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Amyl & The Sniffers: Camden Electric Ballroom, 24 November 2021, live review / blog piece

27 Nov

This was yet another solo trip for me. I had an extra ticket and I’d asked various friends, but none had confirmed they could make it, and I’d decided I definitely wasn’t going to fund someone else this time, especially as I suspected I could probably make a profit from the spare on this occasion.

I booked everything a bit last minute, including coach up and hotel just a day or two before. I went up on the new coach service, Flix – only about £4 one way! Even National Express, to and from London, I’ve found to be incredibly cheap lately, often just £3.90 each way, even when booking just the day before, and curiously, now cheaper than Megabus.

I spent most of the journey up reading the “i” newspaper (the Tesco I went to beforehand didn’t stock the Echo). Quite an old fashioned thing to do, read a newspaper, but being a bit old fashioned became a bit of a theme of this little jaunt. Reading a newspaper is actually a very good way of whiling away time on a coach trip. There was one quite amusing story about a guy in Germany who’d driven to his own driving test, was then fined and was not able to take the test. In London, it’s still common to see people reading newspapers on tubes for example as the Evening Standard is distributed for free. I also stuck to my very old tradition of not listening to the band I was going to see on the trip to see them, so instead, I think I mostly listened to an acid techno mix on this new-fangled thing called Spotify.

I’d explored a few hotel options, but eventually went with the advice of my friend John and booked The County hotel, near to Euston station and not far from Camden. It was actually opposite the Hilton. Obviously nowhere near as luxurious as the Hilton, clearly quite old and a bit basic. It served my purposes fine as I was literally in and out, just leaving a few belongings before heading off on foot to Camden.

I decided I’d check out the Good Mixer, a legendary pub, known for being a popular haunt for bands during the Britpop era. It was surprisingly quite a small, really quite ordinary sort of pub, again, a little in need of a facelift, although perhaps, a bit like The County hotel, perhaps its dusty, ramshackle feel is part of its appeal.

It certainly has an extremely popular pool table. They had a chalk board where you had to put your name up, as per yesteryear. The standard of most players was high, all sticking to very old rules, not even playing two shots don’t carry. It was winner stays on, and I had to wait for five or six players before getting my turn. During this time, I met up with a guy I’d arranged to sell the spare ticket to for just a little over face value, and it was a paper ticket after all, so I said he could probably always sell it on ebay after the gig if he chose to. Once I had my turn, I managed to win two games, the first only because my opponent potted the white off the black. The second game I won was against an older punk, adorned with chains etc. He had been to the Amyl and the Sniffers gig at the same venue the night before and said it had been an excellent gig, although I didn’t want to hear too much about it to spoil my expectations of what was to come.

The venue was literally yards from the pub, and I got in around twenty minutes after doors. I handed my coat in, but kept the bag I’d brought with me containing my entire Amyl and the Sniffers collection, hoping to get some signed. I went up to the merchandise desk and next to it was a guy who was the spit of Mickey Pearce from Only Fools and Horses. He also seemed to have an Australian accent, so I assumed he must be with The Sniffers. I spoke with him briefly, and he was friendly enough initially.

Next was to get a much needed drink. Just as in The Good Mixer, they served Staropramen, which is one of my favourite lagers. With the emphasis on the “ar” sound, it’s a good drink for people trying to emphasise their Cardiff accents (“arf a dark and a Clarkes pie” has always been a popular Cardiff expression). I paid for every drink in cash, and due to being in such a good mood, I gave a little tip every time I bought a pint. There were tins dotted around for tips after all, but I bet they were pretty empty even by the end of the night, with by far the majority of people paying by card, which is a convenient way of getting around leaving tips, isn’t it? It’s like people wearing headphones to make out they don’t hear the pleads of beggars as they walk past.

We were treated to two support bands. I had seen two bands advertised, but I thought it was one of them the one night, then one the other, but no, both played each night, and both were excellent, although quite dissimilar in style to Amyl and the Sniffers. Shooting Daggers were an all-female 3 piece who were pretty much like a death metal band, with lots of grunts and stuff. I complimented the singer later on their performance, and said that I thought the sound was particularly good – I especially liked how they used a lot of delay on the mics for grunty bits, then there’d be a cleaner sound for vocals that were sung. Chubby and the Gang were an altogether different prospect. Six or seven in the band. The frontman was a real character, taking full control of the stage. They covered a few different styles, but it was essentially various forms of a grungier form of rock.

Being on my own meant that I could flit about the venue quite freely, stopping to speak to various people at different times. I chatted briefly with a couple from Bristol who I’d actually seen next to me at the reception in the County and had wondered at the time if they might be going to the gig. I spoke to a Spanish guy, I think just after I’d got a message from a friend saying they hadn’t after all fed my cat, Treacle. He assured me she’d be fine for just the one night. Spoke to a few people outside having a fag.

I did chat football with a few people (I was missing Cardiff’s home game against Hull, which turned out to be not such a bad thing as we lost 1-0), but to be honest, I don’t think too many people at this gig were into football.

Amyl and the Sniffers were about to take to the stage, and I put my bag into the cloak room for now as well – I didn’t think it would be likely I’d get anything signed while they were on stage.

I made my way towards the front, and the excitement was quite palpably building up amongst the very mixed crowd, all ages and quite equally divided between male and female. For a short time, bassist, Gus, whose haircut I’d made an attempt at copying especially for the night, was even checking the sound on his own bass.

 

But then the wait was over and on came the whole band. I don’t think they could have picked a better opener than Security. The crowd straight away went a bit berserk, with a huge surge at the front. There was very little dancing to be done in the scrum at the front. It was not even really a mosh pit, just a surge of bodies. Next up, just to pump things up still further, was Freaks to the Front, the sort of song that you’d think must have been written before, but instead, Amyl and the Sniffers have claimed at as theirs.

