I recall being in the car with my Dad earlier this year, the rain battering the motorway. It was a Tuesday I think, one of those days that seems kind of unimportant in the grand scheme of things. We were heading South for the night with the intention of sharing a passion of ours- live music- and the possibility of having a few beverages and philosophical conversations, as myself and my Dad do. It’s a very strong bond we have that’s made possible by our mutual love music. He’s seen everyone from New Order (back when they didn’t suck) to Texas, to Alien Sex Fiend to The Birthday Party. He’s a man of high standards, the barometer against which I measure my own passions. To impress him, this season stalwart of music, is to ascend to another level.
The fact that both of us were buzzing with excitement then means an awful lot, so much that I can barely put it into words here. “Crikey, I’ve actually introduced him to a band that he genuinely loves!” was rattling around my head. We were of course off to see our friends, brothers and entertainers The Simpletone. They’re St. Neots finest, and often stalk the Southern Realm with their barely containable grooves and rusty chainsaw guitars. They’ve ventured across the country, yet remain a painfully little-known outfit. It was to be my Dad’s first witnessing of the them headlining a show live (a pleasure for me that has happened around ten times now – stretching back to seeing them support the mighty New Model Army in Holmfirth a few years back), and our excitement was palpable. Their first album Dark Matter, a sledgehammer of pounding drums wrapped in a delicate weave guitar solos and killer riffs, had been on repeat in his car for over 6 months.
The events at the George and Dragon pub in St. Neots will stay with me as long as I draw breathe, and I hope, even into the next state of being. The boys turned that two hour-each way- journey in the rain and cold into one of the best nights of my life. The set list, which I stole from the drummer, is still on my wall. A ninety-minute gig was etched into my brain, and the look on my Dad’s face afterwards, a malicious grin from ear to ear, remains one of my fondest memories of our time together (e.g. all of my conscious life). They won a place in his heart, and they had already been firmly set in mine for years.
At said gig I was first introduced to some of the tracks played live that would make it onto the album I’m here to review, Angel’s Share. They had previously demoed a few in their TENSION Session for my Demon FM radio show of the same name in the previous year, which were also fantastic. Even in the few months that have followed, it’s clear that practice, passion and a whole heap of talent have moulded these songs from amazing into sound that occupies some theoretical space of transcendence. What were then tunes carried forth by the sheer enthusiasm of the boys have been injected here with high-quality, crystal-clear production and have subsequently had the admittedly very lean fat trimmed off them. What an experience.
The Angel’s Share – Verdict
It’s worth getting it out there – this is an incredible album. This isn’t some hyperbolic extension: I rate it up there with the very best I’ve heard. Ever. It has everything – direction, bone shattering volume, deep meaning, controversy and power. What is most astounding however is it’s pacing. Sprinting off with the aptly named Out Of Control, a pitched battle of a track, the listener is drop kicked in the spine by Glenn (the singer – and a top gent) as he plays screaming-matador with destiny, the rest of the band being the bull in heat looking to tear something apart. After this, we drift sweatily into Love Street, something of a romantic, stripped back ballad. Complete with jangly guitar and melody, it’s a pairing that seems illogical at first. Whilst it’s theoretically possible for anyone to juxtapose these tracks, to make it seem appropriate and immensely enjoyable is something I can image only The Tone could pull off.
I could wax lyrical for a long time about how each individual track is forged in a furnace of awesomeness, but even in this most liberal of formats, vague word counts are a thing. I could, and consistently do, go on about this band for hours. I share stories of their gigs and their songs and convert many to their inconceivably small church. But a few songs merit further discussion here.
Firstly, Fire In The Sky. Weighing in at two minutes and forty-two seconds, this track comes after the single, Black Box and acts as the barrier into the second half of the album. Upon first listen, I had to go back and try it again. Surely it wasn’t that good, I thought to myself. It was better the second time around: its rolling jungle drums overlaid onto cataclysmic guitars, dark lyrical visions and a throbbing bassline powerful enough to incur some kind of bodily-spasm. It’s rare that a track can get over a message so quickly, but this one does with a style that inimitably belongs to The Tone. It’s an infectious masterpiece that will rattle, or rather blister, around your head for days after your first listen.
