Leeds, Fox & Newt, 24/11/16
For 3 years, since getting my eager hands on the debut album “The Unspeakable Mr Heart”, I have been on tenterhooks, awaiting an opportunity to see the Manchester-based power trio perform live. So I was chuffed as nuts to notice recently that a Yorkshireman had taken the bold step of staging a Mr Heart gig in the upstairs room of a pub not two miles away from my abode. Said Yorkshireman had taken a punt on Mr Heart, he subsequently told me, on the strength of catching their last song when they supported The Fall in Leeds a few years back. I must have missed that. Bugger. Oh, well.
Arriving at the Fox & Newt, all that stood between me and finally fulfilling my 3-year ambition to see Mr Heart was a half-hour set by Hannah Golightly’s Imaginary Band.
Initially, Hannah seemed unaccountably anxious, given the friendliness of the audience willing her on. Her band was not entirely imaginary, in that she was accompanied by an unostentatious drummer. Truth be told, the opening song did not promise great things, as Hannah strummed the same four chords repeatedly, whilst setting the tone for songs to come, with some prosaic tale of a teen-confessional bent, delivered in a faltering voice showing scant regard for pitch-perfection, atop chord sequences possibly pillaged from the “Teach Yourself Nirvana” songbook. I began to feel slightly anxious myself. Unravelling the cause of my disquiet distracted me for a few minutes, until I found myself absorbed by “Poison Kiss”, a Headcoatees-esque song about betrayal by a friend – “It sucks when that happens”, Hannah observed, with a nervous giggle – and in turn, by the notion that, contrary to her slightly gauche demeanour, Hannah is in total control here. She’s putting herself in the spotlight, not hiding, not surrendering to the age-old cop-out of surrounding oneself with musicians. Doing it this way takes some mettle, especially if you happen to be a bit shy in the first place. Hannah’s art naïf thing did remind me of 1986 twee at times, but it’s hardly her fault that I’ve witnessed similar before. In more disingenuous hands, I might have taken some winning over, but her honesty is there for all to see, along with a hint of wry mischief. And some of her songs were quite compelling, after all. Blues songs don’t need to be complicated to hit the raw spot, do they?
I found myself considering Hannah’s performance in the context of DIY punk rock, concluding that she’s an embodiment of that “can do, will do, won’t be stopped, I’ll find a way” mentality; a young woman, defying conventions and expectations, using a guitar and microphone to do stuff most of her peers haven’t the guts to even contemplate. Quite inspiring, really. I’d go and see Hannah Golightly again, but next time, take my daughter with me.
At 10.10, Mr Heart take to the stage, with minimal fanfare. The intro to “The Hide” is quiet, tense, intriguing and the perfect preamble for an explosive burst of bludgeoning riffola, vocalist Tamsin suddenly transmuting from a pensive, studious, birdwatching type into a fearsome, saucer-eyed banshee. “Blades whirring, Please forget that gun” she exhorts, in a voice of unhinged menace with which you’d be foolish to argue. I sense police helicopters circling overhead, a surge of fear and desperation. Who knew ornithology could be such a dangerous pastime?
“Sexy Husby” launches with a savage two-chord assault which wouldn’t have been out of place on “Rid Of Me”, but such is Mr Heart’s restless spirit that these blustering chords soon give way to a passage of smouldering, rhythmic tension, a brief resurgence of riffage and finally a high-pitched rondo of the vocal refrain “This is my time”, complete with harmonies. Indeed. Tenterhooks, again.
And so the set unfurls, nothing standing still, each song revealing deftness, invention, drama, something intriguing: a new turn of the screw, a new trick of the light. At times, it’s riveting. I’m spellbound.
New song, “Elbow Deep” has the audience glued to its metaphorical seat with a mesmeric acapella finale. “Elbow deep in the dirt, like my name said I would be. Blood runs red at my feet, just like my name said it would”
By its end, mouth dry of saliva, the last thing I need, really, is a sharp intake of breath, but impulse overrules sense on this occasion.
I should point out that I’m not just talking about a band with “raw potential” here. It’s one thing being able to deliver a spot of kick-arse punk thuggery when occasion demands, but it’s another to be just as powerful during the quieter intermissions, to play with fluidity, flair and finesse. And, amidst all this, to have hooks and tunes, because these things are important too, let’s not forget. Time and again, they deliver the goods. “Lynchpin” in particular captures the glorious spirit of Mr Heart: bassist and drummer weave their rhythmic magic coquettishly around an intriguing and obtuse lyric, “I wonder how it came to this: four dark moons turning... Fragile and crooked machine... unhinged and softly burning...”, suspiciously sweetly sung. At this point, the ambience is about as lighthearted as it has been. I swear I see toes a-tapping, until a chorus of “THIS LYNCHPIN NEEDS A FIX!” comes stomping in with its Docs on.
It’s seems unfair to single anyone out for particular plaudits, but the drummer gives Mr Heart a massive head-start over other young bands treading such territory: she’s a hard-rocking powerhouse alright, but you can bet your arse that she’s spent her youth digging jazz-rock while all her indie mates were listening to The Pixies.
As the set progresses, there is no let-up, no lull, no loss of focus, no drop in standards, and on my part, no meandering thoughts about what I’ll have for tea tomorrow. (Christ, that even happened briefly when I was watching PJ Harvey the other week.)
Mr Heart intend to end their set with “Body is Mine”, a gesture of towering defiance: “This body is mine, Fuck you with your knife, Fuck you with your fascistic razor, fuck you with your ‘somebody shave her...'”. Uncompromising stuff and no mistake. No room for doubt.
In the event, the audience demands “more!” and so it is that we are treated to an impromptu performance of “Boredom’s Device”, a personal favourite from “The Unspeakable Mr Heart”. It’s a blistering number, which throws caution to the wind and fully embraces punk rock, before coming to a tremulous, poignant conclusion, teetering on a brink.
“I watch you fade, fall on your own knife, treacherous blade, boredom’s device... Heaven’s device”. Well, there’s a fitting note on which to go out...
Mr Heart deserve a bigger audience than the fortunate few in the Fox & Newt on a Thursday night in November. Where are all the young people who should be turning out in numbers in support of such a terrific band? Saving their pennies for tickets to Leeds Fest, probably. Shame.
If, like me, you regard “The Scream”, “Throwing Muses”, “In Gut’s House” and “Dry” amongst the pinnacles of “alternative rock” achievements, then I’d urge you to let Mr Heart into your life. I reckon you’ll not be disappointed.
Mr Heart media links:
Mr Heart / Hannah Golightly's Imaginary Band
- (Reservations included: I had no expectations at all about
- (Based on Mr Heart transcending any of the reservations listed above; venue was adequate for numbers attending; sound out front much better than expected; Mr Heart were excellent.
- (Mr Heart a band worthy of far more attention than they seem to be getting)