The Brownies live review

I have been known to run an occasional music journalism night class. Rather than talking the subject to death, the course gives learners a proper hands-on experience… which includes writing a live review. I’ve always loved the fine art of the live review and really quite enjoy showing newcomers how it’s done. This show was the swansong for the rather excellent all-girl Norwich outfit, The Brownies, on 8 May 2010.

The Brownies
Norwich Arts Centre

Everything has a beginning, and an end. And tonight, we get both in the space of a night. See, this is a head-wetting wotsit to celebrate the birth of the City’s brand spankingestly newest label. The noisier little brother of Kingsley Harris’ well-trodden NROne imprint, EastZone is in the house to show off a clutch of its kicking and screaming acts.

First up, Claw Of Panther. Theirs is a racket akin to jump starting a Harrier with a Mini Metro. But wait, two songs in and it all kicks off. Frontster Adam King go bonkers, guitar bites deck, mic stand takes royal beating, full pint discharged over the crowd, singer in tangle of wires and cables. Storm off at this point, we’d have stood gawping in awe. As it is, they untangle, retune and plough on with their hoedown of rugged riffs. Such is the rawk, it’s like Guitar Hero for real. That the words ‘You Rock’ don’t flash in front of our very eyes come the finale is quite a disappointment.

Death Of Death Of Discotheque are out of that draw marked ‘quirky leftfield’. You know, the one we keep firmly shut… with nails. The quirk comes in the shape of singer Jay Barsby, a Trinny and Suzannah wet dream or a Romper Room Mark E Smith. You pick. While the band stab away behind him with their wonk-pop, Jay flails like a man haunted by cow prods. The jiggley stop-starty ‘Sugar It Up’ is a fair attempt, but there so many, even in this town, that do quirky leftfield so much better.

And that’s the problem. Some people on a stage do not a band necessarily make. Thank everything you’ve got then for The Brownies, local darlings and for good reason. Sure, it’s a hometown show. Sure, friends are here en masse. But something is afoot. With sticksman Mike set to plough drumming fields anew with Leeds’ Dinosaur Pile Up, this is his last outing as a Brownie. And maybe, just maybe, this is the last Brownie outing, full stop.

And so the beginning of the end. Possibly. With ice billowing as Karl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ shakes the venue’s 15th century foundations, Mike picks up where Orff leaves off showing anyone who cares why Leeds’ finest came calling. Joined by his band mates, all Bladerunner face paint deftly applied, The Brownies set about ripping this place a new hole.

No disrespect, but anyone who thinks strumming a guitar and singing songs about toast is a night out needs to look and learn. Look. And. Learn. See, although The Brownies’ debut long ‘un, ‘Our Knife Your Back’ is not yet out of nappies, that clean bright sound has already mutated into bruising, bullock busting behemoths. ‘It Kills’ pounds like the muckiest of after dark bumps, while ‘Cougar’ doesn’t bother stalking like the recorded version, it just dives in teeth and claws first.

Stevie’s bass sound alone – like the roar of V8 pulling a trailer of wasps wing-deep in nuts and bolts – would make kittens have kittens and Maxi’s searing guitar is so beefed up you could serve it with the Sunday roast. And then there’s Sophie, the frontwoman’s frontwoman. Resplendent in leopard skin, she’s all shoulder shimmies and hair waving a-plenty and, best of all, in full howl despite ailing, hence the necking of cough drops straight out the bottle.

It’s one of those nights where you can feel the force 10 gale as it blasts past you. Your bones shake, clothes ruffle, and your heart misses a beat. But not as much as it’ll miss The Brownies. The girls say it’s not the end, perhaps. On the strength of tonight’s outing, it sounds like it’s just the beginning.


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