Gig Review: New and Old Collide in Testament to DIY at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton

Gig Review: New and Old Collide in Testament to DIT at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton

Local bands Blue Stragglers, H_ngm_n, and Dry Run come together and blast out a night to remember at The Hope & Ruin.

Work from home Friday culture has seemingly become more and more entrenched into modern society and I am sure it was a much appreciated companion to those that had access to it after a raucous evening at the Hope & Ruin on Thursday 20thJuly. That extra hour to sleep away the fragility that often encases us after excess… A night with The Blue Stragglers is never anything less than excessive, but coupling this with energetic new boy openers Dry Run and emo-pop institution H_ngm_n, then layering it with an eye-watering surprise reunion, renders the inevitable comedown of clocking back in the next day a distinctly heavy one.

There’s a DIY feel to the evening as soon as you arrive at door time – a printed sheet of stage times haphazardly chalked up 30 minutes in advance of the show, the boom of sound-check still taking place, a boldly brash shocking red gig poster, with a jug-headed character pouring liquid into its open-topped cranium, only for it to seep through the eyes and mouth of its faraway expression; both joyous in its cutesy style and disarming in its desperation. It’s certainly an eye-catcher, and lacking a promoter’s name to show for itself. “We just really wanted to play with these guys, so we booked our favourite venue and asked them. Now we’ve just got to make sure we don’t mess it up…” says Dry Run front-man Mark Lane. There’s an almost assured nerviness in his words “there’s so many amazing bands and promoters doing shows round here, there’s so much to choose from, I just want there to be a busy room and for people to have fun.” I can’t really think of a better way to shoehorn yourself into a decent line up!

When Dry Run take to the stage, the room is surprisingly busy, and you get the immediate sense from them that although they mean business, they’re here to have fun themselves. As they churn their way through the first fuzzy bars of distorted opener ‘Nightmares’, they pepper their serious rocky demeanour with sideways smirks and cheeky winks at one another. About a minute in, Mark arrives on stage in a baggy black vest and tacky bacofoil silver short shorts, all smiles over the top of an intense build up. It kind of seems a bit of a sideshow, and at odds with itself, until he furrows his brow, leans jarringly toward the crowd and lets out an extended guttural scream. This is his pattern for the rest of the set – twerking, bendy goofiness contrasted by the intense vein popping in his neck – and this does work. At each of his sides are Stuart Rushforth (guitar) and George Eddy (bass), who regularly interchange between elbow throwing head bang style playing to the bouncy rumbly-tumbly silliness of fart-joke loving school boys. Drummer John Briginshaw appears almost comparatively stoic as the measured linchpin keeping the accomplished chaos together.
They blast through their set at a frenetic pace, just about able to stop the occasion fuelled adrenaline from getting the better of them. There are shades of early Faith No More and “Bleach” era Nirvana, in both sound and delivery, and a performance that shows a lot of promise. It’s clear that they’re not afraid to make fun of one another, with Mark continually harassing George, unsuccessfully I might add, into taking his top off. This “bit” commences from the introduction of set highlight ‘Denied’ – a contorted mutation of an 80s rock ballad and a 90s grunge requiem – right up until the end of their sweaty blow-out of a set. They assure us there’s an awesome music video for this banger in the near future.Chaotic in all the right ways, they are well received, and comfortably achieve their goal of not messing things up.
Next to take the stage is H_ngm_n, fronted by Chris Childs. It’s immediately clear how at ease and at home he is at The Hope, as well as how well appreciated he is here, with fans upfront and bouncing from the outset, gleefully singing along to opener “No One Will Ever See Things the Way I Do”. It’s a delightfully absorbed EMO sentiment of a name that perfectly captures the mood and essence of the band. The song is punctuated by mathematical syncopated poly-rhythms delivered with pinpoint precision by James Martin. It’s a common occurrence during their set to see crowd members elbowing each other in the ribs and to face each other in awe as a reaction to his deftly executed and inventive fills. The anthemic nature of their music invokes a giddy accessibility that’s hard not to love; you don’t have to be a pop-punk fan to have a smile careened unabashedly across your face when these guys are playing. There’s an energetic and clear craft to their 2-piece wall of sound that belies the tiredness that other bands with similar set ups forming around the same time as them way in 2013 fell prey to. That isn’t to say there’s a feel of veterans on the stage; they obviously know their chops, but have a sound that’s as fresh and in-your-face as it’s ever been.
They power through trusted crowd favourites such as the charmingly sad “Happy Birthday” and heart-wrenching powerhouse “Ghost”, seamlessly throwing in a few exciting new songs for good measure, which are received with doting enthusiasm. They’re clearly having fun as well, with Chris in an animated mood despite having discarded his t-shirt after an unfortunate serving of good luck from above delivered by one of Brighton’s seagulls. They close out with a spirited and dynamic rendition of “Matchsticks” having very clearly escalated the fervour of the night and filled up the room considerably. It will be exciting to see what’s in store for them next, with a début album soon to be recorded at The Ranch in Southampton and another tasty slot coming up at The Hope & Ruin on 5th September supporting Chris Farren.

