Peach Club don’t like to make things easy for reviewers. You get the feeling that even the most savage, cutting criticism would be water off a duck’s back to combative frontwoman Katie Revell and Norwich’s 21st Century riot grrrls.
So I won’t write a review. Just some thoughts. My opinion, you feel, is hardly going to make or break the band’s day in the unlikely event they read this, anyway.
When I walk into the Mash Tun for one of several Norwich Oxjam gigs on the 21st October 2017, the headliners are sitting around a couple of tables pushed together, tucking in to two cartons of traditional chip shop chips. I keep my distance but there’s obvious laughter and jokes. Four acts and three-and-a-half hours before they’re due on, Peach Club seem as relaxed as four friends out for drinks after a week of work. They’re certainly the cool girls of the playground, you can imagine them at break time with their two-inch ties, incessant banter and a friendship that’s more like a sisterhood.
Everything about Peach Club betrays extraordinary attention to detail. Their merch (cassettes, obviously, and handmade friendship bracelets) is sold from a retro suitcase adorned with fairy lights. Maybe Peach Club see themselves as modern-day evacuees of the male-dominated music industry? Their instruments are all in some way uniquely customised. They might make thudding punk, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they don’t care about the little things or that their style isn’t minutely curated. Quite the opposite.
This focus on uniqueness and style, then, explains why the band are so riled by, and rail against, the generalisations in the music game, their main bugbears seemingly being the idea that their gender and age somehow pigeonhole them into a certain lowly category. It also explains why they are so upset with reviewers who criticise their no-nonsense style as being ‘too basic’ – duh, that’s the point, they say.
Sonically, a blend of an appreciation of the past and rejection of traditional, lazy stereotypes creates a new-old sound which has proved a hit with the band’s ever-growing fanbase both in Norwich and London. Read any interview, and their comprehension of the past riot grrrl movement and appreciation of the current scene sit nicely together. Despite striving for uniqueness in their message, they also possess a deep understanding of the tradition in which they follow and the local music scene in which they are looking to carve out a niche for themselves.
In the set tonight, too, the balance of old and new is navigated perfectly. Beginning with the mission statement of latest single Bad Bitch (after the obligatory clapping introduction which is nicely weird, merging satanic ritual and punk gig), we get three of the four cuts from their seminal EP The Bitch Diaries. Lead track My Best Friend sounds even more urgent than on record (more later), Go Away has more swagger and depth and I’m a Bitch retains the same sneering tone even when performed to a room of sympathetic fans and followers.
Of the handful of new songs scattered through the middle of the set, Cherry Baby (reportedly to be released soon with a video having been shot according to the band’s Instagram) is the most striking, an empowering story song about a woman who runs away in search of a better life in a band. Another highlight is Oh My God (I’ve Really Gone and Done it this Time), a sarcastic retort to the powers-that-be who decide what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour.
The set closes with two of the three Bandcamp singles from late last year which were collected together on cassette. Gr8 places Revell at her angriest, whilst her spoken monologue during set-closer Mission Impossible, prefixed by an explanation of the patronising behaviour of others in the industry towards them which inspired it, is even more transfixing when you can stare into the whites of her eyes as she delivers it with just a thumping bass-line for accompaniment before the explosion of drums and guitar to bring the song to a close.
The band are rocking. Revell strides up and down, flicking her hair nonchalantly as she extends her impressive vocal range from a growl to a scream. She twice asks for more vocals. The second time, she is told that they are turned up as high as they can go. She responds by belting out the next song at such an incredible volume it feels like those of us with our eardrums in tact are in the minority.
Charlie Hart’s fingers skate up and down the fretboard of her baby pink Stratocaster and she spits backing vocals into her microphone. Amanda MacKinnon, sporting a white beret to match her trousers, bashes her new bass, a black, glittery instrument adorned with a Peach Club decal, to tie the band together. Rebecca Wren looks up at Hart like a hawk, with the cheekiest of grins from time to time, between the crashing drum patterns that characterise songs like Gr8 and I’m a Bitch.
Perhaps the highlight of the gig was fan-favourite My Best Friend. The vocal is given new life live. Hart’s instantly recognisable, raw guitar line which drives the tune is amplified by the atmosphere. Revell feeds off not only the nodding audience but primarily her bandmates who she’s been performing with for the best part of two years now and has formed a new identity with after her solo venture Peach Hex.
At the end of the set, Revell turns to hug Hart. After the band gather briefly by the side of the stage, they scatter straightaway: Revell hares up to the merch stand (er, suitcase), Hart embraces a friend in the crowd, MacKinnon goes to the opposite side of the makeshift stage to safely put away her new axe (I avoid eye contact, I don’t know whether she’d rather see people smiling or snarling), Wren immediately starts packing down her kit. It’s been said in the past that Peach Club are a band of distinct individuals who come together to form an unbreakably close force led by Revell and this is true no more clearly than in their pre and post-gig routines.
Who are Peach Club? The answer is that there’s no point making flattering comparisons because they wouldn’t be bothered if you got them right and wouldn’t care if you got them wrong. They’re just Peach Club. That’s all anyone needs to know.
It was a really strange experience seeing these women performing the songs I’ve listened to (and mimed to) on my own for so long. I see bands all the time, so I ended up trying to figure out what was different here. I think it’s this: I normally like artists who talk directly to me, have had similar experiences to me, where I feel I belong in the audience – Shirley Lee’s tales of heartbreak and frustration, Paul Weller’s late night journeys on public transport, for example.
Being a white male who loves listening to his white males, Peach Club aren’t quite in this category – maybe I’m privileged to be able to say that. But on the evidence of tonight, their message seems pretty transcendental to me. Correct me if I’m wrong, while it’d be ridiculous to see it as anything but their primary focus, (associate) membership of Peach Club isn’t just about gender – it’s about attitudes, it’s about age, it’s about fighting conservative ideas and the regressive application of tradition. Surely anyone can get behind that?
A feminist band with a part of their message that everyone can take – perhaps that means Peach Club are getting closer to reaching the mainstream. That’s something that might make them shudder, but not nearly as much as it will the old order.