Portland and The Gentlemen Live At Bar Academy Birmingham

Friday 7th August 2009

Bar Academy Birmingham, Saturday 1st August 2009 gig review by Mike Rimmer.


Arriving at Bar Academy, I was disappointed to discover that I'd missed local artist Benjamin Blower who was the unadvertised opening act for the evening. Having been a guest on Rimmerama, it would have been good to have seen him play live. Ho hum, maybe another time.

The Bar Academy isn't exactly packed out but then headliners The Gentlemen are still in the business of making friends on the mainstream rock scene and sometimes at gigs like this, it must feel like they're making new fans one at a time. But before we get to the headliners, local band Portland are on stage. They open their set with "Burning Sky" and for the first time, the three members of the band are augmented by a drummer and lead guitarist. The rock club setting isn't really their normal style, the band preferring to play venues where audiences can sit and enjoy and listen to the music, however they acquit themselves well although the low ceiling of the club and the high crowd barrier at the front of the stage give the illusion that I am watching the band through a narrow slit between the two.

Above the tight playing and the full arrangements of the songs from their debut album, it is Rory Thompson's voice that causes tingles to go down my spine as the soulfulness of his singing matches the melodic arrangements. Album highlights like "The Letter" and "Believe In You" shine out in this setting. There's a cover of Damien Rice's "Well Alright" which goes down well. Rory chats amiably to the crowd in between the songs and before the final song he announces that their debut single "Tonight" has been played a few times by Steve Wright on his Radio 2 show. He also tells us that the band are due to do a session for Bob Harris in the autumn. Clearly the band are beginning to make a few friends here and there and win a few fans in mainstream media.

The same is hoped for The Gentlemen who have been pursuing radio play with Radio 1 but so far their biggest reaction has been to be played once by Terry Wogan on Radio 2. Last time I saw the band was at the Birmingham Barfly where the sound was so bad it spoilt their performance. Tonight it's turned down a little as is their whole performance. Where once the band was a little gimmicky on stage, it seems as though the band have decided to take a calmer approach to their live performance and this is no bad thing.

The Gentlement (photo by Ben Goulter)
The Gentlement (photo by Ben Goulter)

Creeping onto the stage with no fanfare, I'm only aware that they have started when Nicholas Noble, the band's singer, begins with the falsetto acappela opening of "Unique". Dressed in a vest and scarf combo, he looks every inch the front man, although something about his appearance brings to mind Fun Boy Three in about 1982. Probably not the effect he was going for. One of the things that is immediately apparent about The Gentlemen is the tightness and funkiness of their rhythm section. Joel and Josh Cana's drums and bass are at turns powerful and flexible. Certainly Joel is one of the hardest drummers I've seen in a while and his breakbeats give the band's sound an extra punch.

With better sound, it is possible to appreciate in more depth the complexities of Sean Walsh's guitar playing which range from the powerful chords that drive the band along to funky flourishes that add some spice to the proceedings. There are some surprises along the way. The band introduce a couple of new songs that they have recently written and it is "This Is It" that grabs me most of the two.

I've always said that if a band does a cover version, it should be something that translates a song from a completely different genre or era into the modern and you can't argue that they certainly do that! The Gentlemen bravely share their cover version of the Sugababes' song "About You Now" which brings a smile to my face although I'm not sure about whether this helps their street cred!

Noble is aware that the band need all the help they can get to make progress forward so there's an invitation to sign up to their mailing list before the band plays their debut single, "Sending Cards". Another single "I'm Not Leaving" follows on and then it's time for a final song, their next single "Push Back". The opening cut from their album has been given a remix for the single but tonight they play it like it's on the album. Possibly the catchiest thing that they have yet recorded, there's hope in my heart that this will give the band its much needed breakthrough. Make a note of the release date - August 31st and at least buy the download!

Meanwhile there's a ripple of applause for the band as the gig ends and the small crowd wander about the club. What it may have lacked in atmosphere was certainly enhanced by The Gentlemen's commitment to their lithe tight rock. The band sounds better than ever. And me? I'm still singing "Push Back" as I get into the car. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.


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