Theatre of Hate/Folkgrinder
London - 10 May 2015
ferocious yet tuneful kick up the arse"
of Hate were a revelation when they burst into the world in late 1980,
a ferocious yet tuneful kick up the arse for a stagnant punk scene.
With a fanatical following and a run of peerless releases, they were
set for greatness, even getting onto Top of the Pops with Do You Believe in the West World?.
Then after a disappointing LP with such a weak production that I gave
it to a mate a week after I bought it (Hi Veg!), the seriously
single, and a lack-lustre live album (always a bad sign), dissolution
beckoned. Core members reconvened as Spear of Destiny and I stuck with
them for a couple of OK singles, but the subsequent albums were dull
and they became more and more straightforward and rockist in their
approach, culminating in the release of the truly execrable Never Take Me Alive
a song that essentially rewrites Bohemian Rhapsody
to even worse effect (if that’s possible), after which I threw up my
hands in despair and vowed never to pay any attention to anything they
did ever again.
The intervening years have not been kind: a well publicised court case
and subsequent financial losses, various rip-off compilations and
half-arsed reunions (we won’t mention Dead Men Walking, the Travelling
Wilburys of their generation), soured TOH’s reputation, but you can’t
take away from them how good they were in their pomp. I even like the 'Westworld' album
now, although I still think the production is terrible.
After the usual travel disasters getting from south east London to
Oxford Street, I arrived at the 100 club in my now customary
post-travel disaster foul mood. Slightly mollified by several tequilas
and the fact that the Dead Kennedys’ version of Rawhide was playing
over the PA, I was willing to give the support band Folkgrinder more than a
cursory glance. Unfortunately, a cursory glance was all they warranted.
Playing a kind of Bluegrass/Sea Shanty mash-up with accordion,
accoustic guitar and a snare drum (played with brushes for fuck’s
sake!), they had one OK song, but the rest of it was all a bit
pointless. They appeared to be having fun, but came over as
self-congratulatory and smug, and left the stage leaving no lasting
[Photos by John Marshall]
Seeking solace in several more tequilas and having established a
rapport with one of the bar staff after refusing the offer of lime and
salt on the basis that “only wankers drink it like that”, I had cheered
up considerably by the time Theatre
of Hate took to the stage. I’d not even seen
photos of the band since the late ‘80s, so I was happy to see that Kirk
Brandon was looking fit and remarkable well preserved, in marked
contrast to Stan Stammers (bass) who now looks like he could
comfortably play a tough Chicago homicide detective in a ‘50s noir.
Bizarrely, John (Boy) Lennard (sax) looks EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME.
Surprisingly, they kicked off with Do You Believe in the West World?,
almost as if to get it out of the way. The sound was crystal clear,
with the instruments sitting in the mix so perfectly it sounded almost
exactly like the single. The reaction (to what is ostensibly their
biggest song) was relatively muted, but things picked up when they
straight afterwards. I had been worried that the vocals might have lost
some power (Brandon’s style being challenging at the best of times) but
30 odd years didn’t seem to have affected him at all. Swooping and
soaring over the band, he was in great voice, and most importantly he
was totally caught up in moment, and the years just seemed to fall
away. Unfortunately, this brought with it the bane of many an ‘80s gig,
and TOH gigs in particular; macho fuckwit knuckle dragging chicken
dancing cunts. All
tattoos and elbows, they took great delight in pasting shit out of each
other, and anyone unfortunate enough to end up in their orbit. “But
it’s a laugh, innit? Just some mates out having a bit of fun, innit?”
No it isn’t. Sod off and see The Meteors you cuntfuck morons.
I watched them twitch and strut (even ignoring the band, so insular was
their little circle-jerk world), I was struck by what a joyless
activity it was. Even they didn’t look to be having much fun, seemingly
going through the steps of a ritual (“You claim you need”) the meaning
long forgotten, the only pleasure found in its reassuring familiarity
(“Pavlov’s dogs jerking. In tune, in time”). I also noticed that they
were only dancing to the drums; ignoring the bass and moving from the
shoulders rather than the hips in a horribly stiff, restrictive motion,
missing a vital component to the sound - the syncopated funk of the
rhythm section. It’s there in all of the songs, but most obviously on
tracks like 63, Incinerator, My Own Invention
A Brain, all given an outing tonight.
Seeing the goon squad
flail their biceps to the latter had a certain black humour to it,
although I doubt they appreciated the irony of the situation. Luckily
they were a bunch of out of condition fifty-somethings, so ran out of
pretty soon, making their hyper masculine dickheadery relatively easy
to avoid for the rest of us.
[Photos by John Marshall, setlist courtesy of Raye Caluori]
The new stuff passed me by
without making much of an impression, but it certainly wasn’t terrible,
and I’ll probably pick up the recent Slave EP and give
it a proper
listen, but this was always going to be about the classics, and indeed
it was. Oddly, it was the mid-paced material rather than the up-tempo
stompers that seemed to get the biggest reaction, with songs
Hymn and The
Wake in particular provoking (probably
hideously out of tune) audience participation. The newer members
acquitted themselves well, with the guitarist contenting himself with
playing an almost note perfect set without any rock star posing
(despite looking like Antonio Banderas’ porn double), and the drummer
really nailing the intricate snare/tom-tom patterns that are a hall
mark of the TOH sound. And to be fair, drumming for TOH is almost a
dictionary definition of ‘tough gig’.
All the three old hands
were clearly really into it, Stammers running up and down the stage
with a big grin on his face for the duration, and Brandon in particular
giving it everything he had. It wasn’t as focussed and intense as the
days of yore, but that’s hardly surprising, given the intervening
years. Ending with a sublime Original Sin (that
saxophone wail and
the little bass run in the intro still gives me goose bumps), they came
back to encore with a blistering Nero and
Their initial calling card and probably their
most iconic recording, it’s became perhaps even more relevant now with
the rise of fundamentalism, and in light of the recent revelations of
child abuse in the Catholic Church. The lines “In gods they trust to
hide the sins. Which they commit themselves” are now
Would I go to see them again? Almost certainly. Regrets?
It was a shame not to see Luke Rendle behind the kit, as I came to TOH
through my love of his previous band Crisis rather than via Brandon and
The Pack, and I was disappointed that they didn’t play Conquistador,
but those are pretty minor quibbles.
Should you go and see them? Absolutely.
Unless you’re a chicken dancer, in which case stay at home with your
King Kurt records.