Review: Swim Deep and support, The Duchess

Vast vistas of sound… Swim Deep. Photographs: George Barwick
18 Oct 2015 @ 7.24 pm
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Swim Deep, Catholic Action, The Magic Gang

The Duchess, York

October 14, 2015

The Duchess website

Catching them on the impressive NME tent at this year’s Leeds Fest, I was sufficiently intrigued by Swim Deep’s widescreen sound and Tasmanian devil of a frontman to nab a couple of tickets for their date at the Duchess.

The Brummie band were the perfect predecessors to Peace, Run The Jewels and Limp Bizkit that afternoon, but could they repeat their crowd-pleasing performance at a muggy club even further north?

Due to an über cold causing singer-songwriter-producer Chris McCrory to lose his voice, openers Catholic Action had to pull out of their first two tour dates just last week, but this was by no means apparent on the night as they raced slickly from track to track.

Undeniably uplifting – Catholic Action
Undeniably uplifting – Catholic Action

Andrew MacPherson thriftily picked out layered riffs, and though the band themselves have admitted they’re poppier than Rice Krispies in bubble wrap, for me their melodies were perhaps a little over-simplistic.

I preferred their more bass-heavy tunes as well as, whisper it, the angularity of McCrory’s previous band Casual Sex.

They were undeniably uplifting, however, with latest single The Shallows reminiscent of some of the latest, wistful Libertines songs crossed with the superlative glock action of Sunday Morning.

Real radio gem

Genuine singalong potential… The Magic Gang
Genuine singalong potential… The Magic Gang

It’s harder to write a genuinely cheerful song than a genuinely miserable one, as shown by the continuously large quantities of mopey acoustic balladeers on the circuit – and, inevitably, the charts – at the moment.

Still, it’s safe to say The Magic Gang aren’t in that teeming category of blandness.

(Not to cast any aspersions over the local likes of the enviably rootsy Boss Caine and the soulful be-beanied Unfinished Drawings – the craft of singer-songwriting is still very much alive in these parts.)

With three-part harmonies of Paris Hilton thickness and choruses bringing genuine singalong potential, they could be a real radio gem with some shrewd exposure (are you listening, Radio X?) and the bravery to continue experimenting with the boundaries of genre.

To give some idea of the potential eclecticism here, in the familiar-sounding No Fun their angsty guitars sounded like a Sub Pop deep cut.

One track I didn’t catch the name of began with a military drum roll and four-on-the-floor guitar pounding before morphing into a lilting reggae jam whilst on occasion – and I’m going to break one of the cardinal rules of rock journalism here – they sounded favourably, with two lead singers, like early McFly.

I had their Room On The Third Floor CD when I was younger. Bloody loved it.

Yes, there was a ploddy solo here and there and the first half of the set was stronger.

However I would urge these boys to keep playing around and branch out a little, for it was certainly when they were at their most experimental that they were at their most interesting.

Jubilant and moreish

Paul McCartney once said that it wasn’t a matter of writing songs, you only had to pick them out of the air fully formed.

Those of Swim Deep very much reminded me of this – in an indescribable way, each and every track came in solid and fully realised before seemingly moving off as the five-piece faded the final chord every time.

It was kind of fascinating and something I’ve not picked up on at a gig before.

This sensation didn’t stop the melée of pogoing that greeted jubilant opener Namaste, the second single and a personal favourite off new album Mothers.

And though it has to be said I have a slight fetish when it comes to keyboards, the sheer beef and sumptuosity of James Balmont’s playing was moreish to say the least.

Every track came in solid and fully realised – Swim Deep
Every track came in solid and fully realised – Swim Deep

Austin Williams once more gave an electric and sincere performance with his pinched falsetto with equivalent control and pitching to that of Mark Morriss.

Dressed exceptionally well in a GI-style shirt resplendent with heart-shaped necklace, he reminds me facially of an – albeit better looking – Andy Murray, I sincerely doubt he could pull off a beret with such aplomb.

Despite having more than 150,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, the Duchess was not quite full for Swim Deep which does seem slightly bizarre to me as Palma Violets, who in actual fact total nearer a hundred thou, played the venue packed to the rafters.

However this may very well play to the band’s advantage as they hone their vast vistas of sound, from the atmospheric transcendence of Forever Spaceman‘s prog-like floating to possibly their best song Honey, a classic pop track that shows how well they can do more straightforward early Nineties style synth pop as well.

Their encore was not unexpected – the quintet gradually fed back on for lighter song She Changes The Weather, the builder that finally attained the euphoric heights I remembered from Leeds, Williams whirling like a satanically possessed Chuck Berry during the epic fadeout of “don’t you dream in your sleep, it’s just lazy”.

So, in short, they did it.

Swim Deep proved themselves to be a sound night out as well as able tent-filling fodder, playing in my opinion better than on record with a slight looseness and tangibility of emotion that the songs themselves occasionally lack in the airtight studio – plus, they were chuffing loud.

Fred Durst himself would be proud.