Despite my partner living in the flat on the top floor of it for several months when she first moved to London, I’ve never actually been to a gig at the Sebright Arms before. As I open the door of the basement of the pub, I’m pleased to discover that it is exactly the kind of wonderful small gig space that is sadly disappearing from the London scene, all low ceilings and no frills.
The sparse crowd fleshes out as the band’s start time approaches and an expectant atmosphere builds as the band finish soundchecking on stage.
Moments later, lead singer and guitarist Jenny McKechnie leans into the microphone and says “Let’s play some bloody rock music”. Some bouncing Rezillos-esque drums start up and we are off. Bar a few moments of heartfelt thanks towards the end and a brief observation about the UK’s political chaos from bassist Nick Brown, the band largely adhere to the Pixies template of focusing on blasting through the songs rather than engaging in between-song chit chat. It makes for a show of power and intensity.
It helps that the sound mix is clear and chunky, making the songs seem meatier and even harder hitting than on record. The rhythm section is immense – the drums booming, the bass chucking out a furious subterranean rumble. Locked in tight with each other, they provide the perfect bedrock for McKechnie’s bludgeoning guitar work, a sound which is equal parts garage rock exuberance and punk fury. They make a huge sound for a three piece, one which bounces off the walls of the Sebright and smothers the crowd. It’s the kind of sound that you feel as well as hear.
The other secret weapon in their arsenal is McKechnie’s voice and the range it has. At times she sounds tender and wistful, but elsewhere she lets loose with a huge old style rock and roll delivery or howls with righteous punk rage. It’s a voice which demands your attention and makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
Lyrically, the songs take aim at unsurprising targets: the Capitalist system, the shitty behaviour of men, the state of the world. The songs are earnest, confrontational and frank and fit perfectly with the sound. There is something highly cathartic about it all, an exorcising of what afflicts us.
If this makes it sound like the performance and songs are a bit one note and humourless, then that is unfair. The band have smiles on their faces throughout and engage in all of the stagecraft chicanery you might expect from a stadium rock act. There are theatrical guitar solos, dancing band members and extended instrumental wig outs that make it very clear this is a performance not a lecture. There is also variety within their established sonic template. Songs like ‘Lani’, a slinky, almost new-wave number, show that they are capable of changing things up with powerful results.
The Sebright is a perfect venue in many ways for the band – a confined space that manages to capture the essence of the band in their live setting. That said, if there is any justice they will be playing bigger venues to larger crowds the next time they tour over here. I was exhausted after a long working week of parents’ evenings and the like and this gig was a much needed adrenaline shot to restore my flagging energy and remind me just how good live music can be.
Words by Will Collins