The annual NME Awards Tour has been taking place now for just over 20 years, in this time showcasing many big hitters such as The Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, as well as the odd one possibly best forgotten (not mentioning any names, but Does It Offend You, Yeah? Well, yeah, since you ask).
Four acts in a night is the generous norm for the NME Tours, and tonight is no exception. Putting Manchester grime MC Bugzy Malone on at 6.30pm though means that probably over 90% of the eventual audience unfortunately don’t get to witness the man’s energy and heart.
To his credit, he doesn’t sulk about the situation and along with his two cohorts whips the small gathering up into a frenzy before exiting the stage as most of the (later) audience are probably finishing their tea. A lot of them would have loved him too, but hopefully he can take heart in the knowledge that Florence & The Machine and Coldplay, who once occupied the early slot, didn’t do too badly afterwards.
Jordan Cardy, AKA Chelmsford’s Rat Boy, is up next and hurtles straight into recent instant-classic ‘Move’. Backed by his band – a traditional bass, drums and guitar set up, though his sound is anything but – he sounds like a well-worked hybrid of Jamie T and The Go! Team.
If this description sounds like a recipe for a great live act, then it doesn’t disappoint as his band, (which confusingly, he introduces as Rat Boy too), put on a performance which delights the crowd now assembling in front of the stage. ‘Wasteland’ employs a classic Hammond sound and a feel reminiscent of Fatboy Slim’s ‘Gangster Trippin”, while ‘Scum’ (or is that S.C.U.M?) takes a leaf out of Ian Brown’s ‘F.E.A.R.’ book by using lyrics starting with S, C, U and M (in the chorus, at least).
Rat Boy finishes with a double salvo of former singles ‘Sign On’ and ‘Fake ID’, leaving an adoring mass in his wake. The album, when it arrives, will be a hoot.
Drenge have the unenviable task of following the Rat Boy Show (TM). The brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless are joined on stage these days by a third member, bass player Rob Graham. If they sounded immense when they were a duo, this is amplified now by their new addition. It is interesting to hear the songs from the first, eponymous album, (and that is six of the ten songs), with their added bass lines, which only add to the overall Drenge experience.
‘We Can Do What We Want’ (a song “made for Friday night” according to Rory) gets the biggest reaction from the ever-growing throng in front of the stage and for the most part, it is a heads-down no-nonsense kind of set from the band. Early single ‘Bloodsports’ predictably gets a huge cheer and it is an interesting choice to include the eight-and-a-half-minute epic ‘Let’s Pretend’ in such a short set before they disappear into the night.
So to the headliners, Bloc Party. It isn’t their first time on the NME Tour as they appeared as the third band on 2005’s line-up, which also included Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads and The Killers; but this time they sit atop the bill.
Recent album Hymns has received a perhaps undeservedly mixed reaction since taking its bow a couple of weeks back, but it is well-represented tonight, with six of its songs featuring in the 80-minute set, including opener ‘The Good News’ which divided fans but sounds excellent here.
New members Louise Bartle (drums) and Justin Harris (bass) have joined founding members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack in this new look version of Bloc Party and their presence seems to have revitalised the band. Harris picks up a saxophone for second song ‘Mercury’, while Kele loops live vocals to create a great version of surely their most hard-to-perform track. A spirited ‘Banquet’ is thrown in relatively early (six songs in) and gets the best reaction so far from the crowd, who respond in much the same way for fellow Silent Alarm songs ‘Price of Gasoline’ and ‘Helicopter’ in the encore later on.
‘Octopus’, from the underrated Four album, is a treat while Hymns‘ opening track ‘The Love Within’ appears in a more muscular incarnation than the recorded version; it works well and ends the set, before the band return for more, apparently finishing again with early E.P. track ‘Ratchet’, before a second, unplanned encore of ‘Flux’ sends the crowd home happy.
The NME Tour forges on then, despite its parent magazine’s much-publicised move into free sheet territory, and long may it continue to be a staple of the gig-going year, which wouldn’t be the same without it.