Fans of the punkrockshow had two options last night: UK Subs at 229, or Amyl & the Sniffers at the Electric Ballroom. No contest. Amy and the boys win all the punk prizes hands down for me. All the energy, all the joy, all the noise – it was a ballroom blitz for sure, and we were grooving.
This was the first “big” gig I’ve been to in a couple of years, and I went there by myself, so it took me a little while to get my head round being in an enclosed space with quite so many people. Armed with a strengthening cider, and some antibacterial hand gel (for my hands), I waited for the supporting band to finish.
Chubby and the Gang are a group of young people playing the textbook punk rock in a suitable way. No lyrics were discernible (or chorusses, for that matter), but I got the impression Chubby is a man very comfortable in his skin, and his gang in theirs. This band were not for me, but they seemed to have the support of the fizzy male youths at the front of the already packed crowd. Once they were done doing their thing, and the testosterone of the pit headed to the bar, I felt safe enough to totter towards the audience.
Having not been to a big show for so long, I’d forgotten how the crowd organises itself by demography: 20-somethings arcing round the stage; 30-somethings heaving impatiently behind them; 40-somethings in the layer beyond them – still in the throng, but more distinctly aware of their mortality, allowing each other room to breathe; 50-plusses contentedly leaning at the bar, happy to be out of the hoarde. These geode-like social dynamic formations are not exact of course, and spattered within each tranche are generational anomalies; the odd grey-haired punk at the front whose cultural capital has propelled them through the social order, the odd youngster at the back with older friends, cursing their poor social capital. [This week my students at BIMM have been studying Bourdieu. I wonder what he’d have made of the punkrockshow.]
I settle myself along the edge of the 40-somethings, and make some temporary friends to joke about crowds and covid tests with (those awkward “shit there’s so much breath in my face right now I’m trying not to freak out” jokes that somehow help stave off the actual panic attacks).
We bounce to, surprisingly, dance music, and then – joy! – ABBA’s Gimme Gimme Gimme comes on and there’s a sense that the Amyls have chosen this for us to listen to before their set. The crowd condenses tight, and merrily sings along with Agnetha and Frida. I spot our supersnapper Keira Anee working her way smilingly across the crowd towards the photographer’s pit and I join her for an excited chat. I’m so delighted that Keira was able to get a pass for the show – as we know, punkrockshows do not really happen unless Keira is there to take photos of them!
Check out Keira’s full photo gallery here …
Before we know it, Amy, Dec, Gus and Bryce are on stage, and the crowd sizzles and swells. “Alright?” beams Amy, like she’s greeting old friends. “This one’s for all the security guys” – the band launch into Security, and we’re off. The crowd seem to know every word to this belter from the band’s Comfort to Me album, and we’re singing and bouncing and fist pumping and dancing like loons. Social order is shattered as I’m propelled frontwards through the mob, and I have to remember those pit skills I’d long-forgotten – elbows out, protect your face, and whatever you do don’t fall down.
Amy is electric – joyfully bouncing through the album’s catchy AF lyrics while the boys belt out thumping tunes. This is GREAT. The crowd drinks up the music, the energy, and Amy’s sparkling banter. This band are making their own legend right now.
Last time I saw them live it was 2018. That summer I first saw them at the teeny tiny Lock Tavern in Camden. They brought with them an explosion of punk rock youth, joy and super-Australian humour and they instantly became my new favourite band. For a few days, I thought I might have them booked for LOUD WOMEN Fest 3, but the big music industry fellas swooped in and scooped them up, signed them up, and next time I saw them was at the spangly Moth Club, where I watched the set standing next to Jarvis Cocker (he loved his Amyls, and rightly so!).
Tonight, three years on, they play the second sold-out night at the Electric Ballroom, and everyone in the room is a beaming. These aussies have a second, loving home here in the UK, and they are very welcome back as often as they like.
Amy calls girls to the front of the crowd – YES! – and I’m propelled further forward. I look to my right and find that I’m standing next to my bandmate, Doris (aka Louisa Edwards-Knight, the actual best drummer in the world) – I didn’t know she was going too! London huh. We scream and hug, and she beckons me further towards the pit full of 20-year-old elbows – what is she thinking? Fuck it – I bounce in there with her, my social and cultural capital hitting the motherlode. Here I am watching a brilliant band, at a brilliant punkrockshow, in a pit with my brilliant bandmate – what a night! We’re shouting along to Don’t Need a Cunt (Like You to Love Me) and it kicks ass. Two years of lockdowns, isolation, rage – we needed this. All of us in the ballroom needed this.
Of course Doris and I get separated in the crowd before long, and I remember that I’m an obese 44-year-old mother with arthritic knees and a painful case of plantar fasciitis at the moment, so I elbow my way backwards through the crowd to find a nice wall to lean against, with the oldies at bar. This is much more comfortable.
Exploring upstairs I find a more louche crowd – sitting, chatting, enjoying the gig without elbows in their faces. My kind of people. I discover a corner where I can sit on the floor and get a perfect view of the stage. I film the finale from here, and berate myself for not finding this space sooner. The crowd explode with jubilance for the finale. I pre-empt an encore and head out towards the exit (as we know, encores are a bourgeois pantomime and not to be encouraged).
Downstairs, the exhausted bar is pulling the shutters down, and a blonde woman is pleading with a bar steward for just one more drink, the steward wearily wrestling her arm from the shutter. I realise of course that the blonde woman is Doris! We buy t-shirts from the merch stand, and I chat with the lovely Sal Pellegrin from brand new, very hotly tipped London hardcore band Shooting Daggers, who’ve opened the gig the past two nights. She says “I know who you are – you’re from LOUD WOMEN!” and I am so flattered I make a mental note to mention this in my review. I tell her I’m gutted I missed their set, and what a shame they weren’t on second instead of that boring load of blokes. I catch some filthy looks from, it turns out, one of Chubby’s gang at the next table. Oops. Ah well. I promise to book Shooting Daggers for a LW gig as soon as humanly possible, and I will indeed do that – watch this space. She says they went down a treat both night, the crowd pestering them for selfies afterwards like rockstars. It can’t be long before Shooting Daggers are headlining their own shows, so let’s get them booked quick, before those pesky booking agents spoil our DIY fun!
I say goodbye to Doris, who has the look in her eye of a woman intent on a much bigger night out than I had in mind. (Later, it transpires, she was drinking with the Sniffers – I’m partly very jealous, but mostly quite grateful for the lack of hangover today!)
On the tube I find myself sitting opposite a man I had to block on Facebook a while back for being a sexist twat. London huh. He can’t harsh my vibe though. I’ve had such a great night and I am overflowing with the feminist punk energy Amy has charged us all up with, the tiny human dynamo she is.
Come back to London soon please Amyl and the Sniffers!
In the meantime, here’s that time I interviewed them on zoom …