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Jamie Lenman wows Islington with pre-festival appearances mini-tour

The relentless talented Jamie Lenman returns after his successful December shows to wow afresh with expanded band and a new lease on life.


Islington Assembly Halls 21st April 2014.

Stepping into the Islington assembly with the brilliant Chris from Duff Press escorting me to Jamie Lenman’s dressing room an hour before doors at the grand venue is a surreal way to start a gig review, more so when you are stepping in to review and interview the man responsible for the output of your all time favourite band, worse still when you have followed said man on tour for a year and a half, shared a stage with your own band and are friends with a tight circle of mutual friends. However, its also pretty cool when the man in question immediately recognizes you and stands to shake your hand and is as amiable, friendly and in as good humour as Jamie Lenman is. A complex and intellectual man, he is also imbibed with a fantastic and eclectic sense of humour, a singular style and an encyclopedic knowledge of music. He is an enigma wrapped in an open wound and is as complex and as charismatic as you can imagine. It is no wonder his music is as Quixotic and genre defying as it is. This is not about the interview though, I will go into that in a separate article – suffice to say – Jamie Lenman is full of wonderful opinion, thoughtful repose and welcoming banter, even when the man interviewing is clearly as much as a slavering, shaking, nervous fanboy as me – even after ten years of knowing the guy, meeting him eight or nine times and sharing a dressing room – I still get nervous and giddy in his presence. The evening is a two band bill – Jamie Lenman and his Heavy Mellow Band headlining in an expanded seven piece form, complete with three piece brass section for his upcoming festival appearances, including the recently announced Jaegermeister Stage headline – and the boys in HAWK EYES, previously Chickenhawk opening and supporting for the three dates in this mini tour. Taking to the considerably sized Assembly Hall stage Hawkeyes look tiny, they make a large noise and attempt to set fire in bellies, however, they are lost with a depth of space between them and the audience, the room seems somewhat indifferent and there is hardly any spark – the band try and raise the temperature, the tempo and the mood – songs like “I hate this, do you like it” are grand and riotous, but without being on the same level as the crowd, without the danger of tables being kicked over and the band inches from the face of the fans and spit flying like rain, there is palpable sense of being out of their depth on this kind of stage. It pained me to see how they went down, as they are a significantly better band than this venue allowed them to be, they struggled and the set was a bit of a disappointment. A definitive 5/10. After a small gap in proceedings and a soundcheck that was both detailed and seeking of perfection, two aides checking each piece of equipment straight after the other, monitoring and PA checking, the Heavy Mellow Band take to the stage and the man Lenman comes following to a rapturous welcome from the crowd. What follows is over an hour of unconditional, reciprocated and intense love between a band and an artist and a crowd that are here for one thing and one thing only… to worship their long missing idol returned amongst the throng and ready to preach. Reuben were a band that defined many of my friends childhoods, adolescents and young adulthoods – a band who are still listened to with a sullen, almost morose sense of loss – and are still spoken about as one of the best things to have happened to the UK rock scene for any time memorable. I share this sentiment myself. I love Reuben unconditionally, they were MY band, and everyone who likes that band LOVE them, Jamie Lenman was the conduit for everyone of our young adult problems, a songwriter who put his fears and hopes and dreams into musical format we could tag along to and wear proudly as musical flags representing how we felt. His new album MUSCLE/MEMORY sees the man return with a renewed sense of fire and ire and an album that is both angrier than I have ever heard him, as well as more musical, more contemplative and more openly confessional about his past and his place in the scene ten years down the line. The man can do NO wrong as far as I am concerned – and on tonight’s evidence, it is proven with aplomb how important he is to British rock scene.
IMG_0291 Swinging effortlessly between a set of four piece Hardcore – a heady car-crash of Will Haven and Helmet, riffs the size of skyscrapers and vocals that are barked with terrifying venom at a mic that takes a battering all night, stomping a stage that drowned the support band like these guys own it and are marking their own territory with lo-tuned power-chords – to solo acoustic balladeering with Lenman alone on an acoustic guitar playing new and older songs in as intimate a way as possible that I witness grown men crying and wiping tears away after songs and singing along like banshee choirs during choruses and hooks, to a set of seven people, brass section included, tearing the roof off the building and leaving the man Lenman to walk off smiling incandescently and giving a cheeky little over the shoulder gaze at the victory he just achieved. T say it was a good gig would be a disservice, easily one of the best gigs I have ever witnessed, I was proudly one of those men wiping a tear away during “Nobody Loves You…” I was proudly losing my voice that was already ravaged by a week of touring with a hardcore band – but found the life and energy to join in every song from the old school and the new alike. Yes, he still recognizes Reuben had an important part on his fans life – songs like BLOOD, BUNNY, LARKHALL are absolutely beastly with an extra guitar and a few years of hindsight, spat and jagged, a time-bomb going off on stage and ripping the crowd to ribbons. ONE OF MY EYES IS A CLOCK was a prison shiv repeated thrust into the heart, a horribly brittle, violent example of Jamie Lenman’s new attitude toward heavy, it was without mercy and brutal. Bringing out his band his rendition of CW Stonehouse’s “LOVE ME OR DIE” was a highlight that took a lot to beat, a folky, bluesy rock number that had the Dixie swing and honky-tonk country feel – but used brass to dazzling effect and which made Lenman smile wider than I saw most of the evening until that final gaze back. The Therapyesque TOO SCARED TOO FIGHT saw a rare outing, some fans scratching their heads unsure where it came from, others joining in word for word. And the brilliant SIX FINGERED HAND came as a shocking, but not altogether unexpected, final gut-punch to floor the already exasperated and sweaty crowd who had been well and truly satiated. Jamie Lenman does not do encores, so he bid farewell before and after the final song, smiled and thanked the audience for making this “probably my favourote ever gig” – something that seemed genuine and honest and very earnest rather than a passing platitude, and he leaves sweating, happy and with that final mischievous look back, a smile as wide as the Thames plastered all over his face. This was one of those extraordinary gigs where artist and crowd existed in simpatico for an hour and a half, where every song came with emotion, feeling and pleasure and at no point did anyone in the room wish they were anywhere else. It was magic.
IMG_0261 Jamie Lenman now goes to festival season shows headline at the third stage at Download and hopefully to work on a follow up to MUSCLE/MEMORY, I will be waiting with baited breath regardless his antics or plans – and I recommend him wholeheartedly to anyone at Download. 10/10.