On a cold December afternoon, I drove my son, his girlfriend and my daughter 85 miles through the fog for our last gig of the year, Hands Off Gretel in Barnsley.
The Birdwell Venue is a revamped old Working men’s club with a seriously impressive live space: The Lighting and sound are excellent, the stage is both massive and up close to the audience, the staff friendly and welcoming.
Like so many events this year, this one was nearly wrecked by COVID – one of the supports had to pull out on the day, the audience was decimated by Covid infection and pre-Christmas social-mixing anxiety, and HoGs Lead guitarist tested positive the day before.
But HoG aren’t short of Yorkshire grit; after all, it was their hometown gig and the last of the tour, year and possibility the near future – so Liam McNaught stood in for Sean with less than 48 hours to learn the songs and Luke Appleton, metal veteran, heroically provided first support after a phone call while driving to watch the band just a few hours before
Luke put in a sterling acoustic set, the highlight (for the older ones in the audience anyway) being a cover of Tribute by Tenacious D. Next up was Leeds band Edited People, a revelation, and much heavier than their recorded output with a captivating frontwoman in Alisha Vickers.
At 10 pm, it was time for HoG’s winning mix of Grunge, Punk, Pop and killer tunes.
HoG are as DIY as bands come. Their music is crowd-sourced and self-released on their own label, and frontwoman Lauren Tate not only has a formidable voice, plays the guitar and writes the songs, she also designs the impressive artwork for all the merchandise and music releases.
Not surprisingly with this DIY ethos, everyone in the age-diverse crowd was clearly a diehard fan – this much was clear from the official and impressive homemade HoG apparel everywhere you look.
After a short intro, they launched straight into the galloping
‘I Want The World’ and have the crowd in their hands right from the off. This song had Lauren channelling the spirit of 90s Courtney love and would fit comfortably on Live Through This.
Milk, a ferocious takedown of the meat and dairy industries (‘not your mother, NOT YOUR MILK’), was an absolute beast, driven by their tight rhythm section of Sam on Drums and Becky on Bass (who knows all the cool moves and that the only way to hold a bass for music this heavy is low-slung)
They follow with a few more from their ‘I Want The World’ album, and never once flag or lose momentum;
In Lauren Tate, they have one of the most magnetic and theatrical in the business. She, and her band, understand well the importance of putting on a SHOW. And tonight was a real party atmosphere; at one point Lauren mused that she was way too cheerful to play this angry music, and she certainly radiated happiness as she smiled, laughed and joked with the audience all through the set.
‘It’s My fault’ clearly means a lot to their dedicated followers and then as they queued up ‘Freaks Like Us’, their stone-cold stadium-size classic, Lauren introduced us to her Nan who taught her to stand her ground – thanks, Nan! The song, a euphoric anthem for misfits everywhere had the audience singing every word back at them.
‘And they’ll say what they want,
You won’t hear them anyway.
Just do as you will today and everyday –
Scream at the top of your lungs for the freaks like us’
Midset they aired a new song, ‘War’ which felt both familiar and thrilling – a great taste of what they have up their sleeves – and next up was all three songs from the recent Angry EP which lived up to its name; not least with a ferocious version of ‘Bigger Than Me’, perhaps their heaviest song, which brought the audience to boiling point.
A joyous tear through ‘Kiss Me Girl’ was the last of their songs and then for a finale, Sam hammers off a brief snippet of the drum intro to Run To The Hills just because, and they launch into a breakneck blistering version of Territorial pissings – if you’re going to take on a much-loved classic, then you better get it right….well like everything else tonight, they did; they absolutely nailed it.
At one point, Lauren mused that it’s more important for bands to be fun than good – well tonight they were both an absolute joy and blisteringly good.
I wish them the mass popularity they deserve because this band are special and stand for something important. Although they make very different music, they have much in common with Rebecca Taylor, echoing her call for inclusiveness, defying societal expectations and, yes, Self Esteem. My 14 and 18-year old kids love their music, their message and their rapport with their fanbase
So do I. Happy Christmas!