On a beautiful summer’s night I head to what would have been The Flapper’s ‘final weekend’. Sadly one of Birmingham’s greatest rock venues was to be closed for redevelopment. At the eleventh hour, a twelve month extension on the lease was given by Baskerville Wharf whilst discussions are ‘ongoing’ with Birmingham City Council. The Flapper decided to turn tonight’s sell out gig into a celebration instead, with all bands going ahead to help spread the word about them being able to stay open. I truly hope the redevelopment idea gets scrapped completely; we’re losing too many iconic venues these days.
I arrive nice and early and there’s an incredible vibe, glorious sunshine, plenty of people buzzing around, System Of A Down blasting out and a free drink on arrival. Grabbing my drink I head out to the balcony with its glorious canal-side view and soak up the atmosphere. It’s soon time to brace the basement in this temperature and catch the first act, You Dirty Blue. I was however pleasantly surprised as with the basement’s door propped open it pulled through welcoming cool air.
This two piece from Tamworth wasted no time launching into their set unleashing a barrage of thrashing drums provided by Martin Reynolds and filthy guitar riffs from Leon James, who also danced exquisitely on a bass organ adding in a psyche-rock feel to their heavy, blues-fuelled sound. Those who had not yet wandered into the basement soon did and the room filled up quickly. Apart from a few technical hitches, the pair powered through their performance with little interaction with the crowd but this did not however mar the atmosphere in the room.
Facing each other, Leon’s hair concealing his face, they delivered a tight and captivating set, they created an incredible alt rock sound that included thrashing out prolonged instrumental sections displaying their incredible musicianship. How Leon played guitar, bass organ and delivered rasping relentless vocals – I’ll never know, but everyone in that room was head bobbing and foot stomping along. Their connection was palpable making for a impassioned, intimate performance. Bouncing off each other lyrically and racking up the sound and momentum it was an electrifying performance. I’ll certainly be checking out these guys in the future.
Up next are also local lads Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes who came out to huge whoops and cheers to what was now a packed out room. What first captured my eye was frontman Greg wearing a False Grails t-shirt, another great Birmingham band who have sadly recently split, but were originally part of tonight’s bill. Nice one, Greg!
Full of swagger, this energetic post-punk three piece spewed out a blistering set. Hard hitting drums (Ben) and thrashing, distorted guitars ignited the stage and the room was head nodding approvingly. Jonny on bass and backing vocals bounces around the stage relentlessly, whilst Greg has that signature punk stance and stare, delivering his pent up frustrations on life and the world in general. Ardent tracks, lyrically genius in places had me absolutely hooked.
Half-way through the set we were treated to a new track about not wanting to be lucid – so you don’t have to feel, and we’ve all been there right? Angsty and raw twinged with lots of dark humour (and the most random track titles)… I bloody love this band!
A quick break for some much needed air now, we were treated to a fun and flirty fire artist in the courtyard outside before heading back in for the main act God Damn. I must have seen this band six or seven times and it’s been a while since God Damn have played a live show, even longer since they’ve played Birmingham so I, and by the looks of things the rest of the room was suitably pumped for tonight. Several ‘I believe in God Damn’ shirts were scattered around the place with many familiar faces from teenagers to grandparents, this band has such a wide appeal.
Contrary to usual proceedings where the venue is filled with swells of distorted sounds and feedback before the band even enter the stage, Thomas Edward strides out alone “just to piss everyone off” to laughter from the crowd, and decides to start proceedings tonight with the quieter intro of “Skeletons”. Strumming along sedately the harmonious crowd sing along without prompting before it explodes around three minutes in, with huge guitar riffs (Thom), cacophonic drums (Ash Weaver) and keys (James Brown) and an even more huge roar of noise from the crowd. Ladies and gentlemen, God Damn have entered the room!
Slamming straight into “Dead To Me” with one of the heaviest intro’s ever, the pit kicks off, I’m covered in beer and Thom and James are screaming down the mics buried by the crowd’s vocal input. Then Ash kicks off “When The Wind Blows” and it’s hard to take your eyes off his rabid drumming. James takes over guitar duties and Thom gets absorbed into the crowd and the stage light’s rigging takes a hammering from passing surfers. Carried back to the stage he throws down the mic, one dead already. It’s hot and sweaty as hell, it’s everything and more you expect at a God Damn gig.
Blasting through “Horus” and “Ghosts” the crowd go insane, people flying everywhere, stage equipment gets knocked over but it’s a joyous romp with an unbelievable camaraderie and atmosphere. The sound is sensational and pungent, monolithic dense waves of harsh noise rock resonate around the room inflicting a visceral response and creating absolute bedlam. James’ addition of keys and effects adds another layer of depth and enigma to the music.
Following a personal anecdote, Thom introduces new track “Mirror Ball” (I think – trying to read the set list upside down) encouraging others to fight back and spewing out his own frustrations with a chorus of “Fuck You”‘s, throwing the middle finger in pent-up anger and wanton strangling of himself with the mic. He then tells everyone this is the track to start a circle pit to as we won’t know the words and we get treated to another new number “Dreamers” (again, reading upside down) and a circle pit indeed opens up. James kicks Thom in the arse and off the stage and he’s back in the crowd being carried along and I think that’s mic two dead!
After a short solo of ‘I’ve forgotten how the next song goes’, punk-fuelled political punch “Silver Spooned” causes further surges and deafening singing from the crowd, there is no us and them tonight, the band and crowd are one, fuelling off one another and having the time of their lives. Dousing those of us in the front rows with water, Thom goes on to drag manager Pete reluctantly on stage to give thanks and has the whole crowd chanting his name. Turning focus to what tonight’s all about he promises, and makes us all promise that we will return to see more gigs at The Flapper whilst it is still open, anyone who makes ten gigs, gets a snog from Thom himself – you heard it here!
Not sure I’ve enough energy left and wondering how the hell the band have, they launch into “I’ll Bury You” with the mic being passed to crowd members to scream along to, followed by “Heavy Money” which produces the most feral pit of the night. Taking a few hits, sweat lashing and only the adrenalin left carrying us all, they play out to “Vultures” resulting in an encouraged stage invasion, that even sees James crack a smile. Standing like a choir everyone screaming out the chorus line ‘Yeah, well the vultures rule the world’ was pretty arousing and goose bump inducing; what an incredible end to the night! Tonight was the epitome of a small venue gig, you’ll never capture this kind of atmosphere and intimacy at a stadium, so get out there and support not only the bands but the small venues too because neither will exist without the other. Ears still ringing and every bone aching as I sit writing this and all I can think is, when is the next gig?