Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
A two hour drive up into the back end of Derbyshire has me at the venue in good time. The journey was filled with good music and a chat with the boss about a holiday he spent in Poland, it’s surprising what you chat about but it all helps to pass the time. I get inside just after the doors have opened. There are a few ahead of me but the room is empty as I drop my bag at the foot of the low stage.
This is a small venue, the stage is less than knee high and if it had silver streamers, a mirror-ball and a meat raffle, it would be somewhat akin to Hi-De-Hi’s holiday camp stage. The back wall of the stage is covered by here a black curtain, drawn to one side so the drum kit can fit beneath the obvious staircase that runs across the back of the stage.
Despite this it has lighting, although nothing really to talk about from the front, the roof height is low so any spots illuminate the backs of the crowd rather than the turn on stage. The ceiling has speakers placed at various points coming back from the stage, an interesting concept, one that you see more in a cinema THx surround sound system than a gig venue. It does give a strange effect if you are close to one during the show.
On time, the band members walk through the crowd and mount the stage, a brief twiddle and we start with a drum stick blast! Yes, it’s time for the support band, EMPYRE, and what a band they are! I’ve seen them many times and always come away feeling “wow, what the f&*k”.
Dead pan Henrik, on vocals, sings while Elliot Bale on drums is locked tight into Grant Hockley’s bassline, as they lay down the throbbing backbeat, for the opener ‘Waking Light’, from the new album released in March this year. Henrik has the blue mic lead is wrapped around his hand as he digs into this opening ballad. Dids, on guitar, adds some light to this dark brooding number.
The sudden stop catches the crowd, of which there is a good turn-out in this remote venue, especially on a Friday night. The set carries on with another from the new album ‘Relentless’, as we get the thundering riffs of ‘Parasites’ massaging the temples as the pulse tries to squeeze your very soul.
This is song full of time signature changes, and dark, brooding passages whilst Henrik’s voice is dark and mysterious, his effortless delivery dripping with molasses such is his dark, despondent voice. A volley of tribal beats suddenly lift the song and propel it headfirst into the crowd who are nodding along to the songs dreary pulse.
With a cheers, Henrik starts bantering with the crowd, reporting that they are quiet and it sounds more like a Monday than a Friday, this wakes some of the crowd up, they do seem a tad shy and unsure. He goes on to ask if anyone has heard of them before, to which there is a stifled response and a vague hand or two raised in the air.
Dids says that’s about four of you then, Henrik replies that there’s plenty of folk in for them, the band, to put off this evening. The slightly different sense of humour is apparent. He then asks for the house music to be turned off in Elliot’s in ear monitors, he’s good but after two songs he’s already played four as the house music is in his mix too.
Another stick count in and we get the single, released in January ahead of the album release in March. ‘Hit & Run’ also featured a music video to promote the track ahead of the album. The bouncing bassline of Grant Hockley powers this one along as the guitars of Dids and Henrik swoop and soar, the song finishes with 5 note lick on the bass.
Dids announces that they are not a Party band, Henrick adds that he wants to get the band on his ‘program’, one of darkness and melancholy, adding that they can’t see anyone in the crowd as it’s that dark, a crowd member replies it’s probably for the best. ‘Only Way Out’ follows. This was released as an acoustic version with Dids on piano and Henrik on guitar and vocals along-side its release on the acoustic album ‘The Other Side’ in 2021, an electric version also appears on the 2019 album ‘Self Aware’.
The crowd are now silent as this slow tale is bewailed, the echo on Henrik’s voice adding to the solitude in the song’s narrative. The melancholy woah ties in with a cymbal crash to finish the song. The crowd are informed that there are free lyric sheet to ‘Only Way Out’ available at the merch desk, the band will sign them after the set if people so wish.
He then asks how many people have the new album ‘Relentless’, “3 people that’s great your so kind”, the band are laughing, the crowd are laughing, guitarist, Dids adds “we’re so popular”… Henrik continues “It’s for sale, you can take it into a darken room and really enjoy yourself with that one”. “Right”, he adds “This is the title track’ Relentless-s-s-s-s” without so many ‘S’s” he adds as the echo on his voice kicks in.
The pulsing drum and driving riff kick in, as once more the evocative vocal skulks at you from out of the darkness. It’s bouncing backbeat, full of crashes and thumping snare has heads nodding along once more. The dejected vocal adds to the gloominess that emerges from the four guys on stage as the song pushes along before it, yet again, suddenly finishes.
With the usual thanks for coming over with we get the snarling guitar riff of ‘New Republic’ from the album ‘Self Aware’ from 2019. A rousing tune of stimulating dirty guitar riffs and thundering basslines, and of course the treacly thickness of Henrik’s voice. There’s a shout out for the obligatory band photo as a crowd member asks for guitar pics.
