Live: Federal Charm @ The Talking Heads

Federal Charm at The Talking Heads

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

I’ve a soft spot for The Talking Heads. It was the place where I took my first concert photograph with anything more sophisticated than a smartphone, and it’s exactly the sort of small(ish) community venue that needs to survive if emerging talent is to have someplace other than Saturday night TV in which to hone their skills. The thought of Simon Cowell and Rita Ora being the sole determining factors of what we should all be listening to is too depressing to contemplate.

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

So, it was particularly heart-warming to see that on a night when wind and rain signalled that autumn had finally woken up, the place was packed to witness one of the final dates of Joanne Shaw Taylor’s tour promoting her latest record The Dirty Truth. But I wasn’t here primarily to see Shaw Taylor wield the axe – though she is great, obviously, and her final performance of this tour at London’s Jazz Cafe will be featured in these pages in the next few days. The focus of my attention tonight was on the support, Stockport’s Federal Charm – a band that has been making quite a noise in all senses north of Watford, but who we haven’t (yet) got to see this far south too often. Their eponymously titled debut album released in 2013 received rave reviews across the board and they’ve just followed suit with Across the Divide, released a few weeks ago and already attracting strong critical approval.

Joanne Shaw Taylor performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Joanne Shaw Taylor performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

You can argue that Federal Charm have a derivative sound from a bygone age – Led Zeppelin and Free are obvious influences – but as a result they sound refreshingly unlike any other band that’s emerged from Greater Manchester in the last 20 years. In modern terms, this is what you’d get if Mary Berry chucked the polished tones of King King and the raw energy of The Temperance Movement into a Kenwood mixer and gave it a spin. I imagine it would taste as good as it sounds.

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

And sound good it does. The band took to the stage to polite applause (I’m suspecting that the vast majority of punters had not seen them before – I’ve been trying really hard and only managed it once prior to this) but as soon as Federal Charm fired up the riff to Any Other Day it was clear that a few heads were going to be turned. This high octane opening song sums up what Federal Charm is all about. There was great interplay between the twin guitars of Nick Bowden and Paul Bowe, who did plenty to complement each other without ever sounding flash or resorting to playing any contrived harmony parts, Thin Lizzy style. The pair of them also gave the impression that they actually like each other – a trait that a few other Manchester bands of a certain vintage could have used.

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

All the above was underpinned by a thunderous rhythm pounded out by bassist L.D. Morawski and drummer Danny Rigg. Rigg in particular was great – all flailing hair and whirling arms. I felt slightly sorry for him cast adrift stage right, separated as he was from his band mates by Joanne Shaw Taylor’s own kit, but these are the compromises you accept when you start first. He was joined on frequent occasions by Bowe who traversed the stage for some joint rocking out, though you feel it won’t be long before he is routinely occupying the middle ground.

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

The band continued at a frenetic pace with an up tempo set list split equally between the two records and only a brief pause for an inevitable and entirely understandable plug for merch. We were offered a pause for breath with Reconsider, a contemplative track from the debut album that definitely puts the blues into the blues rock equation and allowed both Bowden and Bowe time to show they can play with soul and feel. Still, even this song went a little wild with a fine, fast and funky instrumental part in the middle that caught everybody by surprise.

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

One other song of note was Give Me Something, a cut from Across the Divide that combined some great harmonica playing with a bluegrass feel all of its own. This band might well be treading a well-furrowed musical path but they’ve clearly got the confidence and talent to reach out in other directions too. Great stuff.

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

Federal Charm performing at The Talking Heads, Southampton on 24 October 2015 (Simon Reed)

The band left the stage to considerably greater applause than that which greeted them and it seems they generated a number of new fans in the process. A headline tour early next year now beckons. Let’s hope for those of us down here that there will be a few more venues in the south at which to see them.

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Photography & Live Review by Simon Reed. Simon has his own great website of music photography right here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk

Federal Charm at The Talking Heads Southampton – 24 October 2015

 

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