The Forum sits on the slopes of the common on the edge of Tunbridge Wells. For the past 24 years it has played host to many up & coming acts, established acts, and has a reputation for booking the next big thing just before it becomes the big thing. The band capturing our attention tonight are the infamous Rotten Hill Gang.
As the venue began it’s 25th year, a gig by Rotten Hill Gang and guests ticked all the boxes. Local three piece Ladybird opened the evening with a ferocious assault on the senses, a short powerful set reflecting their punk influences with a dynamic driven by Joe Walker’s inimitable manic drum style that seemed to explode out of nowhere. The band grabbed the audiences attention with a vice like grip and didn’t let go, not caring if anyone wanted to be along for the ride or not, they were coming. Their set ended as abruptly as it began, a drive by shooting delivered by Don Rennols and Alex Deadman’s guitars. The band are starting to play dates across the south of the country with the EP Social Potions to be launched at Unfest in Tunbridge Wells this May.
There was a brief pause before Don Letts surreptitiously took to the decks. There was a sense of eager anticipation, a bit of standing, staring at Don challenging him to impress. It didn’t last long, The Rebel Dread got the measure of the watchers and soon had everyone dancing, the crush evened out and it was off. In his words “I’m all about moving the crowd, especially the girls ‘cause it’s much more rewarding than the approving nods of purists”.
Don made use of dancehall reggae and ska, along with mixes that most likely will never be heard outside one of his sets. The mashups had some really eclectic elements but every one a winner. He worked the room expertly satisfying dancers and winning over the music afficionados and perfectly and effortlessly bridged the vitality of the openers with the vibe of headliners Rotten Hill Gang.
Rotten Hill Gang took to the stage, opening with Whatever Your Life Throws Out, a song about a bad boy made good repaying his dues, a low key starter, the band feeling out the audience. Then the tempo stepped up and stayed up for the rest of the gig.
The set of fifteen songs mostly comprised of tracks from the new album Teach Peace due out late spring. The new tracks reflected the bands progression from lyrics over beats and made less use of samples than the first self titled album (see www.rottenhillgang.co.uk ). The new material having a more melodic, richer live sound helped by Fjorka Mac’s keyboard but still with a hard edge from front man Reds West’s rapping.
Counter to this was Annie Bea’s almost cabaret vocal style of performance, Annie taking sole charge of the lyrics on Caravan and Incredible. The audience were dancing and involved, the communication between the stage and punters was established quickly and freely flowed both ways. All the band’s songs are relevant, about real people, real politics and situations which sealed the bond between floor and stage.
Let Me Breathe came mid set before a run of tracks from the first album, each revamped and updated, Ch Chow emphasising the bands West London origins, a carnival tale of excess from Notting Hill.
RHG really hit their stride with Feelin’ It, guitarist Gus Robertson letting rip with a rock solo over the infectious rhythm, finishing in front of drummer Mallet Hallet in rock god style. Full of swagger the band launched into Might As Well Quit their anti TV talent show anthem full of arrogance and denouncing get rich quick talentless fame, then into the last song Heads Up which is planned to be a free download soon. The band left the stage but the crowd had been won over and demanded more, bassist Gary McPherson stayed put, the rest of the band returned and charged into their cover of Sex Pistols track Submission, the audience chanting the chorus along with the band. So the night finished there, everyone agreeing it had been a huge success, new talent, established talent, and the next big thing.
Live Review & Photography by Simon Partington.
Ladybird, Don Letts, & Rotten Hill Gang -at The Forum Tunbridge Wells 14th January 2017