Here’s a funny story about The Ramones (actually it’s mainly about me).
Up until about 10 years ago I’d never heard of The Ramones. Sure, I knew some of their songs (Baby I Love You, Blitzkreig Bop – which I actually thought was called “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” until last night) but I didn’t know who sang them. I certainly didn’t know they were an iconic group with a cult following. So much so, that when Ramones t-shirts started appearing in High Street fashion stores like Primark about 12 years ago, I actually thought they were a new band…
Fast forward to the present day, and years of musical education and appreciation mean I know a lot more now than I did back then. I know, for example, that there are no surviving members of the original group. I know that Richie was the drummer from 1983 and also wrote some of the songs. And I also know, thanks to the power of Youtube, that his solo album is an absolute corker.
Which is why I found myself at new-ish Birmingham venue The Oobleck at the Custard Factory in Digbeth last night. The Oobleck and Alfie Birds are sister venues – the former being the gig space and the latter being the bar/food area (although they do also have bands playing upstairs sometimes).
Together they used to be the Medicine Bar, legendary for dance music all nighters and world famous DJs, but that incarnation came to an end around 10 years ago. Sometimes, they used to drain the pool on big event nights. I thought the floating lilies were a nice touch.
The Oobleck/Alfie Birds has just celebrated it’s first birthday, but this is the first time I’ve been to the gig space.
Starting with a (very) brief mention of the second support band – Venrez. They’re just alright. Bit of an Alice in Chains vibe going on musically, but a poor man’s version. I’ve actually seen them supporting other bands before, about 18 months ago, and the best I can say about them is that they sounded better this time around. But the singer has no charisma or stage presence, and is also a pretty unpleasant dude – on the wrong side of arrogant and cocky when he really has no cause to be.
Having already proven myself to have no musical qualifications to even justify talking about anything Ramone-ish, here goes.
Wow (profound, I know). Richie loped onto the stage with menace; he’s a hulk of a man in the height department with the shoulder width of two men.
Splitting his time between vocals and drums he never missed a note or a beat – snarling and growling out the songs with real punk passion. He has a great voice, wasted purely as a drummer, so it was great to see him front of stage, engaging with the crowd, telling everyone to come forward to the barrier and reaching out to them. His drumming, too, was amazing (as you’d expect) – really passionate and loud and noisy and energetic. Because the focus was on him, the kit was further towards the front of the stage than is usual at a gig, which gave a great opportunity to properly watch his performance. His energy never faltered from beginning to end.
Lead guitarist Alex Kane, who I’m told is something of a legend who has worked with a multitude of the greats including Slash and Alice Cooper, was really fun to watch.
Jumping about like a lunatic, crazy blond and black hair flying, he thrashed his guitar like he was trying to pull the strings off – darting around the stage, playing up to the crowd, posing for great camera shots and basically loving every minute. His lust for the performance really came through and he looked like he was having an amazing time, as well as banging out riffs like it was the last gig of his life.
Clare Misstake – bassist and all round cool mo’fo’ – skinny as a rake, shaved side of head and a glow in the dark quiff at the front of her ponytail, wow was she into it or what? Counting in at the start of each song, her vocals were strong and fearsome and her dexterity with the bass was amazing. Such punk attitude and delivery, she was great to watch.
Finally, Ben Reagan on rhythm guitar and drums (I had to Google him – he was at the other side of the stage and much less visible, both in terms of distance and presence, than the rest of the band) but, needless to say, when Richie was doing vocals only, Ben’s drumming was superb, the passion and pace never faltered.
It’s fair to say I enjoyed the gig massively – I don’t have the fancy words and eloquent review patter to articulate just how good the music was. A combination of Ramones songs and Richie’s own stuff, it was superb from beginning to end. I didn’t stand still for the whole time and was left wanting more (the only criticism is that the set felt too short and there was no encore, but that’s just me being greedy!)
It may only be May, but it’s already a contender for gig of the year.
Here’s a taster from his current album.
How I wish I was seeing more dates (or going to Camden Rocks this weekend, where Richie, Ginger Wildheart and so many others are playing).
Check out more about Richie on his website http://www.richieramone.com/
Quick word about the Oobleck – the venue space has that urban gritty feel – nothing shiny or fancy about it – which I quite like in a gig venue, and the toilets are unisex (just FYI).
The sound was very good; no complaints there, but the lighting was AWFUL (a photographer friend of mine who was getting some shots said the same) and what was with all the smoke? Way too much, obscured the view of the stage (you can get a feel for it by the clarity of my photos and I was right at the front!), and made the place smell like a 90s nightclub. Sort it out!
(On the plus side the drinks prices are good – £3.50 for a pint, £3.50 for a vodka and mixer).
Oh, and it has made me realise that I definitely want to go and try some food at Alfie Birds next door – menu looked fab! Review to follow as and when!