The legendary After Dark Club is back as a live music venue. Its scaffolded stage held five very different bands on Saturday 2 December in a fundraiser for the local homeless charity Launchpad, organised by the intriguing Musical Bear record label.
We fairly barrelled down the hill to Katesgrove (via the Hop Leaf) to see if the live musical fire was back after this historic building’s last two decades of constant use as a popular nightclub and veritable vinyl nostalgia Tardis.
At ten quid to get in (£8 online) it was bargainous; we got an arty ink stamp on our hands and were met by some friendly door staff. It’s great to see nothing has really changed inside, although there has been a spit-and-polish paint job and some smart wooden coloured flooring. I am compelled to use the wrong toilet like some Pavlovian Private Godfrey, even though the male and female toilets were switched over 20 years ago, but it was good to see they had retained the distinctive trough! Both bars were genially well staffed and I chose a can of Red Stripe for old-time’s sake, forgetting the head thumping morning to come.
I missed the first band Kodiak Island, but my wing-man Matt Davies tells me that they were very good in the opening slot and ended the set with a big instrumental number. They were acoustic and pretty bouncy with some nice keyboards. Doops were really good; they definitely caught everyone’s attention. A very good three-piece with a meaty, beaty guitar sound with some fast and furious stick thumping. We shall hear of them again.
H.A.T.Y.M & Uncle Peanut (photo at top) look like two magic-mushroom-farming murder suspects in a Scandi-noir drama, and sound like nothing on earth. They use some great sampling with comically aggressive radical posture; the audience hounding was thrilling. Their songs, or should I say tracks-with-lyrics, on subjects like hipsters or even Mark E. Smith are really quite catchy and fun, but with a strange menace too, with a state of the nation sardonic fury. It’s no surprise they have toured with the Sleaford Mods, but this lot make them seem less glamorous. I love ’em and will see them again.
Anniversary sceptics Nobodies Birthday started off with some vigour. We saw this lot at the Wallingford Bunkfest and they are a smart, youthful bunch with melodic punk energy and exuberance. Their first few songs were exciting and they were building up the atmosphere nicely until the lively lead singer, who found the stage a bit cluttered for his liking, started some standard front-man mic swinging which then hit the lead guitarist on the head leaving a bleeding head wound (and a dented mic) and they were only able to complete one song afterwards. To quote Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” Now we are out of Europe and have abandoned health & safety, I suspect these events will become more common. I hope that at his staff appraisal the front man doesn’t lose a box marking, as this sort of rock ‘n’ roll tomfoolery is the duty of any lead singer. John Otway has been performing the same trick for years, but on purpose (go and see him at SUB89 on 20 December).
Kill Committee are a different beast altogether. They are a serious sort of band who remain fairly but confidently static but with no obvious shoe-gazing. They get under your skin with some excellent musicianship and walls-of-guitar sound with some great drive from the drums. Their songs are tight and kind of tense with some clever lyrics. The momentum built during their set, like any very good band, and the audience were pretty enthralled. The intentional diffidence of the lead singer along with his mordant hobson’s made the whole package engaging and interesting; they are a class act with some highly regarded local band members who left us wanting more. Their debut album ‘the things we nearly saw‘ was released recently and it would be foolish not to get a copy or at least catch their next gig.
One of the great things about this evening was how different all the bands were and how much quality and enjoyment there was on display – especially for that money.
There is a lot of local talent in Reading and it was encouraging to see bands who, though they have influences, were not slavish copies of anyone else, although, in my opinion, any good live band should have at least a bit of Joe Strummer or Steve Marriott hidden somewhere in their DNA.
I hope the live music will continue at the After Dark as it’s made for the place. I saw some great groups here years ago and it will be amazing to see bands before they make it big here again. I would maybe slightly reduce the menu in future as folk just aren’t coaxed out that early in the evening. Someone did say to me that it’s almost too well run now – but I am not sure how you can react or rectify matters from that ringing endorsement! It was great to see a gaggle of Hogarthian smokers on the way out of the club; even though very good natured, I always thought a true After Dark crowd had a touch of the last days of Rome about them. The-times-they-are-a-changing back!
Gloria Gaynor once said “there is nothing to compare to live music, there just isn’t anything.” The night ended a little early (10.30-ish) so we had enough time to catch the last set of the Corsairs in the Turks, as well as have one in the Hop Leaf and a Mr Cod on the way home. In many ways the perfect night out!
Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.