The Joy Formidable, Hendre Hall, Bangor: 25 Oct 2012

The Joy Formidable, Hendre Hall, Bangor: 25 Oct 2012

“Hello everyone. It’s been so fucking long since we played North Wales and it’s great to see so many friendly faces here”. Thus spake, or rather croaked, Ritzy Bryan as The Joy Formidable got on stage for their tiny and packed out gig in what grandly calls itself Hendre Hall but looked like a nicely converted barn. Thursday night in North Wales, across the road from the sea, up near Bangor. Outside the weather was howling gale freezing. I’d arrived at the precise stated time for doors, which were it transpired still locked. I met my mate and we wandered round looking for the queue, only then to notice all the ghostly zombie faces inside the car windscreens, occasionally illuminated by interior lights or mobile phones. It was too cold for most people to even get out of their motors and queue. We were made of hardier stuff and as we loitered shivering for the venue door to finally open, I chatted with the gent who was second in the queue: Ritzy’s dad John, a lovely chap, happy to wait with the other punters.

We got inside and descended from the minstrel’s gallery to the main floor. The place was beautifully set up, scrubbed wood, bare stone walls, a decent stage, and as it soon transpired, great sound quality.  Ritzy was right about old friends – this being one of two tiny shows slotted in amongst touring with Muse, and with a pre-sale advertised on the fan forum, the crowd was pre-disposed towards recognisable ‘regulars’.

We enjoyed a more than decent support set from erstwhile locals Denuo, now relocated to the metropolis of Caerdydd but self-evidently enjoying a foray to old stamping grounds in the north. They even waxed nostalgic about playing gigs in Rhyl, but they played such a charm laden and upbeat rock set that we’ll forgive them that. I came away with a 2 track EP, and they’ve got an album on the way that will be entirely worth checking out. They’d obviously been hand picked by the heroes of the hour; Ritzy snuck out stage side shielded by Adam Walton’s burly figure to watch intently.  Adam is Welsh based BBC DJ, an inveterate gig promoter and massive new music enthusiast. When he came onstage to introduce The Joy Formidable it was great to see someone so utterly hyped whilst trying to maintain his cool.


Denuo had been packed away and as the stage was set up for TJF, the very last items to go up along the lit candles were a tea-mug, a jar of honey and a bottle of medicine, a worrying portent as it turned out.

From my stage corner vantage point I could see there were three of the new songs on the set-list, but otherwise it was going to packed with well known and loved tracks. There’d been some slight pre-show debate on facebook about whether to expect a stripped down set; this idea was scotched with the first gut juddering sonic boom notes of ‘The Greatest Light’. It’s remarkable that no matter how many times you see this crew, songs of this vintage induce a giddying rush, goose-pimples on the inside as well as on your neck. It’s evidence of the strength of the writing that far from becoming flaccid with use, the hooks and barbs just become more embedded, sharpening as they saw into your psyche.

Ritzy, Rhyd and Matt were on their usual form, Ritz demanding to know why Matt was “staring at me like fucking that” and when he riposted that he was merely waiting to see if she was, err, ready to begin, Ritz came straight back with “Do I look ready? I was born fucking ready!”. It’s clear that after all those months on the road and holed up writing in New England that they still crackle and buzz from even verbal riffing.



If it wasn’t immediately obvious it soon became evident that Ritzy’s voice was shot. She was able to sing, but talking in between was down to a croak. She told us all about, accusing Matt and Rhyd of dosing her with tour flu. Ever mindful of new and diverse revenue streams, she suggested that maybe she could meanwhile take up employment on telephone sex lines? There’s a particularly guttural Welsh way of pronouncing “Ewch! No!” and that’s what I uttered, inadvertently loud enough to be heard.  “No? Really not?”  She sounded disappointed. Really, no, she sounded ill, not lascivious. It didn’t stop them too much tonight. If truth be told, it only made the crowd love them more when, much later in the set, she tried, failed and then at the second try just about managed to carry the quiet portion in ‘Austere’, her voice cracking all over the place. Where there were gaps, the crowd softly filled in and collectively went “ah”.

Of the three new songs, ‘This Ladder Is Ours’ was up first, and is multi-faceted and involving evidence that the new material will indeed stand up and move beyond their well loved predecessors. ‘Cholla’ has just been put out as an EP. It’s a song named for a cactus, and led to musings from the stage about native American belief systems where the dead get reincarnated as “a big twelve foot prickly mother fucker”. Ritzy has such a way with words. I thought I knew the song, but the way they played it tonight was pure thrashing hard rock.


The final new song was the public debut for ‘Maw Maw’, loudly melodic, anthemic before it broke into a run. The chorus builds time and again in big steps, chased by the rolling thunder of Rhyd’s bass while he shared vocal duties with Ritz. There was a bloody great guitar break in the back third, Ritzy grinning before bringing it home as Zeppelin might once have done. The song left the decaying echoes of Chinese opera dribbling out of the cabs and was then re-built to segue into ‘Whirring’, ensuring a crowd friendly, chanting, moshing, sweating climax.

In any other circumstances, this special and intimate gig was the perfect setting for an encore, but it wasn’t to be, Ritzy’s voice had given all it could. By the next day she couldn’t talk, and they had to bail, this band that never bail, on their Friday night support slot with Muse at the O2. If they had to sacrifice one or other of the gigs, despite the pity for those I know had paid for top dollar Muse tickets just to see ‘The Joy’, they made the right choice.














The whole picture set (40 photos) here:-

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