A Band Called Malice
Norwich Arts Centre
Anyone in any doubt about just how much The Jam mean to people needs only go and see one of their many tribute bands. And on the evidence of last night’s performance, the recently formed, Midlands-based A Band Called Malice are one of the best.
Playing to a very healthy crowd packed into Norwich Arts Centre as part of a tour which has seen them sell out the Half Moon Putney among other famous venues, there was more fine tailoring and parkas in the small room than I’d seen for a long time.
The band played two sets either side of a half-hour interval, with Martin of the nearby Circular Sound record shop spinning a variety of mod, ska and reggae before and after the show.
First impressions were very good. Sitting on the stage were some authentic-looking Weller guitars, the red Rickenbacker complete with “I am nobody” etching and the black XITS model in front of the red electric acoustic. The drum kit looked pretty real although not quite Rick-sized and the famous black bass had been customised with a modern-day red Bruce pickboard.
Emerging in matching white shirts, black ties and jackets à la the In The City cover (the drummer even sported a Rick-ish pair of glasses) the band got straight down to work. Former Jam’d frontman Andy Coultas, in true Weller style, kept chat to a minimum as the band powered through a selection of early album tracks interspersed with a few hits.
Kicking off with an authentic The Modern World followed by In the City, the energy and passion which the band pride themselves on was apparent with a number of leaps and wanders around the Arts Centre’s small stage, an intensity that would be maintained all night.
An urgent rendition of The Jam’s cover of Larry Williams’ Slow Down was an early highlight while Start! got the audience in full voice again, as did a jaunty Billy Hunt and An A-Bomb in Wardour Street with some superb percussion from drummer Warren Mee. David Watts, vocally led by bassist Chris Malin (plus ten authenticity points here!) arguably stole the first segment judging by audience reaction.
Having got through far more songs than 35 minutes would have allowed almost any other band, Coultas signalled a halt to proceedings to get the beers in and no doubt allow a much-needed toilet break for some…
Emerging again, the sublime second half saw hit after hit to delight the crowd. Pretty Green and Saturday’s Kids are two fan favourites done very well by the band. Down in the Tube Station at Midnight provided the biggest singalong of the night, introduced superbly without the need for a sample.
A band with a name like this can’t really afford to mess up A Town Called Malice and thankfully they didn’t, from the distinctive bass line from experienced session musician and songwriter Malin to Coultas’ raw double-shift on guitar to expertly cover for the lack of an organ.
Sadly, despite some delicious strings towards the end, Coultas and Malin could not really make up the deficit on a disappointing Beat Surrender, which badly needed some keys. This was one very rare instance where F*** T** J** have previously provided a better end product through the ‘fourth’ members Tom van Heel and then Andy Fairclough. Mee’s second vocals also seemed somewhat drowned out (a symptom of his position as drummer rather than any lack of vocal prowess).
The question facing Coultas, however, is whether a sample here or extra member might actually complicate the setup and detract from the highly-prized authenticity and raw simplicity he is so keen to maintain. Beat Surrender is such a favourite that you can’t really not play it, either.
Musically, the pudding might have been slightly over-egged too on That’s Entertainment with perhaps one singalong chorus too many. I’d have liked to hear slightly more of the iconic bass line too. However, you can’t knock the smiles it brought to faces in the audience or the excellent drumming to reintroduce the chorus.
Thick as Thieves was much more like it. Coultas nailed the authentic-sounding guitar effect here, his most impressive work in a show that included a number of superb solos. Mee’s backing vocals also worked a treat this time.
A virtuoso extended Precious was, for me, the highlight of the evening. The boys were on fire for the rhythmic rendition which starred a ridiculously good Malin bass solo.
Not finished here, a brace of two of The Jam’s foremost fan favourites, if not the band’s best known tunes more widely came: B-Side The Butterfly Collector (the best rendition of this song I’ve heard live thanks to some excellent vocals and drums) and early single When You’re Young (which was fantastic once it got going!). These led into closing number, the famous Going Underground, a rollocking way to conclude the main set.
Coultas’ quality and experience (over a decade and counting in the Jam shoes now) really told as he returned solo to deliver a stirring English Rose with just his electric guitar for company. Would Weller, at first embarrassed at the tune, have done this on stage? Probably not, but this perfectly judged performance left us incredibly thankful that Coultas decided to apply just a touch of artistic license to the role. The diversity of his vocals, too, was highlighted here – he was equally comfortable performing this rare beautiful ballad as he was snarling This Is the Modern World.
The whole band re-joined for the brace of tunes which closed The Jam’s definitive LP Setting Sons, a storming Heatwave and The Eton Rifles, which sent the fans home happy having heard the set of choice album tracks, Jam-style covers, all the major hits and favourites among Jam fans.
Of course, unless Bruce Springsteen and the Stanley Road Band decided on a change of career, no-one’s going to hear absolutely everything they want from a band with as potent a back catalogue as The Jam did: I’d have loved a few more of the Foxton-penned tunes plus Art School, Private Hell, The Bitterest Pill, Set the House Ablaze, Takin’ My Love… the list could go on ad infinitum.
But A Band Called Malice really captured the raw essence of The Jam by delivering the best set they could have done in a reasonable period of time. They were truly authentic with the three-piece format, provided a genuinely fun evening out and ultimately restored my faith in Jam tributes. Well done gents.