[Had a Good Idea On] Monday

China Drum (+ The Fear)
York Fibbers, Monday 2nd December 2013

China Drum are back together and out on the road after a 13-year hiatus, so I went along to Fibbers in York to take a gander (gander… goose… oh never mind). The band, from Ovingham in the North East of England, were originally active throughout the 1990s and released three albums—Goosefair (1996), Self Made Maniac (1998) and Diskin (2000)—before breaking up. For the third album, they changed their name to The Drum, but it was their earlier material that I most remember. Their brand of melodic punk rock should probably have made them much bigger than they were and they were certainly more deserving of success than most of the indie posers who seemed to dominate that decade.

It was hard to know what to expect from the evening. After all, it had been 15 years since my first and only China Drum gig, at London’s LA2. They played a fantastic set that night, though I seem to recall complaining to one of the band members about the quality of the support band, The Llama Farmers. Not that I thought the Llama Farmers were a terrible band, as I ended up buying one of their singles (“Big Wheels”), but their slower-paced indie rock was never going to prepare the crowd for the unrelenting energy of China Drum. Maybe that was the idea. Sadly, the LA2, along with its big brother, The Astoria, has since been demolished as part of the Crossrail project.

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Fast-forward back to 2013. I arrived at the venue a little later than expected, even though the Fuller’s Stout at a nearby pub was worth the trade-off, so I may have missed scheduled openers These Young Sons. I say “may have” as they were listed on posters but not on the Fibbers website, so I’m not sure if they appeared or not. I did however manage to catch the other support band, The Fear. Their style was probably somewhere between punk rock and emo. They had fun up there, even if the crowd was pretty sparse, though I suppose the relatively low turnout was not totally unexpected on a cold Monday night.

I still picture China Drum vocalist Adam Lee as that peroxide blonde, spiky-haired young man from the mid-1990s (think a punkier version of Sickboy from Trainspotting), so I was slightly taken aback by the sight of the middle-aged guy who stepped on to the stage, silver-grey hair, Jim Neidhart goatee, extra timber and all. When the first few bars of “Can’t Stop These Things” were belted out though, the voice was unmistakably his. The years have been somewhat kinder to bassist Dave McQueen, who chipped in with plenty of banter throughout the night and was resplendent in a Michigan Wolverines T-shirt – I wonder what he thought of the decision to go for the two point conversion against Ohio State on Saturday? Dave’s brother, guitarist and original member, Bill McQueen, appeared to be absent from tonight’s proceedings and the band was rounded off by the two new members: guitarist John Steel and drummer Kate Stephenson.

The set continued with a few more songs from Goosefair. It is one of my favourite debut releases by any band and I could still remember the words to most of the songs. In fact, most of that album was plundered during the evening: “Fall Back Into Place”, “Situation”, “Meaning” and “God Bets” to name just a few. Some tracks from second album Self Made Maniac were also bashed out, most notably “60 Seconds”, a creepy slow-burner that explodes into life midway through. Also thrown in for good measure were the likes of the “Wipeout” single and B-side “Baseball in the Dark”. I’m slightly ashamed to say that I don’t know if any tracks from Diskin were played. I never liked that album and can’t remember any of the material from it, though maybe now is the time to revisit and reappraise it. The band at least deserved credit for trying different things with each album, rather than simply chucking out carbon copies of their debut, even if the later stuff wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

In the early days of China Drum, Adam Lee was known for being one of the few singing drummers out there, but now looks just as at home as a true frontman. Overall, they played as a cohesive unit with the new members fitting in well. The band showcased their diversity by combining both versions of “Biscuit Barrel” into errm, one giant Biscuit Barrel, starting off with the acoustic version and then switching seamlessly into the noisier “Biscuit Barrel F.M.R.”, which I think might stand for “Full Metal Racket”. The night finished with two cover versions. Their punked up version of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” was a hidden bonus track on Goosefair and prior to that featured on a Fierce Panda split single alongside The Flying Medallions. Erasure’s “Respect” then brought a night of great musical nostalgia to its conclusion. With rumblings of some new material on the way, there is hopefully still more to come from China Drum.

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