Monday night gigs always seem like the short straw for the bands playing them, and this is never more the case than when there’s a big England international game to distract the locals at the same time. Still, Glaswegians PAWS and fellow Scots The Spook School won’t have cared too much about that, and an enjoyable if slightly surreal night at Liverpool’s Studio 2 proved infinitely preferable to an evening spent watching the national football team reach new levels of uselessness.
An odd vibe begins right from the start with a young local band given the limelight for a mixture of covers and their own material. They were pretty accomplished musicians and seemed lovely lads, but with the average age of the audience being about 15, it’s a slow start to the night for the bar staff and leaves me feeling a bit like a dad at the school disco. Nothing makes you feel older than hearing ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ sung by today’s ‘teenage dirtbags’ who weren’t even born when that song was released. Let’s not be an arse about it though – it’s good to see young people in bands and enjoying live music in proper venues.
With a lot of the kids having now toddled off home, the crowd remains sparse but is much more of a motley crew of ages and appearances by the time The Spook School make a noisy arrival on the stage. This is largely courtesy of flamboyant drummer Niall McCamley, who has a mic but chooses not to use it and just bellow his jokey remarks loudly enough for everyone to hear them. It’s a fast-paced, lively, jangly set from the Edinburgh four-piece who certainly get the small crowd in good spirits.
As the evening goes on though, the crowd appears to be dwindling if anything, and a brave-faced PAWS struggle to hide their disappointment as they take to the stage. As members of The Spook School mingle with the onlookers to swell the numbers up to the low twenties, the band get on with things and belt out four or five of their catchy punky nuggets.
Well performed and warmly received by the few in attendance, songs like ‘Catherine 1956’ and ‘N/A’, the latter of which comes from new album No Grace, are as moving as they are catchy. Before long though, singer and guitarist Phillip Taylor decides to fully embrace the low-key and intimate nature of the gig, and things take an entertaining turn for the bizarre.
Jokingly at first, Taylor suggests that the turnout is that small that they might as well join the band on stage. The more he says it though, the more convinced he becomes that it might be a good laugh, and an angsty rendition of ‘Sore Tummy’ follows with fans and the band intermingling on stage.
When faced with an unfortunate situation like PAWS were on the night, bands have a choice of whether to just rattle through the gig with a chip on their shoulders, or accept it with good humour. PAWS chose the latter, and the somewhat chaotic, party-like feel of the night from then on turned what could’ve been an awkward gig into a memorable one.
Drummer Josh Swinney shifts his kits off the stage and into the audience, and the rest of the gig sees him surrounded by a crescent of fans while bassist Ryan Drever pinwheels around him. Taylor takes a song request off two girls, Drever chats with a man who got the train from Stockport to be at the gig, Swinney’s T-shirt reminds you of just how much drummers sweat. There’s no lack of energy from the boys, with drumsticks broken and microphones knocked down.
Taylor introduces the title track from the new album with a poignant diatribe about the peculiar economics of the digital music era, where bands can be playing in front of 1,000 people one night and 10 the next. The readily available nature of music online may have taken some power away from record companies, but the end result for bands is much the same – a lot of them don’t have a pot to piss in.
Kudos to PAWS for making the best of a bad situation, and being keen to express their gratitude to those who had turned out, albeit mixed in with a bit of banter about England’s miserable defeat. I wish more people would turn up for small gigs. Liverpool has not just great bands, but great venues too, and locals really shouldn’t take it for granted or bands will gradually not bother and just make Manchester their North West stop. That would be a shame, as it’s a city that always brings out humour and fun in its gigs, and that was certainly the case tonight.
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