The four-piece band are fairly fresh having only formed in 2016 by vocalist and guitarist Henrik Steenholdt and Lead guitarist Dids Cole (David to his mum) in Northampton, so far, they have three long players to their name, the aforementioned debut album ‘Self Aware’ released in 2019, the acoustic album ‘The Other Side’ released in 2021 and the latest, ‘Relentless’ released in March this year, 2023. A great band and one that should be on everyone’s ‘must see’ bucket list. As for the album, in my eyes or should that be ears, there isn’t a filler track on it, and well worth adding to your collection, the red vinyl looks dope!
With the set over they clear the decks ready for the headliners THE DAMN TRUTH, whilst being bombarded by questions from the now fully awake crowd.
As 9pm fast approaches the set is sorted and we wait, patiently, for this Canadian four piece, over here on a whistle stop tour which includes an appearance up a mountain in Wales on Saturday, to grace the stage. The familiar taped intro of ‘White Rabbit’ starts over the house PA. the 1967 track made famous by Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane has been used as their intro for a while now. The band sneak on from the side of the stage having first pulled the curtain aside, the crowd erupt in a round of cheers and applause as Grace sings her heart out in the background.
An epic drum roll starts the set as the band kick of with ‘This Is Who We Are Now’ from 2021’s ‘Now or Nowhere’. The crowd are moving well as they dance along, a few bars in and the band have hooked the crowd. Lee-la is serenading the crowd, her vibrato is immense as her partner, Tom Shemar picks up the vibrato on his Bunting guitar, the headstock a mangle of un-cut strings looks as cool as hell.
PY Letellier is throwing the shapes as he hurls his bass around while banging out the rib breaking, low-voiced beat that’s hooked in tight to Dave Traina’s atomic assault of this drum kit. With hardly a pause for breath we go straight into another from the 2021 album, ‘Full on You’, another familiar tune and one that’s featured in previous sets. It’s a cracking hippie type anthem, delivered with aplomb. Lee-la is in the moment, making love to the microphone as she frolics in her delivery.
Tom and PY are locked in tight as Lee-La is on now her knees, there is a look in Tom’s eyes as he watches out for his significant other. The song finishes with Lee-la thanking everyone for coming out amid cymbal crashes, repeated riffs and false finishes from the band. “Thank you so much you beautiful people”. “Leek started a love affair with the place three years ago” says Lee-La “that’s why we keep coming back”. The crowd love that and cheer and clap in agreement.
The now, growling guitar has us taking a trip back to 2012 and the ‘Deer in The Headlights’ album to delivers us ‘Too Late’. The dirty guitar builds as Lee-La joins in with her Joplin-esque voice. Although the band have a very 70’s hippy vibe the guitar is very modern sounding somewhat like the Cold Stares and dare I say Rival Sons in its filthiness.
The tempo changes have the crowd light on their toes as this classic tune belts out, full of powerful cry’s from Lee-La. A mighty tom tom roll from Dave Traina continues as the band are straight into ‘Pirates and Politicians, this one is from 2016 and the album ‘Devilish Folk’. It’s a bouncing number and again sees the band lining up as PY and Tom play off each other.
A guitar break quickly follows from Tom as Lee-La eventually joins in with the “mmm mmmm maw’s of ‘I’m Lonely’ this is again from the latest album and was written in the back of their tour van only days before the thing burnt to the ground.
The music video features the band performing in the back of a smoke-filled van. It’s a wrecking ball of a tune, the scorching guitar has Tom front and centre screaming at the crowd, as the song dies out the crowd are again generous with their gratitude, cheering for more.
It’s a small venue with a decent crowd in so its loud, there is a bit more participation than for the support, who I guess are largely unknown in this tiny backwater venue. We did however, have a couple who have driven from just south of Glasgow to see the band tonight, they can’t wait until the Glenn Hughes gig in October, it just shows the draw of this band from Montreal, Canada.
The bouncing beat of ‘Only Love’ keeps the party going, arms are punching the air at the front of the venue. I move further back just as Lee-La’s voice gives way to a thundering cavalcade from Dave on the kit, he’s getting a good work out from under the stairs, love to hear ‘ flats in Dag-Hen-Ham’ played in a drum riff, if you know you know (winky eye).
This rolls into ‘Looks Innocent’. With its laid-back feel it conjures up the summer of love, in fact the whole set has that feel to it. Lee-la takes time to tell us about the love affair between the band and the UK, her love affair between her and the band members, she goes on to mention her extra special love affair with Tom, on guitar, blaming everything on him.
Love is a wonderful thing, but with it comes all the other things, anger, strong words, boring s*&t out of each other”, she admits she annoys him. Tom jumps in and says “this is the first I’ve heard of this” to the crowd’s amusement. This fits with the lyrics as the song picks up with the line in the song about deciding what pet to have. Lee-La’s voice is powerful as the guitar riff builds into a solo as Tom decides to go walk about through the crowd, he reaches the sound board before returning to the stage, to the finish to the song.
