SPILT MILK SOCIETY
Reaching the highly ornate ceiling of St Barnabas’ Church and reverberating off its stone walls, a shrieking siren marks the beginning of an experimental track from SPILT MILK SOCIETY, tonight’s headliners. It’s a jolting affair marked by grinding guitars and almost cult-like chanted vocals from lead singer Harry Handford, echoed by the other members of the band. The track catapults towards its end with the sound of a steam train. It is vastly different from the shimmering indie rock songs that the Birmingham five-piece, who are now based in Liverpool, have put out before.
But since their last release in 2019, the group have used the various lockdowns to work on new material, and they’re desperate to get it heard before their new album is released this year.
The event is held by Bed and Breakfast, local promoters who pride themselves on organising “good gigs in pretty places.” So it’s not surprising that Penny Lane’s St Barnabas’ – which recently underwent refurbishment – was chosen as the venue. The altar has been decked out with amps, a drum set and keyboards, and lilac-tinged spotlights shine down from the heavens. We’re at a different kind of service tonight.
Support comes from Warrington’s SEAGOTH who brings her brand of psychedelic bedroom pop to Penny Lane. Wielding a turquoise guitar and occasionally ruffling her lime green mullet, she performs a string of her singles interspersed by a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy. She is accompanied by a bassist, and it’s a joy to see the pair jam together and riff off each other.
Halfway through the set, she becomes more confident, encouraging the audience to provide some percussive claps to one tune. I swiftly join in as, seated and masked, the audience begin to remember what it means to experience live music collectively. One of the evening’s more timely tracks, Seagoth’s Ballad For the End of the World is a standout, as she dares to declare “Fuck all the fascists.” It’s clear that she’s relishing the opportunity to showcase some of her hits to a new audience, and she certainly will have picked up more than a few new fans tonight, possibly even the man upstairs himself.
When Spilt Milk Society take to the stage, the audience is notably larger. Handford’s vocals are reminiscent of fellow indie acts Rex Orange County and Declan McKenna. He croons and cradles his white Telecaster against the backdrop of an illuminated stained-glass window.
Sporting a Nas t-shirt, drummer Bobby Ford is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s hard to believe the band has spent this long away from live performance. His drumming recalls a marching band on one track, demonstrating the band’s eclecticism. Meanwhile, Steven Holmes and Jordi James, the latter of whom could easily pass for an extra in Almost Famous, alternate between bass and keyboard, showcasing both their varied musical talents and an itch to try something new in this unique space. Their cover of Hope Sandoval and Kurt Vile’s Let Me Get There fits right in with the dream-pop and indie rock offerings on tonight’s setlist.
As the night draws to a close and the colours of the stained-glass windows fade to black, it is evident that both the audience and tonight’s acts delight in the opportunity to be back at a gig. And the applause echoes endlessly off those high ceilings.