Field Studies | Le Pub, Newport
8th November 2014
And you find yourself stepping from a coach into the darkness of a new town.
The fifteen year old me, gawking at a stage in Southampton as Jarcrew take it apart, would probably find some comfort in this act of devotion almost eleven years to the day later.
He’d also ridicule my facial hair, the little shit.
This pilgrimage is merited because Jarcrew are rare, no more so now than before. Breakdance Euphoria Kids, their first LP, was a phantasium of wonder for me as a pube-ing teen. It was ahead of its time, yes, but time itself cannot be used as a yardstick to measure the record’s matter. It is otherworldly; from the thrash of Komputer to the introspective Bill Carson, the ‘now hear this’ audacity of Paris and The New Math aside the fragile refractions of Capobaby… everything interlaced with the most intriguing samples (not created by computer, but recorded holding Dictaphones next to televisions, a stethoscope to the soul) that give the record an entity that transcends time and space.
Oh yes, my mind was then boggled as a youngling, on the first play as on the hundredth.
Mclusky are also deep-rooted. My dad was driving me and a good friend back from our first ever live gig close to midnight on a school night. Backseat headrests sodden with sweat, we were bruised from our first mosh, buoyed by the bravado of a successful crowd surf, silently content. Then, out of nowhere, something to eclipse it all. John Peel set ‘Alan is a Cowboy Killer’ across the airwaves and into my unqualified mind. I felt love. The sheer rush of that sound, something alien, exotic, induced the thrill of contraband. And oh, the guitar.
I became addicted.
So over a decade later you find yourself in a cathedral city that, although new, echoes something familiar. And as you follow a hand-drawn pocket map that way then this, then that again, then stop to ask directions, you stumble finally to the source of that familiarity you sensed oscillating on arrival: a heart.
Newport’s is called Le Pub.
(Please don’t, at this point, feel alienated in the highly-likely situation that my words have failed to evoke the sense of homeliness intended. Simply switch out the first pronoun in the last sentence with, say, Guildford, Leeds or Southampton, and the last with The Boileroom, Brudenell or Joiners).
Le Pub has been the pulse of Newport for 22 years, playing host to a panoply of touring, and more importantly, local talent in its loft. Kids in Glass Houses are a celebrated export, while for most manager Sam Harries is a sweetheart of the Welsh music scene. However, last year, having operated blissfully for more than two decades, the venue was served with a noise abatement notice after ‘more than one’ complaint was made.
A member of staff wags a finger in the vague direction of the plaintiff’s terraced home as we’re outside smoking, not that you’d see it, being as it was three streets away.
Noise can be a nuisance if it’s inescapable, we should agree, and venues that do little to impress care for their surroundings (the vodka bar 200 meters around the corner, say) can expect to be red-flagged. But Le Pub is conscious of its community, because it is at its core. So innately, on learning of the disgruntled local(s?), the venue proposed a solution that held everyone’s benefit to mind.
What came next was astounding.
£10k was required to complete the necessary soundproofing work – a huge outlay for a venue with a capacity of 100. Unabated, a crowdfunding campaign was immediately launched, with pledges being made for anything from pint glasses and apparel to recording sessions and urinal plaques. And of course, for tourists like myself, the trump card: a chance to see two bands inactive since 2004.
Jarcrew’s vibrancy live often defined them, and faced with a mounting wave of expectancy ahead of tonight, they gave as good as they got. They fucking relished in it. The sheer, undiluted wizardry of being able to witness these song live again was a joy I never expected to be afforded, and as one hundred voices cry ‘there’s so much left to do’ after such a wait, I realise I’ve rarely been party to such solidarity.
Kelson’s up to his old tricks (one suspects they never left him), despite, by his own admission, having a few extra pounds to carry these days. But he scales the roofing with ease, and when not treating the room as a personal Jungle Gym, he’s seen swaying with punters and sharing out the mic. None of this is facade (‘their dancing clowns are incredible’ need not apply here), I believe, but instead an earnest necessity to live in that moment and to be that moment. This is Jarcrew.
And ok, whisper it, but there wasn’t a full Mclusky runion to follow. That was never going to happen. This was Mclusky plus, if anything, and it was a sight to behold in the company of devoted brethren; a following built on slog alone.
Deploying the vocals of the magnificent St.Pierre Snake Invasion‘s Damien Sayell across a smattering of tracks is smart because:
a) Falco is a pussy in his old age*, and
b) Sayell’s scream is like white phosphorous.
Jules on bass is almost too perfect in this situation as well.
It would be ironic, were it not such a gut-wrenchingly dismal state of affairs, but Mclusky are more relevant, more required, today that ever before. The rasp of guitar, always a spearhead and captured so well on record as live, is a vital retort to the way our world is; the high end cutting the air like razorwire, the low bullish and whole. True also of Falco’s throat, which has been unremitting over the years to the point where it’s plain impressive that anything remains other than a twitching, bloodied mass of limb, so hard it has been worked.
And what of his actual lyrics? I hear there are those too.
The poignancy of, say, ‘Collagen Rock’, which simultaneously berates the fast-track-to-NME culture of commodity music while chronicling the struggles of sharing your sound with people in the first fucking place, is as stark now as it was a decade ago (and yes, this status quo was painfully predictable, but at least back then we could thrive on the hope).
Mclusky were vicious tonight, something to savour sweetly, and although Macaulay Culkin may not have died, the evening was embossed as legend.
From the tinnitus acquired for the days that followed, to the bruises on neck and torso, the genuinely impressive sound in a room that size to the two local lads on the door (who asserted, rightly, that I was not to leave Newport without a tikka wrap from the establishment up the road), there was a purity in that small corner of Wales that cannot be simulated.
So it may seem clichéd of me to soldier along the route of the importance of community, its necessity in our modern and frequently disconnected times (sold as we were, en mass, the social benefits of jumped-up binary, moths to the flame, swallowing the advertising and meta-tracking as a necessary evil), but without a hive mind of music lovers, traveling hours alone to witness the great and good, sharing drinks and bellowing the words, what then?
Le Pub wouldn’t exist. Relationships bound tight today would never have been. Memories of shows, admittedly hazed by alcohol, would not evoke that smile to yourself months later.
£10,056 was raised in total to save the venue, and I revel greatly in being able to recount this tale. It is, after all, a success story, and Le Pub’s future is, for now, secure. But I’m grounded by the fact that for an increasing number of venues this is not the case.
Many are advocating the common sense Agent of Change principle to be introduced to law so as to avoid a systematic cull of performance spaces among communities. It has operated successfully in Australia for years, and I invite you to weight its merits and start your own discourse on the issue. But before you do, ask, ‘who am I going to see next week?’