorgasbord of guitar distortion and vocal acrobatics erupt from the stage. This faster ’slow’ track moves along at a quicker pace than the previous (sic).
The machine gun snare brings us to the nah nah nah section full gut wrenching guitars and a heart stopping bass, both punching you firmly in the face as Noble gives his fingers a quick exercise on his guitar neck, before we drop down to a doom filled riff, which flows nicely into ‘The Earth Spins’ with its nice fuzzed lick that descends into a deliberate, chugging riff, full of dirt and no doubt a lot of other unmentionables. The song has a somewhat cleaner section as Greenway express’s herself, her vocal capabilities are somewhat slightly overshadowed at times by the sheer heaviness of the previous tracks.
The set finishes with ‘Silver’, a bouncier more classic rock tune, with machine gun style guitar chugging filling the melody out before dropping, more-doom like, for the chorus. The song grows as Greenways vocals, deliberate and strong drive the song at a galloping pace. A clean guitar breaks away and solo’s around the pulsing backbeat. A crescendo of guitar and snare conclude the night to huge cheers. As the band try to move away the cheers go up for one more.
You get the feeling that the band aren’t getting off the stage unless they do so. Noble looks at Greenway and Burchmore with that mischievous look on his face, eighteen is shouted out as Greenway, back at the microphone, full of praise and thanks for the crowd coming out to see them introduces ‘I’m Eighteen’, that 1971 classic from Alice Cooper’s Love it to Death album. A great tune to finish the night off. The crowd and myself sing along to this timeless classic, and one of my personal favourites. Oh, sorry, the band did it proud.
The Band are –
Vocals – Siân Greenway, Drums – Jake Mason, Bass – Dan Burchmore, Guitars – Matt Noble
Set List –
Dead Woman Walking, Dance of Deceit(VH), Fade into Fantasy, Hypnotised(VH), Psychedelic Expressway, Hunt(VH), Broken Stone, Over the Hills, Teaching Carnal Sins, Strange Machine, Earth Spins, Silver.
Encore – I’m Eighteen Alice Cooper cover.
An hours drive to Birminham has resulted in an excellent evening of live music, I’ve found, liked and enjoyed two great new bands, which is always fun. Alunah have delivered a great night in their home city. The album has gone down well, I’m looking forward to giving my ‘splattered’ vinyl copy a spin when I get it home.
The only downside to the night was getting fleeced by the NCP for parking in one of there tightly packed establishments, lesson learnt there for sure. At least it was close by, now to tackle the ‘Pagoda’ and the ignorant traffic not willing to let you join in their ‘race’ along the A38.