Hunters, the dangerously groovy album closer, never fails to get the mosh-pit swirling wherever the lads play. Myself and The Tone’s manager Bill have an unwritten vow that whenever it is brought forth at a gig, we do our best to knock each other off our feet, grinning like lunatics as we do- often to the confusion of onlookers. It’s got a heavy, yet considered slow paced beast that sounds like an early track from The Cult, held together with a dirty, sludgy riff that will pump your blood even thinking about. There’s a change of pace towards the end which brings a tear to this punk’s eye. It’s a genuine monster of a song live, which is somehow leashed and put on display here, but never caged and tamed. As far as parting shots go, this one is a centre bulls-eye.
And last, but not least, I turn to a song that puts a twang of adrenaline through my heart at its mere mention. Music, in my opinion is only truly great if it covers you in goose-bumps, lifts your spirit and ascends you to a heightened level of awareness: it unchains your imagination, inviting it to run free. I can give no higher praise than to say that this state of elation is achieved in the first three minutes of the eleven-minute behemoth that is Storm Chaser. As the third track on the album, it’s got a standard to keep, but somehow manages to blast said barrier to pieces, rather like its name sake. Never has an eleven-minute song not been long enough: until now. I feel that this one could thunder on for half an hour (which it indeed did at one particularly insane gig that I attended) and wouldn’t break your concentration. It’s an onslaught of rhythm, a swirling landscape of sheet metal guitars being played with incredible proficiency. For another other band, there would have been four or five different songs worth of ideas here, yet The Tone compile then together and bind the package with feedback and harmony. In summary and without becoming anymore of a fanboyish wreck, I asked my Dad what he thought of the track. He considered his words for a while, before stating “it’s probably better than The Doors’ The End”, a song which we compared it to in terms of length and power. Although this borders on heresy, I’m inclined to agree. Never before has a song made me smile to myself so much that my face hurts. It’s a fusion of platonic guitar riff-age and seismic-event tier rhythm, all mediated (if such a feat was possible) by a vocal track I didn’t even think possible by a mere mortal. Even after about twenty listens, it continues to make me question why the hell someone hadn’t tried something like this before. Then I remember that it probably has been attempted, but has simply never been this insanely, implausibly good.
I quickly run out of superlatives when describing The Simpletone. They turn rainy St. Neots nights in questionably-clean pubs into lifelong memories. The last two gigs, laden with songs from Angel’s Share, have been more memorable than a 100,000 capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium watching U2, whereby we payed £80 + a head. The Simpletone gigs were FREE. Even when only twenty people show up (a symptom of modern live music, alas), they make any space feel like an arena filled with thousands of screaming fans. Whilst at once I pray to the gods of rock that justice will be done, and these men will become household names and sell out American tours, I also feel a profound sense of companionship to them. I enjoy having a chat and tagging them awkwardly in things on Facebook, only for them to reply and make my day. Everyone I introduce them to has the same reaction: “Why aren’t they on the Jools Holland Show tearing the stodgy, bloated music-industry a new one?” Why indeed – and I think that I’m willing to sacrifice my ability to buy them all a pint and embrace them like brothers so that their unique, seemingly endless gift could be shared with the music loving world.
I live in hope that Angel’s Share is the exposure that they deserve. Muse and their cohorts wear rusty crowns, and these usurpers are well armed and foaming at the mouth. Whilst I think that “star ratings” are trivial and gleam little of the real potency of music, I shall ceremoniously adorn The Tone with one. In doing so, I invite you all to give this album a listen and enrich your lives. You owe it to yourself to hear the best that Independent British has to offer. Here are the vanguards on the crusade to save music.
Will you answer their call?