Waking from the Christmas Slumber

The Finest Hour / Chris Cooper Band / Recruits / Amy Naylor @ The Spider’s Web, Grimsby 

My mum’s had to put up with a lot. Mostly due to having two rebellious and chaotic children. That is, of course, her fault – she raised us to be as rebellious and chaotic as possible.

So when I told her I would come for a whole 6 days, I think she was in shock. Usually I’m just too busy for all of that. But this year I decided that spending those extra couple of days were important. Significant. And there was a gig on down the road on the sixth day…

I lived in Grimsby for two years when I first left university. I moaned about it then and I moan about it now. It’s not somewhere I associate with excitement or energy or enthusiasm – all those things I never stop rambling about here in Hull. Mum lived there as a teenager and has been back for around about half a decade now. Neither of us had heard of or been to The Spider’s Web, a well-known pub which is popular with local musicians and the location where a UFO was spotted. It’s a nice-looking place tucked into a side street, which we wouldn’t have found without SatNav technology. With a decent-sized carpark full of iced cars, we were hopeful that the night would be a busy and enjoyable one.

I was pleased, as I’d heard about the gig from the headlining band The Finest Hour, after seeing them perform as part of the Bridge The Gap tour, which also featured Scunthorpe’s Chris Cooper Band and Hull’s Happy Endings. And when it turned out that the winners of the recent Scunthorpe Rock Open were also playing, I couldn’t help but be excitably intrigued.

Folk singer Amy Naylor stepped up into the stage first, wearing a Johnny Cash t-shirt and clutching her guitar. Though there were a few issues with the mic, she confidently stood before the loud crowd – rather raucous after the football, some of them – and introduced herself. Mum and I stood quite far back, so she looked small, stood before a room of tall lads and loud women. It should have knocked her, should have shaken her, but it didn’t. I felt I was getting angry for her at some points, as people shouted across to each other instead of listening to her charismatic voice.

Singing songs old and new, including ‘Happy Birthday’ (I couldn’t hear who she dedicated it to) and tracks from her debut album ‘A Brave Thing’. Some were quiet and soothing, where others were more upbeat and louder. Her conversation flowed between each track, and she smiled throughout. It was a lovely start to the night, even if I couldn’t really hear.

Up next were Recruits, the winners of the Scunthorpe Rock Open. And I kind of wish that I hadn’t entered the venue with that label imprinted on my mind. Five young lads with a very powerful following, this rock band introduced themselves with an extensive instrumental. I was really getting into it, wanting the vocals and that extra layer of sound and body, and Steve Dean Smith started singing, and… it just wasn’t there. I just didn’t hear that extra pop of the vocals which can define a rock band. Not right away, at least.

Smith did ask for the mic to be turned up, and this helped. But it seemed the issue for me, was the power of the stage presence. Smith was on the edge of the stage, trying whole-heartedly to engage with the audience and, at times, really letting go and playing with his vocals. For the lads stood just behind Mum and me, this worked. Sadly, we were deafened by their whistling and shouting, and I struggled to enjoy the set.

There was banter and conversation from the stage, as they promoted their new single ‘Broken’, which will be out on New Year’s Day, but throughout I was mostly feeling indifferent about the performance. I will hold my hands up and admit that I was feeling a bit homesick and I’m so used to the charisma and energy of Coaves that the comparison did not sway in favour of Recruits. That said, they have a good sound, they are a young band with ample time to develop their own stage style, and without their most loyal of fans screeching down my ear I would probably have something much more positive to say. I do look forward to seeing them again in the future, perhaps in a festival scenario where there is a larger crowd to play to.

Up next were Chris Cooper Band, who I absolutely fell for at the Bridge The Gap tour. Chris Cooper has a stunning voice, which crosses the boundary between country folk music and pure, gritty rock and roll. Singing what seemed to be my favourite tracks from their album Kings of Contradiction, as well as some of their older and newer songs, I settled comfortably into the sound.

With the larger stage, and all members of the band, they were able to exude more energy than the last time I saw them play. The guitarist who started at the back was able to move forward and truly rock out in style, with Chris Cooper moving around the entire stage. Their new song (I want to call it Love Scorned’, but I wasn’t sure if I had heard right) sums up their sound: “feel free to square dance if you want”, Cooper offered, before the band played a rock ballad with country beat to it.

Headlining were The Finest Hour. I have to put my apology here, as I knew Mum and I wouldn’t make it to the end of their set. We’d both been hit by flu and had spent the previous days taking as much medication as possible while trying to sleep off the horrid feeling of defeat. The heat in the busy room, where it would have been merely an unpleasant acceptance, was suffocating. Add to that Mum’s return to work after a very long weekend and my returning to Hull on the first bus in the morning, and we both heard our beds calling from the other end of town.

Our early departure was no reflection of their set. Had I been alone, or even making my own way home, then I would have powered through. But I wasn’t, and I knew I couldn’t manage the end of the night with the same energy of the band. And they did jump straight into a hotbed of energy. Again, the first time I saw them was in a smaller venue with members of the band missing. I really enjoyed what I heard the first time; I loved what I heard this time. With the full band, they are so enthusiastic and so powerful. It missed some of the wonderful vocals from Rob Bywater and Sam Simmons, which you could focus on more with an acoustic set, and I was so glad when Rob asked for the mic to be turned up again.

I’ve seen this band take on the warm-up spot, and now I’ve seen them in the headlining spot. They take on both with the same enthusiasm, and deliver exactly what is needed.

Hull is where my heart is; it’s where I feel at home. So to go ‘home for Christmas’ and attend a gig was perfect. In my mind, it was perfect. And I let my mind shadow what was a really good gig. Just like every year I prayed that I got a train set from Santa, I’d built it up to something much different in my head.

Photographs to come as soon as I sort through them. 

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