The trademark spilling out onto Queens Road to smoke and impede pedestrians between bands doesn’t last long tonight, as its obvious no one wants to risk missing a second of Blue Stragglers, who are known for maximising their stage-time and minimising any faff. They start with the zesty blitzer ‘All Mine (Sometimes)’, which makes as powerful an opening statement live as it does on their EP, with a catchy vocal melody that repeats and almost implodes under the weight of accelerating layers of intensity. The crowd is reeled-in instantly, and doesn’t have much time to show its appreciation before they charge into recent singles ‘Reactor’ and ‘Running it Dry’ without pausing in-between them. The effect is enchanting, with not being able to cheer something that so obviously deserves cheering invoking the same kind of frustrating joy that holding a ridiculously cute animal and wanting to squeeze the life out of it brings. Any fears over people not having fun or an empty night are fully put to rest by this stage, with all unsuspecting witnesses who are yet to see Stragglers do their thing rapidly converted.

Throughout the show, Lee Martin (Guitar, Lead Vocals) oozes charisma, with a stage presence that would be the envy of any rock and roll dreamer. It’s annoying that he can pull off the shirts that he does, and it’s inspiring how effortlessly he’s playing the part, because he very clearly isn’t. This is who he is, through and through. Andy Head’s drumming is as bombastic and jaw-dropping as you’ll see anywhere – you could take any touring rock band at any level in the world and put him on the stool and he’d be at home. Ali Waite (Bass), plays with a rumbling confidence that carries the performance through; it would be ungenerous to call him an unsung hero -easily done with the flair on display on stage from his band-mates – as every time you’re captivated by something else going on elsewhere, he throws in some ridiculously tasteful slide or complex fill, snapping his head back and forth, very much letting you know that he is there. There’s nowhere to hide in a power trio.

The event page for this show boasted that they are “so tight you can barely fit a rizla between them”, and by the time they finish upcoming single ‘Existential Crisis in a Nightlight” (due out 18Th August through Hassle Records) it feels like an understatement. It’s hard by this stage to contemplate how it could be possible to escalate the evening any higher, when Lee stops to speak through some Stragglers history, before inviting his “musical muse” Jim Faulkner to the stage, to give amazed fans one last run out of Brighton legends Tied to the Mast, who hung up their boots after mesmerising audiences almost ten years ago! It turns out this is the same guy who made the poster for the evening, and that’s he’s decided leave Brighton for Malta. There’s many an ecstatic cheer as he unexpectedly takes the stage, cap on head and guitar in tow. They roar into ‘Traitor’s Gate’ with purpose, Jim taking up lead vocals, wailing and snarling like Mark Arm, before Lee takes up the mantle for yearning swayer “Melissa”, Jim delivering imaginative lead guitar melodies with a passion that would suggest he’d only written them yesterday. He thanks the crowd with an earnest sincerity that reverberates palpably.

As the night is drawing to a close, Jim spots a Tied to the Mast tee in the crowd, smilingly chiming that it must have been kept in a cryogenic time chamber. It’s an apt analogy, with many here seemingly pulled back in time, overjoyed by them the vivacity of being thrust back into their early twenties side-by-side with the people that they careened their way through it with. It’s very clear that many of the people that are here tonight have congregated to see an amazing band with their old mates, and even those who weren’t part of this scene know that they are witnessing something special. They burst into what Lee describes as “the best song I’ve ever played”, closing out their set with the finest rock song you should have heard have but probably haven’t: ‘The Cave In’. The look of “wow, is this actually happening?!” plastered all over their faces is mirrored perfectly by the crowd, who shout back “It’s the cave i-i-i-i-i-nnnnn” repeatedly like their life depended it, whilst Lee, Jim and Ally pogo around on stage in the way that only close pals that went through it all together can. Cheshire cat grins all round. A worthy send off for a dear old friend, and an unforgettable closer to an incredible set.

Giving in to the inevitable “one more song” cheers, Blue Stragglers return. “How do you follow ‘The Cave In’?” Lee exclaims! They do themselves justice and then some with new song ‘In Love for Half an Hour’. The mood is a jubilant one as everyone pours downstairs to grab another drink and decompress. Every poster is taken from the wall, the scribbled stage time print outs mere blobs of blu-tac residue, not a set-list to be found on the stage; mementos taken by those that wish to hold on to this self-made evening of togetherness for as long as they can.
You can catch Blue Stragglers at their next shows, all in Sussex:

 Fri August 4th – Prince Albert, Brighton
 Sat August 19th – The Piper, St Leonard’s
 Sat August 27th – The Malt, Horsham

Check out the bands Instagram below:
Dry Run – @dryrunband
H_ngm_n – @hngmnuk
Blue Stragglers – @bluestragglers