Monday, 14 September 2015

Gig review: Random Hand, Think Tank Newcastle, 10/09/15

Random Hand, the final tour
Think Tank, Newcastle, 10/09/15

Some years back I wandered into Trillians on one of those Friday nights where they put bands on that you'd never heard of and didn't charge an entry fee. Furthermore, it wasn't a tribute band or some bullshit glam rock copyists. Four young men from Yorkshire took to the stage and played a short but memorable set, winning over several new fans in the process, myself included. Since then I've seen Random Hand more times than I can remember, probably more times than any other band (including my beloved Therapy?) and have never, ever been disappointed by them. Often playing free shows, presumably meaning they didn't get paid much if anything, Random Hand never phoned it in, never seemed tired or jaded and never gave less than 100%. And that, my friends, is something to be admired.

Three albums later (with a crowd-funded fourth on the way), they have sadly decided to call it a day (for a while at least) and were hitting the road for one last time. The wife, also a fan, was coming along for the craic and the vodka. Mostly the vodka. This was going to be a bittersweet night, but was nailed on to be a cracking gig, too.

I've mentioned in previous reviews that I'm not really a 'punk' fan per se. Random Hand are kind of a ska band, trombone and all, but one which peppers their songs with big bouncy riffs, the occasional rap, infectious righteous anger, and a strong social conscience in their lyrics (Rage Against The Skachine, anyone? Skastem Of A Down, anyone? Ok, I'll stop). It'll be sad to know they're not around anymore, screaming in the face of racism and narrow-mindedness and being really good fun while doing it.

There was a nice atmosphere when we arrived at Think Tank, a lot of good will and positivity about the show, as well there should be. One of Newcastle's newer venues, I'd never been here before but it has a good vibe; managed by Steve from Trillians, it's well looked after with good staff, and the walls are a barrage of pop culture images.

We're there for a matter of minutes before opening band In Evil Hour hit the stage. Not being a massive punk fan, I'm a little stuck for comparisons (a touch of Bad Religion or Misfits at times, perhaps) but was really quite taken with them. Strong songs and big choruses, topped off by singer Alice's fine voice. One of those rough but melodic voices which sounded kind of effortless throughout, as if she easily had a few more gears to go up into. Intense but smiling throughout, she had abundant stage presence and charisma to go with the vocals. The band were good and full of energy but with a singer performing like that, the sky's the limit for them.

Random Hand arrive to a warm welcome, the kind you'd give a friend rather than a band. A couple a line up changes since I first saw them, plus several years of honing their skills on the road, this is the tightest and best-sounding Random Hand I've heard. Now armed with a more than respectable back catalogue, which allows them to toss out great tunes like 'Tales Of Intervention', 'I, Human', 'Roots In The Crowd', 'For Roni' and 'Bones' without even touching their brilliant first album, Change Of Plan. The audience lap it up, with a good portion of the crowd indulging in a good natured mosh and smiles all round elsewhere.

When they do play older stuff, it's with the kind of enthusiasm that makes you forget that they've played the songs literally hundreds of times in only a few years. 'Anthropology', 'Mr Bib Wakes Up' and their signature tune 'Play Some Ska' are thrown out, mixed with a new song which sparks a circle pit which fizzles out before the first chorus. Bloody amateurs... One of the things which makes Random Hand such an infectious live band is singer Robin Leitch's stage banter, which is more often then not hilarious. Maybe it's a Yorkshire thing but the only other singer to have made me laugh so much is Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost (no, really). Leitch's comedy gems tonight included a confession that he was 'touching cloth' throughout the show, an argument with a poster featuring Chunk from The Goonies, and an elaborate high-five ritual with an inebriated fan. It's this kind of good natured playfulness, easy charisma and humility that make Random Hand a band you want to see more of.

Leitch's final slice of stand-up revolves around a debate over whether the band should bugger off and come back for an encore. They're not really that kind of band, but surely nobody would begrudge them one last hurrah. Remaining resolutely fun to the end, they decide instead to face the back of the stage for a few seconds while we cheer them back 'on'. A swift one-two of an encore is played, featuring a rendition of 'Scum Triumphant' which lives up of half of its name, and then it's over. They leave, we all cheer and file out, knowing that this was the end of something special.

If I have a gripe, it's that I wanted to hear more from Change Of Plan but I can't really begrudge them playing the songs they're most proud of on their last tour; the set was great and I really hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. Planning this review in my head, I decided I was going to frame it with a sloppy device about the injustice that bands like Mumford And Sons and Coldplay, who seem to have decided against being any fun at all, sell millions of records and bands like this are largely ignored. I jettisoned the device in favour of some brief reminiscing about the great nights I've spent in the company of this band and I'm pleased I did; they deserve it. Cheers lads. All the best!