Popes Of Chillitown, The Boars Head, March 27, Kidderminster

The singer from Interrobang bears an uncanny resemblance to both Jimmy Carr and Morrissey, a fact accentuated by the dapper, fitted suit he is wearing. He starts the set in the middle of the mostly empty dance floor, screaming something I can’t quite make out through a mega phone. Not satisfied, he sticks his head into the smoking area and repeats the process, and then does the same in the front bar. In return he gets a mixture of shocked silences and embarrassed giggles, but people dutifully follow him towards the stage as the band kick into the first song.

Later on someone tells me that this in fact the ex singer of Chumbawumba, and I’m impressed that this lot feel the need to do something new instead of becoming a lucrative tribute band to their former selves. The famous band connection isn’t mentioned on stage, in fact there’s a distinct lack of stage banter which feels deliberate, as does much of what Interrobang do tonight. The guitars and drums crash along in a pleasing Sex Pistols via the nineties kind of way. The vocals are mostly spoken word, which due to the northern accent and age of the band, is bound to invite Sleaford Mods comparisons. However the palette is much wider here, the anger leavened with irony and surreal humour. A particularly odd moment is an acapella rant that starts with the phrase “where were you the day my dad died?” I can sense the confusion in the air at this question, which to me was a most enjoyable thing.

By the end of their set Interrobang have won me over. It’s a unique mix of well thought out guitar-pop laced with daftness that’s fueled by the kind of anger only known to middle aged men. Take it or leave it, you won’t find many like them.

Headliners Popes of Chillitown seem positively fresh faced by comparison, though they’ve been around for a few years now. Despite what might be called a “difficult” crowd, they play a tight set tonight as always. If you’re at all into modern ska punk and haven’t checked out the Popes yet you should do so immediately – they’ve got that post King Prawn minor key ska groove thing with the big choruses on lock, along with the token brass player adding a bit of weight to the drops. Arrangement wise one section segues into another with impeccable timing, with a polished but not slick rhythm section that stops me from standing still, my shoulders swinging from side to side with involuntary appreciation. However, I can’t help but wonder if they’ve painted themselves into a corner a bit here, if they’ve done such a spot-on version of their chosen genre that there’s no room for new influences. Ska punk is a fairly under appreciated genre in this country, and is also one that is considered eternally uncool by the mainstream music press. I’m wondering if the Popes might need a few more tricks up their sleeves to completely win over hearts and minds…

All of which doesn’t affect my enjoyment of them. They’ve got the right kind of bouncy amicable energy going on up there which keeps my attention for the whole set, which is a bigger compliment than you’d think (time slows down immeasurably when you’re sitting through a shitty band). I first saw this band making inappropriate comments about eating meat in front of a crowd of vegans a few years ago, and I hope a few more years down the line I will be seeing them in similarly unusual circumstances a few more years, promoting album number 4 or 5.  Tonight wasn’t an easy night for them, but I expect it won’t be too long before they get their moment of glory.

Johnny Kowalski

New Popes Of Chillitown album, To The Moon, due for release May 15


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