|Eight Rounds Rapid at The Alley Cat - Photo by Paul Hughes|
Eight Rounds Rapid have just released their debut album "Loss Leader" on Cadiz Music and it's already received a glowing 4 star review by Pat Gilbert in the new issue of Mojo Magazine, glowing yes, but why not the 5 stars the album deserves, eh Pat? "Loss Leader" is a blistering debut album from the Southend-on-Sea four piece who I first heard about via my Southend based pals, the Podrophenia DJ's Mondo & Piley, who tipped me off about a local band that was blowing them away. In fact they were so blown away that they decided to put out a limited edition 7" vinyl single for the band entitled "Writeabout" on their own Podrophenia label. Blog contributor Mark Lancaster also saw Eight Rounds Rapid as support to Thee Faction at The Railway in Southend and filed his report here so I was intrigued to find out more about this band who were causing such a stir.
|(L/R) David Alexander, Simon Johnson & Jules Cooper by Paul Hughes|
We featured the band's first single "Channel Swimmer" in Episode 7 of Retrosonic Podcast and the song got some great feedback so we decided to go one step further and ask them to play support to TV Smith at the Retro Man Blog and Podrophenia night at The Railway back in December. It was the first time I had seen the band play live and I wasn't to be disappointed, in fact it was seeing their gig that night when my lingering resistance to fully embracing the Eight Rounds Rapid sound finally broke. Why resistance? Well, I think they grated a bit when I first heard some of their tracks - probably down to vocalist David Alexander's half-spoken delivery I guess - the distinct lack of vocal harmonies or backing vocals meant it wasn't an immediate love at first listen. However, there was no doubting their hugely powerful sonic intensity and slowly the songs that I was unsure about started to stick in my head as though they had the catchiest choruses ever written. So, seeing them live for the first time that night at The Railway was when it all made sense and I was totally hooked.
|Lee Watkins of Eight Rounds Rapid - Photo by Paul Hughes|
Tonight down at the front of the stage at the packed-out Alley Cat Club on Denmark Street, once home to Regent Sound Studios, I was really looking forward to seeing the band play live again. Even more so since picking up a copy of "Loss Leader" from them last week and playing it on repeat pretty much every day since. They take the stage all decked out in black suits and they look pretty damn cool, Drummer Lee Watkins, Bassist Jules Cooper, Vocalist David Alexander and on guitar Simon Johnson. Yes, that's right, it is Wilko Johnson's son and it's difficult to write about the band without mentioning the family connection especially as opening number "My Mate" is steeped in that Canvey Island/Southend raw blues sound. Simon's stuttering rhythm and stretched string guitar work certainly remind me of his Dad, however "My Mate" is probably the only track on "Loss Leader" that does conjure up images of the Oil City and it would be an injustice to dwell on the connection too long. The witty lyrics about a less than generous friend have a few people exchanging knowing glances and others quickly offering to get a round in. "My mate is a bit tight, but he's alright....".
|Eight Rounds Rapid - Photo by Paul Hughes|
Next track "Channel Swimmer" is a storming song and I love the way the drums and bass kick in over the great guitar intro, again it's packed full of clever word play from David Alexander and it makes me wonder if Eight Rounds Rapid are as much a vehicle for his poetry as they are a Rock 'n' Roll band. "Channel Swimmer" seems on the surface to be tackling the subject of suicide with it's "Bungee jumping hero who forgot his band" and the "gun smoke poke in the feather pillow", but were they pushed or did they jump I wonder? There is something nicely unsettling about Eight Rounds Rapid, not just lyrically but something else that challenges preconceptions. I've already mentioned David Alexander's vocal delivery, part Mark Perry Thames Estuary sneer and part Gerard Langley beatnik poetry reading, and on stage he doesn't play by any Rock "rules" either. He stands stock still when delivering his words, eyes focused at the monitor in front of him. Sometimes he has a quick minimalist blast on a harmonica and then occasionally he'll move aside during an instrumental break to grab a beer and let his three band-mates take the limelight. There's no engagement with the crowd, not a word, certainly no banter and that means thankfully no cliches.
|David Alexander of Eight Rounds Rapid - Photo by Paul Hughes|
You don't get the feeling that David will ever implore a crowd to raise their hands and clap along or ask if we can hear at the back. He's certainly charismatic and despite the lack of theatrics it's all hugely compelling and effective and there's a great on-stage chemistry between the band members - Simon glances at David, Jules smiles and grimaces sheepishly at one slightly off note - David steps aside to swig a beer and to allow the band to play. "Dostoyevsky" is a slow Bluesy number and I don't think I have ever been amongst a crowd drunkenly chanting "Dostoyevsky is dead and he never saw it coming", a somewhat obscure singalong to say the least. "Writeabout" starts off with a howling Ron Asheton Stooges style riff before Lee Watkins' thunderous drums and then quick-fire spat out vocals that are almost a take on the old Pepsi "Lip-smacking, thirst-quenching, ace-tasting..." slogan. It's a withering put down of today's apathetic celebrity obsessed culture, "channel flicking TV dinners sniffing thinners". Next song "Steve" is a slow burner built around a fluid bass line from Jules Cooper, it's a tale of mundane local gossip and Chinese whispers "To be honest I don't what to believe so I'm going round to talk to Steve...", there's an air of menace about it and you want to know what really did happen. "Kicks" is a Punky thrash detailing a night out "At 10:38 we started to relate" and later on as the date progresses "at 4:33 the best things in life are free..."
|Simon Johnson & David Alexander - Photo by Paul Hughes|
Next up is the excellent "Talent" which features some superbly funky Gang of Four rhythm work from Lee and Jules and nice stabbing guitar riffs from Simon. "Britain's got talent but most of us haven't" David intones and the crowd join in boisterously. It seems to be another attack on celebrity culture, people desperate for a quick fix of fame while the qualified and truly talented people can't find work, "Curators stack shelves in the local Poundshop" or those failing to get recognition for their art, "Musicians hit tins and play the bins". It reminds me of that feeling I get every time I watch "Later with Jools Holland", what the hell is that rubbish on for while there are many more exciting and vital acts out there! The band then play a few tracks that are not on the "Loss Leader" album, new unrecorded numbers "Bully Boy" and "Mystery" promise even more good things from Eight Rounds Rapid in the future. The set draws to a close with a raucous version of Mick Farren's "I Want a Drink"...and after such a great gig I certainly felt like I did too!
You can order "Loss Leader" now from all the usual outlets or check out the official Eight Rounds Rapid web-site or Facebook page for further details on how to buy a copy and for news on future tour dates. You can hear a track from the album in Episode 7 of Retrosonic Podcast which is available to listen to below or at our Retrosonic Podcast archive on Soundcloud.
With thanks to Paul Hughes for contributing his excellent photographs, all photos are copyright of Paul Hughes 2014. You can see more of Paul's pics at his Flickr page which include some superb sets from our Retro Man Blog and Podrophenia Nights at The Railway in Southend-on-Sea.