As far as new(ish) guitar bands with hot potential go, you could do worse than look towards The Bug Club as saviours of all things rough, ready and rabble-ish. With songs – short, in length, deep in content – pouring effortlessly from the trio as freely as the spring water in the Monmouthshire valleys from whence they come, and further vindication, should it be required, from the hip oracle of foresight that is Marc Riley, their time really is NOW!
Those constant rotations on Marc Riley’s nighttime show on BBC 6 Music became daytime earworms throughout last year and were eventually the catalyst for Freckfest, the wee music promotions team I’m involved with, to book them to play the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine. Last night, then, was The Bug Club’s opening night of a short tour of Scotland and the south, a tour they started in Irvine…and started in style.
Having more songs than they know what to do with, the band hit upon the idea of supporting themselves as an outlet for airing a whole set of new material that’ll form the basis of their next album. Much like The Wedding Present, who did a similar thing at the tail end of the ’80s when they’d turn up unnanounced and run-through their not-yet-released Bizarro album (watching as the pre-social media audience grew to capacity after half a dozen or so songs), The Bug Club absolutely wanted to keep it low-key and under wraps. Their soundman pressed play on a pre-recorded intro message on one of those old, flat tape recorders and, to a room of no more than 20 people, Mr Anyway’s Holey Spirits sauntered onto the ‘stage’, ‘disguised’ in masks, plastic crowns and cheap silky capes and proceeded to blow the walls in.
Man! What a sound! They’ve two styles of songs, The Bug Club. One is Modern Lovers/Velvet Underground-rich; repetitive, clean and scraping guitars, the occasional Jonathan sunshine melody or Lou mumble on vocals, a slinky bassline, steady Tucker-ish drumming…you know how it goes. Being Welsh, they’ve even nailed the John Cale spoken-word sections with nary an effort. I’m jumping the gun here, but the last song they played in this set was a 10 minute headspin of male/female spoken word vocals and pulsing Velvets groove that possibly won’t be bettered in the whole of 2023. Totally great.
Their other style is tight ‘n raucous Nuggets-y garage punk, whippet thin blasts of hairdryer blooze with short, sharp interjections of Yardbirds-rich guitar licks, the spectral fingers of Page ‘n Beck slippin’ and slidin’ up the frets and back again, a lightning fast blur of high frettery that leads to a bottom end sludge fest.
The Bug Club – Checkmate
It never quite gets full on Zep, mind you. And just as well. The Bug Club know exactly when to pull back and fall back into that Velvety grind. And talking of Jeff Beck, Sam Willmett, The Bug Club’s guitar-playing singer also eschews all form of effect pedal. He’s old school, and in a world populated by musicians who mask and disguise their limited playing with spaceship-sized chrome and steel stomp boxes, it’s totally refreshing. If I was a guitar player, I’d have thrown away all of that excess flab this morning and rethought the entire process. Or perhaps given up. With just an old Telecaster and a curly lead – there’s yr secret weapon right there – Sam coaxes all manner of tone and control from his six strings with nothing more than a snappily toggled pick-up switch or a pinky-flicked volume knob on his vintage amp for colour. I watched closely, less than two metres away from him at the side of the stage and I’m not quite sure what form of wizardry I paid witness to.
Of course, with the walls vibrating to the thrilling noise of just three people, ticket holders still in the bar begin picking up on the muffled thunk permeating their chat – “I think that’s them on!” – and gradually the room fills. By the time they’ve ended their near-hour warm-up set with that aforementioned 10 minute epic by unplugging, wandering off and singing the vocal refrain in the dressing room behind the stage, they’ve an entire audience on their feet in giddy appreciation. Not bad for a ‘support act’.
A quick interlude – Ivor Cutler, Gorky’s, Them – again, the best points of reference – and The Bug Club proper are back. The capes, masks and crowns may be gone but the relentless tuneage continues. Did they just play three songs in a row there without breaking for breath? I dunno, but it’s a thrill. Tilly on bass, nice, mild-mannered Tilly, is transformed into Suzi Quatro doing Angus Young at Hallowe’en. She struts, she stomps, she pulls excellent bass face. She is a total thrill to watch. Sam, meek and humble, squeezes out an apologietic thanks with a nod of the head before letting loose welders’ sparks of metallic chaos from the Telecaster. At the back, tubthumping Dan keeps it all together, fringe whipping his face as he sings along, mic’less but still there, the third spoke in an almighty wheel.
The Bug Club – It’s Art
Never anything less than can’t-take-your-eyes-off-them exhilarating, they must’ve played 40 songs over two one hour sets. Fast songs. Faster songs. Rockin’. Rowdy’. Quirky. Quaint. You can find them all at the band’s Bandcamp page. If you can, you should make a point of going to see them if they’re anywhere near you, anytime soon.
Yard Act and Wet Leg were the breakthrough bands of last year. This year belongs to The Bug Club. Hopefully we’ll get them back to Irvine before the rest of the world catches on. You, though. You should catch up. And catch up fast.