Augustines are a band that have had nearly as many name changes as Spinal Tap: (“There was already a band in the East End called the Originals, so we became the New Originals”). Through the various shifts in identity, (Pela became Augustines became We Are Augustines re-became Augustines), two things have remained constant: the pairing of singer/songwriter/guitarist Billy McCarthy with multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson, and the passionate support of a loyal fan base.
The latter are out in force tonight at a sold-out Electric Ballroom. I’ve come with my friend Matthew, and he subscribes to the ethos of Augustines fan immersion. Last time out, his dedication extended to helping load the van. There’s photographic evidence, though he can’t actually remember doing it himself.
But before Matthew and the other 1100 Augustinians here this evening indulge themselves, there’s a support to support. Tonight’s support to support is Rob Lynch, a singer/songwriter of notable talent, whose 2014 release All These Nights In Bars Will Somehow Save My Soul has received significant critical acclaim. The album is an intimate journey down some painful avenues, one of which includes the death of his father – a subject that was touched upon in conversation with the crowd. A tight set of solo acoustic guitar was well received by the audience. Lynch is currently on tour at venues throughout the UK, concluding at The Louisiana in Bristol on 18 May.
McCarthy, Sanderson and Augustines drummer Rob Allen were soon to emerge from a wall of smoke – and were met with wild anticipation and applause. They opened with Chapel Song, a number delivered through blinding strobes and pitch darkness. Much of the back catalogue references tragedy – McCarthy and his brother James bounced around various foster homes as children, victims of a drug-addicted mother, who died of an overdose when Billy was nineteen. James, who suffered with schizophrenia, committed suicide in 2009. Book Of James, a song of remarkable intimacy concerning the loss soon followed. McCarthy heard his lyrics sung back to him with fitting reverence. It must be extraordinarily moving to have that kind of power.
Although it took a while to get going, we were soon subject to the crowd affinity with which Billy is rightly renowned. “Mr lighting man, can you turn the lights up; I wanna see these people”, he cried. The lighting man duly obliged with a blaze so intense you could practically see your bones through your hands – Bikini Atoll, A-Bomb testing style. Philadelphia, (The City Of Brotherly Love) followed. McCarthy didn’t need the lights to know his audience was there. The vocal support was intense and I suspected there were likely to be a few croaky voices in the morning.
The set was predominantly an electric affair, but was closed out with four consecutive acoustic numbers; the first of which, Landmine, was performed by McCarthy in isolation. This was followed by Now You Are Free, which was brilliantly staged. Starting from in front of the microphones, Billy commenced this song accompanied by reverential ‘shushes’ from the audience. Once quiet had been attained, the crowd began to sing along in hushed tones – ensuring that they never upstaged the performer. It was respectful and it was classy – two things sadly lacking in a number of the audiences that I hang out with these days. As the song progressed, Sanderson joined McCarthy at the front of the stage on guitar and Allen appeared with brushes on a solo snare.
The show closed with The Avenue from the eponymously titled 2014 album, Augustines. Billy told the masses that after the show he was going for something to eat and sought some recommendations from the locals. He asked for a show of hands to seek audience members that had previously joined him for an after-show kebab. I looked around and saw half the hands were in the air. I can believe it. I asked Matthew and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever indulged in a döner with the frontman. I suspect he has, he just hasn’t got any photographic evidence.
Live Review & Concert Photography by Simon Reed. See more of Simon’s photography on his personal website: www.musicalpictures.co.uk
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