Night Beats, Studio 9294, 15th September 2022
Belle & Sebastian are the reason we discovered Night Beats. No, not because of their recommendation, though to be fair to them, they are the sort of act that would champion up and coming bands. However, they did not flag this swampy, bluesy, garage rock band from Seattle to us.
No, the fey, occasionally brilliant, but more often annoying, Scots band played OnBlackheath a few years ago. They did not click with me and my new girlfriend, now Mrs JO’B. I’d seen them years ago in a church hall in Essex. They were charming, different, eclectic and great – I thought I had found my new Smiths, with their asexual lyrics and gentle kicks against authority.
Pictures courtesy of Mrs JO'B
A year later I saw them play a terrible gig at Shepherd’s Bush, coming on stage incredibly late, which was useless for those of us with jobs and 90-minute journeys back to Kent at the time. The only good thing about that show was Elliot Smith was support and he was sublime. I foreswore Belle & Sebastian there and then.
However, I had quite liked the last couple of albums, so was hopeful, but they were just irritating, and I hate to keep using this word, but it’s the only one that sums them up…they were 'fey' in a false, hackneyed way. It didn’t feel like a gig, it felt like an act. I was bored.
Mrs JO’B came back from a trip to the bar, with beer and an idea – let’s ditch this lot who are flatter than the dodgy lager on sale in the bar, and check out this band she heard killing it in the small tent away from the main stage. We headed over and were blown away by this weird psychedelic bunch of yanks we’d never heard of. They played that tent like their lives depended on it and I was ordering their new album, Who Sold My Generation (forgiving them for missing out the presumed necessary question mark), before they had even finished.
I’ve kept an eye on them since, picking up last year’s brilliant Outlaw R&B and was delighted to see they were playing London again. So, me, Mrs JO’B and our friend Amanda headed over to the far side of Hackney on a chilly September evening to check them out live again. The venue was new to us, and my phone’s Maps app sent me a long and convoluted route from the Ginger Line Hackney Wick station to the venue. I walked passed a very dodgy pub, where I am greeted by a man with his hands down his tracksuit trousers, playing with his balls and looking right at me. Delightful. I nod politely and appreciatively (the manners my mother drilled into me are really too well embedded sometimes) and scurried passed.
I finally find my way and head into the bar next door for pre-gig beers and sustenance. The venue is clear connected to this place, but we can’t quite work out if we can sneak in the back way. But we head into the venue and join a small queue. It looks a bit dingy from the outside, like an old warehouse that’s not been finished yet, but once in, it’s great. Small, up close and personal with the band and a good bar. What’s not to love?
I buy their previous album, Myth Of The Man at the merch stall. By now, Night Beats have changed from the original three-piece to just lead singer / guitarist Danny "Lee Blackwell" Rajan Billingsley. The line-up otherwise seems to rotate as he develops his music to whatever he needs. I am keen to hear their Myth Of The Man album, as it was recorded with by a cast of old-time session musicians who had worked with the likes of Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. I also pick up a funky Night Beats bag for my new purchase.
The band are soon on stage, setting things up themselves and sound checking as we watch on, beer in hand. We leave them to it and pop outside to the terrace to enjoy the view of the canal and chat away. It's hipster Hackney, so there are people with mullets, nose rings and trousers that only have the faintest of acquaintance with the wearer's socks, if they are even wearing such outdated apparel. I am getting very old and reactionary these days. I am in Fred Perry, jeans and new Mod suede moccasins. And socks, which are definitely on first name terms with my jeans.
As we head back in to see their set I pass Danny, Night Beats super cool leader, on the stairs – “cool bag” he chirps up as I squeeze by. I think he means my newly acquired Night Beats bag, which I think is a bit odd, but then realise after he is admiring my new, super smart Pretty Green satchel. I like him even more now and wish I had told him how cool his looks in his Lee van Cleef styled cowboy hat. Hey ho.
They take the stage with no fuss or nonsense, no acknowledgement of the audience, they just start belting it out - part Jimi Hendrix, part stripped down Stax soul band. They are LOUD and they are tight. The Jimi Hendrix styled guitar never slips into indulgence and we are spared any gurning or posturing that other guitar players feel compelled to foist on the audience to project how "authentic" they are. Night Beats are here to rock out with the minimal of fuss or posing.
Second song Right/Wrong grooves along, a sixties R'n'B rocker, while Ticket sounds like Butthole Surfers jamming with Queens Of The Stone Age and The Fall, effects peddles in overdrive and their drummer grinning like a madman. The band are sweating enthusiasm and energy, but Danny's hat and jacket remain firmly in place. There are no breaks between songs, there is no time to strip down in the heat.
That's All You Got is the standout, a speeded up soul ballad, while Egypt Berry is a punked up Last Train To Clarksville. By the end Amanda, Mrs JO'B and I are all dancing and the crowd is mesmerised. Amanda thinks they should be the house band for Stranger Things and loves them, which is always a relief when someone comes to a gig we've recommended.
A speedily delivered encore, finally without the jacket, but hat resolutely worn throughout. And then that's it. We trundle out, see Amanda to the tube and then take advantage of the fact we can get an Uber home in 15 minutes. Studio 9294 may now be my favourite venue, though next time I will head straight there, rather than exchange pleasantries with the man adjusting his testicles and starring at me. I'm old fashioned like that.
If you like more recent albums by Arctic Monkeys, I think you'd love these guys, do check them out, especially Myth Of The Man, which is just splendid.