Nobody is going to deny that the Britpop revival is well and truly in full swing by now. I would probably trace its beginnings as far back as the Blur reunion shows in Hyde Park in 2009, making the revival scene nearly a decade old in itself, but lately things really seem to have kicked into a higher gear. For someone who lived out their teens in the 90s it’s amazing to think that I’ve been to see Ash, Space, My Life Story, Dodgy, The Bluetones, Sleeper, The Divine Comedy, Suede, Paul Draper from Mansun and more, just in the last 18 months. I mean, there was a new album from Shed 7 out just the other week for heaven’s sake! In amongst all this nostalgic noise I have to confess I wasn’t expecting wonders from this Echobelly show, at first. However, after playing catch-up and doing a little research I found my interest was somewhat piqued.
It turns out Echobelly are one of those groups who’ve never really been out of the game for long. The original line-up parted ways as recently as 2004, after five albums. I was completely unaware of the latter two which had been released after a four year hiatus brought on by health and legal problems. Following the end of Echobelly-prime though, the heart of the band, being the songwriting team of Sonya Madan and Glenn Johansson, continued to write, perform and release records under the name Calm of Zero. They decided to reclaim the mantle of Echobelly, with Glenn discussing releasing under that name as early as 2009. So, perhaps my Britpop reboot date is not so arbitrary! Perhaps they sensed the stars aligning for the spotlight to be turned back onto their golden era and decided it would be a good move to return to their roots, a little, in name at least. It really doesn’t matter, to be honest, what is more interesting is that Echobelly have released an album this year and it’s actually rather good. Anarchy and Alchemy sounds great, and not in a trying-to-reclaim-former-glories kind of way. It’s got space and texture, hooks and decent songs. I’d say it’s less pop than their earlier material, more of a mature rock record, and that willingness to innovate and progress made me a lot more keen to see the band live than a mere nostalgic run through the hits.
In support tonight I saw Victory Through Sound for the first time. Although I quite like the war-time reference I think it’s a dreadful name, it just doesn’t sound like a band name to me. They are an older bunch of guys, which made me think that they might have been at this for a while, until they explained they’d only formed a couple of years back. Hats off to them, they play quite old-fashioned rock music, a heavily distorted guitar on rhythm and lots of melodic lead guitar breaks, but they’ve got spirit and kept the audience rapt throughout. Towards the end of the set they pull out a song called ‘Valencia’, which has a more melodic chorus than most, and for the first time in the set they really start to soar, in a mid-career Manic Street Preachers kind-of way. It’s promising stuff, ones to keep an eye out for, I’d say.
Echobelly took to the stage and the crowd surged forward, with the Komedia looking pretty busy. They start off with ‘Drive Myself Distracted’, a bonus track from their third album, Lustra. It sets the pace for what’s ahead, a set that makes choice dips into their back catalogue but concentrates largely on the new album. We get to hear six tracks from Anarchy and Alchemy, a strong showing that’s well deserved, from light ballads like ‘Faces In The Mirror’ to the blues-rock of a track like ‘Hey Hey Hey’, which sees Madan soaring with Robert Plant like yelps, they showcase strong and diverse songwriting. I find myself thinking a lot about Johansson’s guitar playing. He’s clearly one of the greats of the Britpop era, at his best pulling out the sort of jangly-meets-gritty riffs that Graham Coxon would have been proud of. He has a great mastery of tone and great taste in what to play to fill out the sound of a three-piece and keep things full and interesting. I would be lying if I didn’t mention what a kick the audience and I got from some of the classics though, the first big moment being ‘Great Things’ about halfway through the night. Hearing that reminded me of one of the better things about the Britpop period, with singles like ‘Great Things’ on heavy rotation you got a feeling of optimism in the air, and Echobelly seemed to have retained some of that positivity, as evidenced by the mile-wide smile on Sonya Madan’s face throughout tonight.
My personal favourite, ‘King Of The Kerb’, came in the middle of a three-song encore, which was never in doubt, prompting a mass sing-along and even a bit of pogoing at the back from some older guys, who looked like they’d definitely be paying for it the next day! They opened the encore though with the title track from the new album, ‘Anarchy and Alchemy’, which is a fantastic number – full of atmosphere and emotion, at moments sounding not a million miles from something Radiohead might have cooked up before the electronica of Kid A. It’s great to see that Echobelly are still alive-and-kicking in 2017, producing great, original music. Sonya Madan has an amazing presence on stage, full of love and light, ensuring nobody leaves the room without a smile on their face tonight. Go and see these guys if you get the chance.