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Good Friday, 14th April 2017
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Blast Off Festival: Oblivians, Gories, The Ghastly Ones, Les Bof! and more
Nottingham, Marcus Garvey Ballroom

Article written by Ged M - Jul 24, 2009

The Cosmic Vampires
The Raleigh cycle factory in Nottingham was once so well off it boasted its own theatre, dining rooms, showrooms and a sumptuous ballroom. Now the ballroom's an all-night reggae and rave venue (heavily featured in the Joy Division biopic Control) but this weekend there are garage-rock and garage-punk bands playing to the bicycle-building silver cherubs that still adorn the ballroom walls. There are a few cherubs on stage too, burlesque dancers with names like Trixie Malicious and Venus Raygun, frugging and swinging in rocket-shaped cages to the bands as they play (they have fun but the Ghastly Ones’ dancer shows them how to really move), while outré 60s movies play at the back. It feels like a Dirty Water club transplanted to Nottingham with knowledgeable fans wearing cool clothes, big hair and fantastic tattoos.

There are a couple of no shows so Friday starts with a two-piece from York who might have been called the Pharoahs but all I remember is quite dull blues rock. Much better are the magnificent Armitage Shanks, putting the punk firmly into garage-punk with a couple of well-chosen covers (Subway Sect and Alternative TV), some simple and loud rock’n’roll and some East End rabbit. When Chas (or Dave) finally kick it, I know the Sideboard Song will be safe in these men’s hands. Their set is memorable for the look of fear then bemusement on the singer’s face when the first dancers appear! Los Chicos are a party band who are a sort of Spanish Dr Feelgood (El Medico Sentir-Bueno?) mixing garage with r’n’b and pub rock and throwing in a cover of the old rockabilly tune ‘Lights Out’ for good measure. With all the speaker-stack climbing and clowning on-stage it’s entertaining enough (especially if you’ve been drinking) but strangely they’d work twice as well if they were on a stage half the size.

Mick Collins (right): The Gories
With two bands dropping out, the main attractions appear at a reasonable time tonight and are well worth missing the radio 4 shipping forecast for. At 12.30am, the Gories take the stage. Pam sits impassively behind the drums pumping out her protobeat but Mick and Dan are full of good-humoured energy, Mick even picking up his first harmonica in about five years, as he tells it, for ‘Land of 1,000 Dances’ after he breaks guitar strings on both his guitars in consecutive songs. The Gories’ originals are fast and direct garage-rock tunes but less raw-sounding than on record (a tribute to the soundman tonight maybe), strongly rhythmic but digging out the melodies. Tracks like ‘Nitroglycerine’ and ‘Thunderbird ESQ’ elicit singalongs in the people who’ve waited a long time to hear these performed live while they produce a spooky version of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ that fits the Blast Off vibe. They’re worth the price of admission on their own, but you’re only left wishing they could have played London as well, since they could have filled the Scala (tonight the ballroom was filled to five-sixths capacity maybe).

And if that’s not enough, the organisers finish the evening with Oblivians at 01.30am. Maybe it’s odd programming to put both your main attractions on the same evening but we’re not complaining. Greg Oblivian is incredible to watch, his intense delivery and rigid stance making you think of a particularly pissed off Marine drill instructor. He’s a great drummer too, although the pace drops a little when Jack Oblivian swaps drums for guitar. Oblivians come across as music obsessives, comfortable with the sweep of US music from garage-rock to Memphis soul and r’n’b, and playing them all at fierce volume and speed. No festival this year will end on such a brilliant one-two, which had us talking about them long into the night, correction, the morning.

One the few moans I have about the festival is the timings and particularly the time between the advertised time for the doors and the first band on stage. On Saturday, the live music doesn’t start until after 10pm which puts the headliners on at 2:30am, not really fair for a band over from the States for the first time and who must have lost 100 of the potential crowd because of the hour. The first band on Saturday is the Torpedo Monkeys, a four piece from Germany who play in Planet of the Apes masks (although when you see the singer, his face and hair don’t need much teasing to look simian). They play Cramps-style scuzzy garage-rock with much stack-climbing and are massively entertaining, though not enough to make me buy any of the Torpedo Monkeys clothing line (jackets, shirts) on sale. Les Bof! are my hit of the evening, a Franco-Scottish garage ensemble channelling Jacques Dutronc, Them and the Kinks, and spooning on a heavy dose of Tom Jones showmanship. Lauren is a livewire frontman, posing outrageously with harmonica and demanding the spotlight, while his Scottish band (ex-Thanes and Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes members among them) thrash out beat rhythms tight as the proverbial duck-cloaca. Lauren sings in French (and asks for more in the monitors in English) but there’s no mistranslating songs like ‘J’ai Perdu Mon Mojo’. Tres magnifique and highly recommended if they play our capital city again.

The Eviltones are the hometown band tonight but only succeed in breaking the momentum; the band themselves aren’t bad but their songs are dull and mono-paced and play an unsustainably long time. The trash-surf-garage sound of Spain’s Cosmic Vampires helps to restore the mood, together with their outrageous make up, coming over like the Surfaris from hell. With dancers on stage, the music and visuals create the perfect Las Vegas Grind feel.

The Coyotemen
Comedy on Saturday is provided by three ridiculous YTS soundmen who get in the way of the musicians, squabble amongst themselves on stage and generally look clueless, especially when it takes all three to plug in a plug. I must check to see if Curly, Larry and Moe are listed on the Blast Off website. There’s further post-midnight comedy from the Coyotemen but it’s not very funny, especially when half of Los Chicos invade the stage (most of them in dresses) and arse around for half an hour. The band look striking in their wrestling masks but I was expecting feral garage rock rather than the pussycat version I saw. Finally it’s time for America’s the Ghastly Ones, who I’ve seen hanging round in their incredible undertakers’ outfits for hours. They look horrendous in the finest sense and sound fantastic, their sound driven by a beautiful looking Vox Continental organ, but we only manage half a dozen songs of mainly instrumental-at-breakneck-speed garage-rock before we're shaking, not with fear but with tiredness, and head off for our travelodge coffins at something around 3am. We’ve seen legends, discovered new/old bands, been teased by girls who could have stepped out of a Russ Mayer movie, escaped being buried alive in a second hand record store landslide, watched apes do the boogaloo and lived a weekend in some b-movie alternate universe, all for £60. I feel shagged but I wanna do it again.


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