Tuesday 3 June 2008

skip to the last paragraph before we start....

The Futureheads @ Nottingham Rescue Rooms, 3rd June 2008

I have something of a mixed history with the Futureheads. I absolutely adored their first album for its freshness and for the way they swapped vocals against a backdrop of thrashing guitars. They're four blokes from Sunderland called Ross, Dave, Jaff and Barry, which sounds more like a firm of plumbers than a band, and they play a kind of music that I've seen (probably fairly) described as "spazzy rock". I thought they were brilliant and the more I listened to that album, the more I loved it. Perhaps you could accuse them of being one-trick ponies, but as long as they had song as good as "Decent Days and Nights", "First Day", "Carnival Kids" and "Meantime", then that didn't seem to matter. Their frantic style of play was apparently honed by rehearsing in a garage in their native North East, and having to play faster and faster simply to keep their hands warm. Their outstanding cover of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" took them into the top 10 and the future looked bright. I was desperate to see them live too.

And then they released their second album.

I don't think I have ever been so disappointed with an album as I was with this one. It's not that the album is especially dreadful, and "Skip to the End" in particular is a really good song, it's just that it did nothing for me. Perhaps they were simply trying to do something different, but they left me cold, and I simply couldn't work out why a band from Sunderland was singing such a po-faced tribute to the Manchester Utd players who died in the Munich air disaster ("News & Tributes"). I didn't get it. I was still looking forward to seeing the band live, mind. I'd seen them triumph at Glastonbury in 2005, but I wanted to see them on their own stage. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be. I bought tickets, but the gig fell on the same day as both the Trent Bridge test (with Biggles fancy dress) and a friend's wedding. We made it to the venue by 21:05, which I didn't think was bad, but I hadn't reckoned with the Saturday stage times at Rock City, and we had missed half of the set and were back outside again before 10pm. That didn't put me in the best of moods, but the band seemed somehow lacklustre too. A little while later I heard that the band were being dropped by their record label. It was a shame, but perhaps they'd reached the end of the road?

Thankfully not, and the Futureheads bounced back on their own record label and with a fantastic new single: "Beginning of the Twist" - a song at least as good as anything else they had released in the past. The new album was released last week, and although it didn't grab me immediately, it seemed decent enough and I was relishing the chance to see them in a smaller venue.


They were good. They seemed happier than the last time I saw them, which is hardly surprising really. Perhaps the success that they are currently enjoying is all the more satisfying for being a triumph of their persistence against all of the odds. The thing that stands out most about the band live is quite how well they work together as musicians: the songs are all filled with interlocking guitars and with vocal harmonies traded by all four members of the band. In some ways they remind me of nothing so much as an unlikely mix of post-punk band and barbershop quartet. They start with a bang with "Decent Days and Nights" and play an hour long set that relies heavily on songs from the old album and songs from the new album. Unsurprisingly, very little is played from "News & Tributes" (although "Skip to the End" sounds as good as ever). The band look like they enjoy themselves, and Ross and bassist Jaff in particular seem happy to exchange banter with each other and with the crowd. They're on for about an hour, and it doesn't seem to drag at all. "Beginning of the Twist" is a real highlight, of course, but some of their other new material ("Walking Backwards", "This is Not the World", "Radio Heart") sound good enough to prompt me to dig out the album again and give it a proper listen. They sound good, and I'm sure Kate Bush never gets a reception like this when she plays "Hounds of Love", but perhaps it's telling that the best songs of the night are also the oldest ones. The new album is a return to form, for sure, but it's a return based solidly on the foundations established by their first album and it isn't exactly a massive musical stride forwards. Perhaps "News & Tributes" was their attempt to move on, but they found themselves slapped back and now they're going to stick to what they know. When they do try to do something a little different, as they do with the new ballad of consolation "Hard to Bear", it just doesn't work for me, and I'm soon itching for them to get back to the frantic guitars. Perhaps this is the curse of the Futureheads.... always destined to be moderately successful as long as they repeat themselves. Well, at the moment it works for me, but it will be interesting to see where they go next.

Oddly, my highlight of the night was nothing to do with the band at all but came from their roadie. He was, of course, a squat bald man wearing a pair of shorts, and he went about his business as roadies always do, testing the levels in the soundcheck: banging repeatedly on each drum in turn, clanging chords on the guitars... that kind of thing. It was at the microphones though that he really made his mark. He stepped up to the front of the stage, looked out to the sound desk at the back of the room and began the time-honoured ritual. "One. Two. Two. Two." At this point, he began to go off-script. "Ross's mic, Ross's mic, Ross's mic. One. Two. Etcetera. Et CETERA. Doobie doobie doo."

He looked up into the crowd and suddenly came over all self-conscious.

"Etcetera. Et CETERA. Oh, everyone's looking at me....." He petered off and looked bashful. It was a nice moment, and it lasted just as long as it took someone in the crowd rescued him by shouting out that he should tell us a joke.

A self-conscious roadie? Now I've seen everything.

The Futureheads are a good band. It wasn't a perfect set, but you can't go too far wrong with some choppy, frantic guitar work, close vocal harmonies and catchy "ooh ooh" "ahh, ahh" choruses.

It's good to have them back.

Verdict: 7 / 10


  1. Interesting. I had pretty much the same experience with their first and second albums - so much so that I haven't even bothered to check out the third one. Maybe I'll give it a chance after all.

    In retrospect, timing was an issue. Maximo Park came along and did the whole angular/tangential thing more appealingly - to my ears anyway. Suddenly Futureheads seemed rather redundant.

  2. you're bang on about maximo park, and I was thinking the same thing last night, actually. The new futureheads album is much, much better than the last one, not as good as the first one, but it's certainly nowhere near as good as the last Maximo Park album, that's for sure.