When was the last time you were surprised to hear a genuinely good rock band? One that you couldn’t help but be compellingly drawn towards and impressed by. A band that grabbed your attention regardless of whether you were willing to offer it or not. It’s been years since I encountered a band like that, especially one at the start of its career, but recently I encountered Bang Bang Romeo, a Yorkshire quartet who genuinely rock. I didn’t expect to discover them that evening, but as they took to the stage and tore up the stage, I was glad I did.
Of course, that wasn’t my first thought as they hit the stage. My first thought was, ‘That bass player is going to regret wearing that big coat under those stage lights’. Within the first few bars of their first song, thoughts of sartorial misgivings were dismissed and when singer Anastasia Walker unleashed her not inconsiderable vocal prowess, I only had one thought.
That thought was, ‘Wow’.
It wasn’t just Walker’s full-throttle vocals that grabbed my attention either. Richard Gartland’s crisp drums synchronise perfectly with Joel Philips’ bass playing and Ross Cameron’s guitar work ties the whole thing together in a way that brings joy to the soul in much the same way that Free’s Paul Kossoff did. Unlike so many young acts Bang Bang Romeo don’t so much sound like four musicians who just happen to be playing the same song simultaneously, but are that rare thing of a fully-realised, properly functioning musical unit with the same sense of balance and dynamics that mark out all truly great rock bands.
Walker is a resplendent and magnetic frontwoman, possessing the type of stage presence that many aspire to, but few ever really achieve. Her voice is a thing of potent wonder, putting me in mind of Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina at her most dramatic, or even Grace Slick. She’s no slouch on the acoustic guitar either, adding the occasional extra layer to an already thrilling cacophony. That’s not to say the three guys are overshadowed though, as all three of them look absolutely at ease on stage and comfortable with the vast amount of musical ability at their disposal. Far too many young bands seem a little overwhelmed when they achieve even the most modest level of success. Not so for Bang Bang Romeo. Philips has a vaguely manic but affable stage presence while Gartland may well be the most polite-looking and relaxed drummer I’ve ever seen on stage, despite his potent kit-thrashing. Cameron is perhaps the band’s secret weapon and one of those guitar players who can seem to flip from subtle rhythm machine to riff monster in the blink of an eye. It’s this blend of four unique and contrasting characters that marks out Bang Bang Romeo as one of those bands that seem so well balanced and such a natural fit with each other.
New EP We Were Born is due for release in the next few weeks and showcases the band’s range to best effect. Given a thrillingly uncluttered production job by Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones, INXS, etc), it’s three tracks of rocking brilliance that leap from your speakers / headphones and declare Bang Bang Romeo to be one of the most promising young rock bands in the country right now.
First track “Carnival” opens with a wall of guitar noise from Cameron, a monster rhythm is pounded out by Gartland and Philips, then an epic riff is unleashed, only to subside to allow Walker’s vocal entry to make the biggest impact possible. A mid paced number, sympathetic production has given the song a great feeling of space, with no member of the band dominating proceedings. All too often drums are buried too deeply, or dragged far too far to the front of the mix. That just isn’t a problem with We Were Born as Gartland’s drumming is a highlight throughout the EP.
“Reach Out” is a galloping rocker topped with an irresistible anthemic chorus, deceptively brilliant lyrics and could very well be the song to lodge Bang Bang Romeo into the consciousness of every music fan lucky enough to hear it. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I heard a better rock song from an up and coming band.
“Johannesburg” is perhaps the EP’s most emotive moment, with Walker’s vocals doing what they do best – melting your heart and lifting your soul. Once again the feeling of space and separation is enough to ensure that each member of the band is shown to the best possible effect.
The three songs that make up We Were Born are diverse enough to prove that Bang Bang Romeo are no two dimensional retro rock act, but have enough range and potential to achieve greatness without having to alter any aspect of their act. Having said that, We Were Born is an unmistakably unified statement that whets the appetite for a full blown album.
It’s rare for an act to enthuse me in the same way that this band has, even rarer still for a band on the local live music scene to do so. If you’re of the opinion that no one makes great rock music anymore, this Bang Bang Romeo will change your mind in an instant. At a time when we are being overwhelmed with identikit skinny-jeaned guitar groups who leave minimal impression, Bang Bang Romeo are a proper rock and roll band capable of leaving a permanent indelible mark on the modern music scene. They’ve certainly already left one on me.