Words and photographs: Reg Richardson
In the period between mid-December 2016 and the end of January 2017 it looked like the safety pins had come undone and the band might have come apart at the seams as three of the five Sex Pissed Dolls members departed, for a variety of reasons, to pursue other avenues. However, you can’t keep a good band down and in true punk style new members were auditioned, appointed and rehearsed in time for the first show of the Avenging Angels Tour at the River Rooms, Stourbridge.
Before the Dolls graced the stage there were two other bands to entertain the packed house and first out of the traps was The Bitten, who had supported the Dolls at the Bilston Christmas show last year. During that show the band announced that they were working on an album and that album, entitled ‘Is It Supposed to Sound Like That?‘ from Bunny Boiler Records, will be launched in May this year.
The band turned up missing one guitarist but the remaining three members played a heroic set comprising three quarters of the soon-to-be-released album. Tonight’s opener was ‘Anywhere Better than This’ a proper punk song! Having said that most of the bands’ songs can be consider ‘proper punk’, no ballads here. ‘Jimmy Rocks’ was next with the same driving guitar (would have been ‘guitars’ had there been two of them) and that was followed by ‘Elvis’. Jay Hudson’s vocals aren’t the most subtle out there but they fit the style perfectly as the band launches into ‘Tattoos & Bruises’, one of the bands best known songs. Next was ‘Drinking to Remember’ followed by ‘Mile After Mile’ with its rockabilly vibe behind it before returning to the down and dirty punk of ‘Almost the Perfect Husband’. The next song is one of my favourites, it’s not a Bitten original, instead being a cover of Johnny Cash‘s ‘The Man Comes Around’; the band take the Man in Black’s acoustic version and rock the punk out of it. This is a genuine head-banger of a song. Time for the band to leave the stage but only after turning the ‘Thumbscrews’. This was another corker of a set and I’ll be in the queue for a copy of the album (unless the band want to send me a copy to review!).
It’s always nice to see a band not I’ve not seen before and tonight it was the turn of The Novatones let loose from the ‘burbs of Southampton.
The band hit the stage looking like a tidily dressed, clean-cut Brit-pop band sporting double-barrelled names and a Union Jack guitar but the Brit-pop band illusion is soon shattered as the sound of an air raid siren hails the arrival of the opening song, ‘III’, with its nod-of-the-head to the early Jam sound and style. ‘Living for the Weekend’ is punk, albeit somewhat distilled and cleaner than classic punk, this is post-punk and the sort of song I could see bands like The Subways or Buzzcocks performing. It’s catchy, moves along at a pace but without the aggression. The overall sound of the band reminds me of The Supernovas but with a more refined vocal stream. ‘Daddy Didn’t Know’ was followed by ‘Be Yourself’, an anti-bullying song that is fast becoming a band anthem, then a rather poignant ‘She’s Out’.
The pace of the songs never lets up, it’s fast, at times it’s furious but kept well under control. Next up is ‘Going Home’ and this followed by ‘Dream is Over’ which kicks off sounding like something from the Clash, one of their best songs for me. ‘Apple Tree’ is something of a foot-tapper and relatively gentle compared to the rest of the set, but that early Jam sounds comes through again. The band finish with the very musical ‘Avenue Road’ and a surprise guest in the form of the Dolls Jilly Idol joins them on stage. The vocals and Union Jack guitar of frontman Anthony Pittman lead the way very well indeed and these are supported by the more frenetic guitar of Mackenzie Gordon-Smith who catches air at every possible opportunity. Sean Swift, Toby Hornby-Patterson and guest tambourinist Joel Dohertyround up the sound that is infectious. The Novatones have been together for several years but the future should be bright as the bands’ style of music gathers fans. They take ‘Brit-pop’, turn it, twist it, punk it, it works very well. Next stop for the lads is iconic, Peter Gabriel owned Real World Studios to lay down their new recording. The studio has been home to recording by the likes of Elbow, The Stereophonics and Beyoncé so some good credentials there. This is a band to look out for and one to see if you get the chance.
Time for the top of the bill, the Sex Pissed Dolls, and will the anticipation of seeing, and hearing, the new line-up be rewarded….let’s see….
The set opens with the Dead Kennedys ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ played at 100mph which gets the bands’ Barmy Army of fans right in the mood as they also get a first sighting of the three new band members in the forms of Connie Rotter & Kitty Vacant on guitars and Anna Key on drums. The Sex Pistols ‘No Feelings’ gets the Dolls treatment next followed by Sham 69‘s ‘Hurry up Harry’. The performance seems like an almost seamless transition from the previous line-up which unfortunately wasn’t destined to last the night. It soon became clear that the vocals of Nancy Doll weren’t quite 100% due to the effects of a bug but that didn’t stop her seeing the set out like a hero and never relieved the chaos that enveloped the crowd. Tenpole Tudor‘s ‘Swords of a Thousand Men’ was immediately followed by Talking Heads‘ ‘Psycho Killer’ as the band knocked out each song almost effortlessly. The time the band had for rehearsals must have been pretty limited but you’d never know that from what was coming from the stage. The new Connie Rotter displayed a true punk attitude…and look, and it seemed like the new line-up would be a complete success as the band went into an Undertones double-header with ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ and ‘Teenage Kicks’. As the sassiness of Connie develops, Nancy smashes every lyric, Jilly hammers the bass, Kitty shreds alongside and Anna thrashes the skins. Not an awful lot wrong here and the fans agree as they chant, cheer and sing every word in support of the new set-up. The band is as much about attitude as it is musicianship and the ladies have both in spadeloads.
The Sex Pistols’ ‘EMI’ was next to get the Dolls treatment and this was followed by one of their own songs, ‘Shitty Old Town’. It was at this point that things perhaps didn’t go entirely to plan as the band played half a dozen bars of the next song, ‘Paranoid’, before halting and dropping the song from the set. Undeterred, the band kick on with ‘Common People’ and a crowd favourite (aren’t they all crowd favourites?) ‘God Save the Queen’ which had the Barmy Army bouncing off the walls. The Ramones ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ came and went before the ladies gave a nod to their main support band, The Novatones, by playing one of their songs, ‘Guns & Dynamite’, a nice touch.
It had become quite clear that Nancy was struggling but rather than end the set early the band ran through the next tranche of songs in pretty quick succession. ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, ‘Rock’n’Roll’, ‘Maniac’, ‘Rebel Yell’, ‘Fight for Your Right (to Party)’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’ saw off the main setlist. During these last few songs the stage had several ‘visitors’ in the form of Dolls Barmy Army recruits as well as a stuffed bulldog which lifted the mood even further. After a very brief off-stage breather the band returned to do ‘Holidays in the Sun’ and ‘Ever Fallen in Love’ before leaving the stage to get ready to mingle with their army of fans.
Despite the problems nothing could have dampened the enthusiasm of the band nor the fans who, by the end of the show, were hoarse. and I suspect Nancy was too. As usual my thanks go to Paul Smith for access to the show and to the ladies of the Sex Pissed Dolls for a brilliant night of punk rock. I’m sure everyone, including me, wishes Nancy a speedy recovery.