Photography: Gary Lambert / @glamgigpics


Near Normal @ Future Yard 30/10/20

‘The Future Is Birkenhead’ – a bold, seemingly far-fetched statement to make, but one which is soon to be realised. This is what they are striving for at Future Yard: to make Birkenhead the new and accessible catalyst for Wirral bands. Tonight’s livestream fades in with a VT introduction to the venue which explains their hopes to provide a creative hub for upcoming local artists. Succinctly put by local legend Andy McCluskey [of 80s synth poppers OMD], at Future Yard, “if you’re from Wirral, [and] you’re weird, you’re on”.

“Hello, Internet”, Ryan Murphy casually welcomes us from behind our screens and into the intimate, blue-lit venue. The band have barely caught their breath before kicking off with Black Spring – an even more vibrant rendition than that on their latest EP, undoubtedly aided by tonight’s addition of velvety tones from Sarah Sands and her sax. Almost immediately the band plunge into the second number of the night. The brief break in playing is slightly awkward, as if they’re all unsure of what to say. As Murphy says, they’re playing to an invisible audience, the vast chasm of the internet, and the connection with us just doesn’t seem to be forming as intensely as any of us are used to. A few seconds of muffled muttering however, and they get straight back into the swing of things.

James Madden begins crooning the smooth indie pop of Content Crush, and I find myself rhythmically swaying along in my seat. The camera zooms, focusing on the frontman and his guitar as he effortlessly performs the song’s bluesy riff. Madden eyes are tightly closed as he sings ‘keep your mind on the feeling’, obviously doing exactly that. While his on stage demeanour is laidback, the connection with his own music is the complete anthesis – the song plays to fruition with total confidence and rock n roll conviction.

The energy summits the second Abi Woods starts clanging on the cow bell to mark the start of Hey, Hey Tiger from the 2018 EP Song for Vonnegut. Her rhythmic stomps hammer the stage from behind her keyboard, Madden and Murphy groove in unison and Alex Quinn forcefully drives the beat from the back of the stage. Just in the span of these three songs the wide variety of influences Seatbelts draw from are made abundantly clear: a vast blend of pop, blues, rock and funk genres. The spunky, spoken wordesque verses of the track are reminiscent of La Dispute, while the almost psychedelic melody is more like some of Sundara Karma’s latest releases.

Seatbelt’s performance this evening captures what the band are all about, showcasing not only their multi-instrumental talent, but their determination to produce new, interesting indie pop sounds. Momentum builds as the night rolls on and they progressively warm to the empty hall, filling the speakers with everything from sweet harmonies to rapid, heavy riffs, and even throwing in a splash of Spanish. The exoticism of the lingo as well as the engrossing performance almost make up for us audience being temporarily house-bound.


This review was written as part of Bido Lito!’s Bylines programme – workshops for culture writers of the future. To find out more about Bylines join our mailing list. Bylines is supported by Arts Council England.

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