An entirely fitting way to end a splendid 50-gig year, this, in a year that Swindon has again served me well for gigs. Only the second time I’ve taken in the annual “12 Bands Of Christmas” event up the Vic (the first being Nudy Bronque’s triumphant night, waaay back in 2013), as Gaz Brookfield’s Chrimbo show at The Fleece clashed with last year’s Raze*Rebuild-featured line-up. Same thing again this year, only Gaz had stepped his Xmas “do” up to The Bierkeller, a 14+ venue which meant I couldn’t take Gaz fan Logan anyway, so that opened the way up for me to catch my local faves Raze*Rebuild at this year’s “12 Bands”!
Usually guaranteed a sell-out as well, so I snapped up my ticket early and headed off early to ensure a parking spot. Most of the bands were already in attendance on my 7.30 arrival; the promoter hadn’t given out the running times beforehand, in order to get all the bands out early to support each other! Sneaky, but nice, ensuring a good sense of community. As before, all bands are allotted 2 numbers, both “covers”, and ideally either something festive or something out of their usual comfort zone or musical style. So, some surprises expected tonight!
Young indie band SHORE kicked off at 8.15 to an already packed venue, with nice if understated versions of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and The Clash’s “Train In Vain”, delivered well by the sparkly-headbanded blond vocalist. JIM BLAIR AND HIP ROUTE were up next, the gravel-voiced bohemian Blair delivering a delicious desert stoner stomp version of “No Diggity”, then a more upbeat cover of Elvis’ “Burning Love” sung by his guitarist. The inventive HAIL followed in short order, their 2-piece line-up restricting the spontaneity somewhat as they required some backing synth loops to augment their drum/ voice “live” performance. However, the balance of the sound was better than last time out in their cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s poppy “Call Me Maybe”, mixed in with snippets of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, and despite stated nerves, Sophie sounded in fine fettle, a sultry and strident vocal performance the highlight of Hail’s increasingly impressive sound.
Another strident female vocal was next up too – despite knowing her/ of her since those 80’s Level 3 nights, this was the first time I’d seen Bex Harrison perform. My loss, clearly, as with her 3-piece THIRTEEN SILVER DOLLARS, she delivered smoky and strident versions of “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree” and a potent, singalong cover of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Despite the sax malfunction, this was a super vignette which will prompt me to check out their own stuff. Smashed it, Bex!
Chatted with various folks out the front and in the pub before squeezing back into the by-now completely rammed venue for MATT BRYANT, a glammed-up Steve Harley lookalike whose cover of “Teenage Kicks” was taut, wired and herky-jerky, and sounded as if Television, not the Undertones, had written it! Nice! GEORGE WILDING then impressed with a superbly well-appointed, if a little faithful, cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” during his set, before I squeezed my way down the front for what, for me, was main event time… RAZE*REBUILD were next up, their opener turning Huey Lewis’ AOR cheese-fest “The Power Of Love” into a robust and potent rocker with big stomping hobnail boots and a massive chorus. However, better was to come, as Si announced, “Swindon, sing with me,” and burst into Queen’s racy singalong “Don’t Stop Me Now”! A neat trick, this, as I bloody hate Queen, but this was a superb, typically rampaging rendition and had me rocking along and singing raucously down the front.
Needed a breath after that, so chatted with Paj before catching RR’s drummer Jamie’s “other” band, THE HARLERS, turn The Zuton’s “Valleri” into a riff-heavy sludge-fest, whilst retaining its singalong quality. Jamie was in fact pulling triple shift tonight, as he remained on his drumstool afterwards for WYLDEST, who added a layer of sugary dreampop candyfloss to The Bunnymen’s classic “The Killing Moon”. As a massive Bunnyfan since my teens, I’m eminently critical of anyone mis-handling Bunnymen songs (including The Bunnymen themselves!) but Wyldest’s Zoe Mead covered this with style and reverence, a point I was happy to make to her afterwards. Nicely done!
The best was to come last for me, though, with THE MARTYRIALS, who were debuting a new line-up, with a slightly-built, green-haired lady drummer and a guitarist sporting a silk dressing gown joining utter headcase vocalist/ keyboardist Sammy, the only holdover from the line-up that startled and amazed at last year’s Swindon Shuffle. Sure enough, they were “on one” from the off, their keyboard fuelled version of The Caesar’s garage rock stomper “Jerk It Out” manic and magic, the sheer verve and energy of their performance causing the keyboard stand to collapse, prompting my fellow front-row punter Paul Carter to help hold it up for Sammy! The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” was Sultans Of Ping FC-esque crazy, and amidst the maelstrom of madness they squeezed a third cover into their set, a quite brilliantly bat-shit mental cover of A-Ha’s “Take On Me”. “That was magic… pure magic!” announced the MC at their conclusion, and when I admitted to a magnanimous Si afterwards that Raze*Rebuild had just lost my “Band of the Night”, he completely understood.
Time was running on, so that was where I made my exit. No-one was going to come close to touching The Martyrial’s frankly astonishing showing, so I dropped RR guitarist Matt off and headed home via the kebab van. Great stuff overall, and I’ll make sure I’m back for more next year. As Paj so succinctly put it, “if the Swindon Shuffle is the Summer party [for the currently very challenging and fertile Swindon music scene], then “12 Bands” is its’ Christmas party!” No arguments there, good Sir - Merry Christmas!