With suitably fervid intent Awen Blandford is singing ‘Flaccid Passion’, the first official single to be taken from Bethlehem Casuals’ forthcoming second album, The Tragedy of Street Dog. This would seem only right given that she is the sole female member in the seven-strong Mancunian musical collective and the fact that it is International Women’s Day. To mark this annual occasion a series of events are taking place today all around the world highlighting the wider issue of gender inequality. Yet despite the gender differential within Bethlehem Casuals’ ranks, there is absolutely no feeling of partiality. From the stage tonight the band exude a real sense of equity and togetherness and the sheer breadth of their communal musical vision firmly embraces both their individual and mutual capacity and progression.
With Blandford in Bethlehem Casuals are William Hearne (vocals and guitar), Pip Sayers (saxophone), Joe Woodhouse (guitar), George Burrage (bass), Atanas Dochev (percussion) and William Graham (drums); together they produce a sound that moves beyond the boundaries of simple classification but it seems fairly safe to say that it does embrace the avant-garde, early 70’s progressive rock, jazz, funk, psychedelia and some high-octane motorik grooves.
Upon hearing Bethlehem Casuals, the BBC Radio 6 DJ Tom Robinson said that they sound “like a 21st Century hybrid of XTC and Steely Dan.” And whilst the great man’s assessment undoubtedly has merit, especially in relation to Bethlehem Casuals’ contemporaneity, to these ears at least the septet sound more like an amalgam of the 60’s Californian experimentalists The Mothers of Invention, the English progressive jazz-rock band Colosseum with an added flavour of those funk superheroes Sly and the Family Stone for very good measure.
What is not open to debate, though, is the sizzling hot groove that Bethlehem Casuals lay down. For more than an hour they entertain us with a setlist almost equally split between their 2018 debut album Feels on Wheels and The Tragedy of Street Dog. They open with the barnstorming tribal romp of ‘Hubba Bubba Luvva’ (the last track on their first album) and wend their dizzying way past the jazz-inflected swing of new single ‘The Oke’ and through a bristling series of inventive time signatures and changing melodies before ending up with a couple of euphoric songs from the new record (‘The Drink’ and ‘Change’).
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE