Hallan are still finding out who they are and the Portsmouth based 4 piece have upped their game on their latest EP ‘The Noise of a Firing Gun’ with a fuller, more developed sound. The recent subject matter is often anchored in classic literary tradition or historical events in contrast to the social commentary and acerbic take on modern media which littered their earliest releases.
Tonight we find them on top form at The Lanes in Bristol backed by local band Pack of Animals and Brighton’s Flip Top Head. Pack of Animals peddle a brand of straight forward no nonsense indie rock which got the small venue warmed up nicely. Having to deal with a drummer with a broken finger didn’t hold them back. With a lead singer that looked like a young Pete Doherty but with kinder eyes and an additional wandering minstrel of a cowbell soloist, they were great value.Then came Flip top head and the crowd were instantly transported to a parallel universe where Frank Zappa convinced Charles Manson to join The Monkees and form a brass section. Sweet vocals, virtuoso playing (even with borrowed electric, not acoustic, guitar) and multiple instrumental mixes – they were a smooth and slightly psychotic cello, guitar and trombone touting treat.
– And then the headliners.
For Bristol based promotions Gravy Train to have put on an event of such quality in a great sounding venue with no price tag is a testament to the health of the grassroots music scene in the South West. Hallan were the exception that makes the rule being worth considerably more than the Pay What You Can ticket price. Musically they inhabit a groove somewhere between New Order, The Fall and Editors with the additional swagger of youth. They exude confidence and fragility in equal measure suggesting a new song wasn’t to be liked but also stopping a song in its tracks without falling apart when the sequencer was set wrongly. Having jettisoned much of their back catalogue due to a limited timeslot (venue had a club night afterwards) we were treated to all of the EP and newer tracks plus an additional new track which, with its more prominent synth track, gave off White Lies vibes.Starting with Modern England it was obvious that the excitement level in the place amongst a crowd of varied ages and styles was to be lifted further still, highlights of the set included a track which is now a live staple – Colline Gate – and all of the new EP sounded fantastic. Sound balance was terrific and each member got their chance to shine, and the guitarist was literally shining too – with sweat due a rather hefty overcoat. Looked cool though.
They make music in a retro, almost old fashioned, artistic style. The current crop of tracks tell stories set in a timeless world, artistically they have a similar approach to artschool 80s protogoths Bauhaus with their dystopian backdrops. Bauhaus mentioning 19th century poet Antonin Artaud is very similar to Hallan’s reverential referencing of Svetlana Alexievich’s Unwomenly Face of War.
Classic, modern, yet somehow timeless, Hallan will live or die by the public zeitgeist. They have the talent, the songs, the musicianship and presence, is the post pandemic public ready for this? I do hope so.