The word The Times have used to describe Amy’s stage presence is “arresting”. She certainly is someone who puts a lot of energy into looking like the absolute classic rock star. I’ve always liked the fact that the band seem to have a good sense of humour – this comes across in the lyrics, especially to their earlier songs, in interviews, and in their own facebook videos. I think it was The Times who seemed to think there’s something ironic about their performance. I don’t think this is quite the right word, possibly the opposite is correct if anything, that they’re very genuine. That’s not to say that they can’t be silly, with a sense of fun. During Maggots, Amy amusingly waves her bum at the audience, as if to emphasise a possible sexual connotation to part of the lyrics.

Amyl and the Sniffers lyrics are never over-complicated, so for most of the way through, fans, who’ve had enough time to learn them since the release of Comfort To Me, sing the lyrics back. The set is mostly comprised of songs from this second album, although of course there are a couple of favourites from their debut album, including Cup of Destiny, and the essential Some Mutts (Can’t be Muzzled). Even older than these, there is the popular, I’m Not a Loser.

A highlight moment for me was when, slightly further back from the front of the stage, during the quieter section of Got You, suddenly a circular gap in the crowd opened up, and just one curly-haired young fan danced within this circle, surely knowing the inevitable that would follow which was: as soon as the guitars kicked in, he was mobbed by all around him!

Knifey was a song I wasn’t sure if they’d play or not. It’s probably about the closest thing to a political song Amy has written. It’s quite a dark song, and of course, in a way, it’s a bit depressing that, if true, Amy (or at least the person represented in the song) feels they have to carry a knife to walk home. In a way, it highlights an issue that has probably been around for a long time, but has just more recently been given a lot of exposure.

Of course there are hints at violence in a few Amyl and the Sniffers songs, just as there are with many punk bands, but as anyone would tell you, the over-riding feeling at gigs like these is in fact an emphasis on fun, of just having a buzz with like-minded oddballs!

At the moment, it does feel that the band can only continue to get bigger and bigger as more people become aware of them. But maybe the style of band that they are will limit, to some degree, exactly how big they might get. I somehow don’t feel they’ll be advancing to playing arena tours, which wouldn’t suit them anyway.

After a brief encore, the gig came to an end, and I quickly joined the queue to retrieve my coat and bag. I’d spoken to the Mickey Pearce guy a couple more times and he was frustrating me more and more every time I spoke to him. I’d told him I’d also brought a pair of Cardiff City shorts as a gift to Amy (who nearly always wears shorts on stage). I just thought it would be funny after Ian Brown once wore my Cardiff City shirt if Amy, my latest hero, would wear some Cardiff shorts! To be honest, I don’t think they’re really into football mind you, as during the gig someone did throw a green and black flag onto the stage, and she threw it back, thinking it might be football-related (not sure if it was), and she didn’t want that affiliation. Well anyway, the shorts were really just intended as a small gift in exchange for getting stuff signed.

Anyway, because I’d started to think I wasn’t going to get to meet the band after all, I’d given the shorts to this Mickey Pearce bloke, hoping he’d be able to pass them on. He was now saying he wasn’t even with Amyl and the Sniffers, but was with the support band. I wasn’t really sure what to believe. But the bouncers were shooing us all out, so there wasn’t much more I could do.

I thought I might as well hang around, old school style, just in case I saw the band coming out. Someone, again, one of the bouncers I think, said I’d be better off waiting round the back of the venue. I bought a beer from an off-license – probably about my sixth or seventh of the night – and waited. It actually wasn’t that long a wait.  There were one or two people waiting as well. I saw Amy, now dressed in a smart rain coat, and very smart trainers. Someone, probably her manager, was trying to hurry her into a waiting car, but it was agreed she could sign one thing for me. Of all the things I’d brought with me, I thought getting my ticket from their Cardiff gig in 2019 would be the best thing to get signed, and that was it. I wasn’t actually all that bothered – it was hardly essential to get all my records signed, as I doubt if I’d ever sell them. Of course, if I’d kept the bloody shorts on me after all, I could after all have passed them on! But then again, like I say, perhaps they would not have been such a welcome gift. No idea what actually happened with the shorts in the end.

I’m sure I’d seen the Sniffers as well, but they seemed to disappear, so eventually, I headed back to the hotel. Stopped off at one bar on the way for a little nightcap. I thought I did then see a car pull up outside another bar and two guys get out who looked a bit like two of the Sniffers go up a staircase. There was a locked door at the bottom of the staircase, and the driver wasn’t letting on to what this was. To be honest, I was pretty pissed by now anyway, and so I just went back to crash at the hotel.

The only other thing I’d wanted to do the following day was to try and buy a replacement scarf for one I’d recently left in a pub, but which I’d bought in London a couple of years back – as it happens, on the day I met Ian Brown at a record signing in Rough Trade. I went back to the same station the shop was close to, but I couldn’t find the shop. Amyl and the Sniffers themselves were doing an official signing session the following day, but I didn’t have a ticket for this, and I really felt I might as well just get myself back to Cardiff now. A replacement striped scarf was going to have to go on my Christmas list.

Note: Other than the video footage (above) taken from Youtube, none of my own pictures to go with this piece. I wasn’t going to get my phone out while in the mosh pit, and just didn’t bother taking snaps when further back (there is a good review with photos and video footage on loudwomen.org).  It did occur to me that if you intended to do any crowd surfing (there wasn’t that much), you’d be better off not having your phone on you I suppose. Note also, no crowd surfing from Amy herself on this occasion. Maybe now the venues are getting bigger, she is choosing to no longer include this aspect of the performance.