Dave is hitting the drums with spite as the intro to ‘The Fire’ builds, this is another from the latest album. A slightly heavier song in its delivery as the drum groove, mighty, dominating as it muscles its way powering the song along. The steady quiet strum to the false finish has the crowd cheering before the band strike up again to a filthy lead break from Tom. The cymbals crash around Lee-La’s powerful vocal as the song once again eventually dies to an almost 12 string sound from the guitar of Tom.
I’m stood near the back and there’s a steady stream going to Phil at the merch table. He’s upset as he’s just broken a beaded necklace given to him by a friend from Holland. I buy him a Guinness as way of consolation after we’ve picked up the all the stone beads, damn, how tiny are these!
Tom gently strums his Bunting as the band quickly retune, the clashing of the hi hat joins in and then the “Ba da Baa’s” start as we roll effortlessly into ‘Devilish Folk’ the title track from the sophomore album released in 2016. The long held “me” brings the band in and another volley of “Ba da Baa’s” the crowd are joining in as this one slams into you the delivery is almost primeval in its rawness.
It’s an interesting version of the song as Lee-La only repeatedly sings the chorus, I wonder how many into night take note of that. The song eventually finishes with an extended guitar outro to which the crowd cheer and clap in appreciation. Lee-La, once again, thanks the crowd and asks for a cheer for EMPYRE. She reminds everyone that they’ll be at the merch to meet and hug and shake hands with each and every one in tonight straight after the show.
‘Get With You’ has the show underway again. Dave’s tom work is cutting through as the bass hooks in and thumps hard. Mid song Tom decides to take a moment and chat to the crowd. “We came all the way from Montreal Canada to be with you all here, tonight, in Leek, look at yourselves, you showed up” “To us it doesn’t matter if there’s 20, 2,000 or 20,000 at a festival, lets pretend we’re at a festival and one, ooh I’m forgetting myself, I’ll count to 4 and let’s hear what you got” 1-2, 1-2-, 1-2-3-4 and the roof is lifted off from the building.
The screams and whistles carry on as the song ends. Dave gives a quick flurry on the drums, as PY shouts out “Sheffield tomorrow, no Steelhouse”.
Toms back on the guitar, its sounds like he’s going to play the American National album but thankfully he doesn’t instead he builds into the intro to fan favourite ‘Tomorrow’. Its nasty sounding riff makes way for that stunning voice from Lee-La. This one gallops along helped by the drum beat as they sing about no knowing what tomorrow brings. The crowd are singing along as they dance and clap. With a thank you and a can’t wait to come back the set builds to a resounding climax of hand clapping, drum bashing and soaring guitars.
Of-course there’s an encore, Phil has motioned to the soundboard that there will be two more. With whistles and cheers they are only off the stage for moments as they come back on to more applause. Tom starts up with an organ sound from his guitar, these pedal boxes are magical in their fakery. The thundering backline slams out as Lee-La laments the words to ‘Love is Blindness’ a U2 cover released on the 2016 E.P. alongside ‘Heart is Cold’, ‘Get with You’ and ‘Broken Rules’. The words have been slightly reworked, this slow bluesy version is all the better for it. The song is finished with Lee-la and Toms heads together, eyes closed, in a somewhat tantric moment.
More dirty guitar is order of the day as they go into the last number, a rather enjoyable, protracted 10minute version of ‘Heart is Cold’ from the Devilish Folk album alongside the aforementioned 2016 E.P. The accompanying, “hey hey hey’s” have the crowd clapping and shouting back.
Tom takes over with a solo that’s seems compressed to the point that anymore and there’d be nothing, a great sound as it turns into controlled feedback as the song is brought down to a quiet rolling groove. The single, picked notes ring out with an almost eastern vibe, for some reason the band ‘Shocking Blue’ comes to mind.
A descending slide then growls from Toms fingers as more picked notes play out whilst Lee-La, gently tells us of her childhood dream of walking around wondering what the people around her had going on in their lives. She finishes by saying that’s she knows that for a brief moment in time, what’s happening right here and now in the gathered crowd’s minds, she adds that they will keep coming back to the UK as the connection is unreal.
Tom gets the crowd to count in again as the party draws to an end with an eruption of applause cymbal crashes and cheers. That was 90 minutes of magic.
The Damn Truth have been travelling to the UK for a few years now, each time they hit the stage they spread Love, Happiness and Goodwill wrapped up in a psychedelic rock vibe that wouldn’t be out of place in the summer of love, but is just as contemporary and modern in its dynamic. Lee-La’s voice is filthy good and worthy of the ticket price alone. Throw in musicians that give their heart and soul into every note played as well as each other and you have a recipe for success. With a new album in the pipeline, to coin a phrase, “the only way is up” for this terrific, Canadian, kaleidoscopic, intoxicating four peace!