I always look forward to the Pony Up nights at Norwich Arts Centre. I don't always know a huge amount about the headliners, but know that it will always be something worth listening to and something that is trending down in London Town, so it keeps me on my toes. There will also be a couple of local acts supporting, and often stuff going on in the bar. All in all, for an admission price of around six quid, and a limited edition poster sometimes thrown in for free, there are far worse ways to spend a Tuesday night in Norwich.
This week I was particularly excited. Not only had I seen the headliners Kid Wave before, but I knew they were dead good and had released their debut album, 'Wonderlust', only a few months ago. Also, support was coming from local favourites Claws, plus the debut of Graceland, a band formed out of the ashes of Fever Fever, and before that, The Brownies.
There's a good crowd in tonight, and Claws open to an appreciative audience. I've seen them a couple of times over the last year, and whilst lead singer Josie's vocals can be a little screamy at times (she only seems to operate on one volume - loud!), you cannot fault the energy and enthusiasm of all four members. The songs are all strong enough that you certainly remember and recognise them next time around.
The buzz and anticipation around Graceland's appearance is frenetic, and guitarist Ellie is still frantically scribbling notes down on scraps of paper just before they go on stage. Understandably there is a large contingent of friends and family present for the debut, a practice run for their upcoming appearance at Bestival. Despite the apparent pre-stage nerves, they did not need to worry. The set is a blinder, with atmospheric guitar and keyboards, pulsating bass and steady drum work all powered along by the girls' vocals. Think Interpol meets Joy Division - rocking rather than indie, but pushed along by harmonies and strong melody.
Kid Wave take over for the final hour, and do not disappoint, although it was a shame that not all of the Graceland support hung around for the headliners. Still, that was their loss. Not the longest set, as is often the case when headliners are still promoting debut albums, and it admittedly seemed to take a couple of numbers to settle into a stride - maybe they were also taken aback by how good Graceland had been. Very different in style, and certainly taking inspiration from the 90's guitar bands that we all loved so much, this is a revival that has already seen the likes of Wolf Alice take the festival season by storm, as well as bands like Slowdive coming back with a vengeance. Great drumming from Serra Petale, almost hidden in the shadows at the back of the stage, lively bass from Harry Deacon, leaving front-woman Lea Emmery to share guitar duties with Matthias Bhatt.
Sometimes a little static, but with flashes of energy at the appropriate points in each number, it is the songs rather than the stage performance that carry this set, leaving me to muse that the soundcheck and the actual album both surpassed the live show. A shame, because with a bit more engagement and commitment, they had the potential to be so, so much better.
'Wonderlust' is available now on Heavenly Recordings, and Kid Wave have a website at http://www.kidwavemusic.com/ . They are touring throughout September.
Graceland will be at Bestival, then no doubt back in Norwich at some point. In the meantime, listen to their blinder, 'Jackdaw' on Soundcloud over and over again at https://soundcloud.com/graceland_band/jackdaw
Claws are on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/clawsband , and also have an EP to listen to on Spotify