Reverend and the Makers at Southampton Guildhall on Saturday 2nd March by Sam Skilton
It’s a cool March evening in Southampton, but there is a commotion in Guildhall Square. Something special is going on, although any member of the general public passing by would probably be wondering what all the fuss is about.
A bloke in his early-thirties stands atop a marble platform, armed with an acoustic guitar. But this is no random busker; for he is known to his followers as ‘The Reverend’.
Followers they are too. There must be at least 200 people who he has just led down the steps of the grand old Guildhall where Reverend and the Makers have just headlined Southampton Solent University’s ‘SMILEfest’. Each and every one of them is now mesmerised by the man who has just entertained them for the past hour and a half.
But first let me take you back to the start of the evening. Over four hours prior to this moment, Portsmouth-based band The Arrivals had taken to the Guildhall stage to kick off the ‘Big Gig’ – the main event of the SMILEfest music festival, which is primarily designed to showcase local talent and provide opportunities to university students.
Victors of Solent Sound’s ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition, this was their first time playing in such a large venue. At times it showed – they didn’t really utilise the space on what must have been an enormous stage in comparison to anything they had played on before – but it was a strong performance.
Despite a snapped guitar string halfway through, and having their set cut short, The Arrivals gave a good account of themselves. Musically they were tight, combining some of the electronic aspects of new wave with Strangler-esque keys and modern day indie.
Frontman Dan Surridge-Smith had spoken after their ‘Battle of the Bands’ performance about Little Comets being a significant inspiration of his, and they were also part of the line-up for the SMILEfest showpiece event.
Preceding them were two more local acts. Firstly Skymarshal of Southampton, who were difficult to judge as they ranged from what at times was melodic indie, to a heavier, punkier sound. They were followed by singer-songwriter Sean McGowan whose catchy lyrics and passionate tunes were somewhat reminiscent of The King Blues. He received a very warm reception and cheers all around at the end of his set.
The final support act came in the form of Newcastle-based indie-pop band Little Comets. Frontman Robert Coles, despite a finger infection, strummed his way through a performance which culminated in the energy-filled ‘Dancing Song’, and the roaring finale of ‘In Blue Music We Trust’.
By nine o’clock the stage was set for the main headline act, and over the following hour and a half Reverend and the Makers confirmed themselves as one of Britain’s most exciting live bands. Their electrifying live show really took things to the next level.
Entering the stage one by one to the thumping drumbeat of ‘Bassline’, the imposing Reverend Jon McClure and his ‘Makers’ had the crowd jumping up and down within moments, and three songs into the show a mosh pit had opened up, remaining until the end.
The set featured a mixture of old and new, with the band’s recent material from their 2012 album ‘@Reverend_Makers’ (the likes of ‘Out of the Shadows’ and ‘Shine the Light’ – fans of FIFA 13 will almost certainly recognise this track) packing equally as strong a punch as their older work.
“You’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard that great song we’ve just played, and that’s because you’ve been listening to too much Radio 1!” McClure quipped before launching into the 2007 top ten chart hit ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’.
The charismatic frontman was on top form all evening, joking about Facebook, reading out from a passport which had been thrown onstage before tossing it back to its owner, and handing a fifty pence piece to a young lad stood at the barrier.
He then dedicated the song ‘Noisy Neighbour’ to all of the Saints fans in the audience as a reference to their local rivals Portsmouth, and claimed that he could beat anyone in the room on FIFA.
Laura McClure, keyboardist and wife of the Reverend, flourished during her vocal performance on ‘He Said He Loved Me’, before the trumpets of ‘Silence Is Talking’ – borrowed from War’s famous jazz track ‘Low Rider’– provided an upbeat finale.
But the show wasn’t over yet. Jon McClure called out to Sean McGowan who had joined the crowd, and asked to borrow the acoustic guitar which he had used earlier in the night, before clambering down from the stage, and leading the crowd out into Guildhall Square. It was possibly the quickest a music venue has ever been vacated at the end of a gig.
Outside, McClure delighted fans by playing a ten minute busking session which featured a new track titled ‘The Gun’ (a video of which can be found below) and a cover of Dandy Linvingstone’s ‘A Message to You, Rudy’ (more commonly known for the version by The Specials).
The frontman had spoken earlier in the night about “real music” and the struggles which small bands go to in order to attain even a little success in the modern world, due to the manufactured pop acts which dominate the industry. And let’s face it; it would be hard to imagine the likes of One Direction or Justin Bieber busking in the cool air of a March evening on the south coast of England, with no backing track or security entourage in sight.
After explaining that he would have to leave as he had a wedding to be at in Sheffield the next day, McClure then raced back up the steps into the grand old Guildhall, leaving his audience discussing a moment which they will probably never forget.
Video: Reverend and the Makers – The Gun (Jon McClure busking in Southampton) via National Brit Rock on YouTube.
All images provided by James Polley Photography.
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