Brown Brogues


The traditional start to Christmas for many Mancunians these days is the first trip to the Christmas markets, sampling undercooked sausages and over-priced Gluewein.  But for the more discerning reveler the real spirit of Christmas is to be found at The Castle Hotel, where the Brown Brogues’ annual “Bro  Ho Ho”  brings together presents, drink, music and mayhem for all.    The Castle is bedecked with decorations, and there is a general buzz as an eclectic crowd gathers, ranging from the usual “cool” bearded hipsters, groups for whom drink is most clearly on the agenda, and a 6 Foot plus Santa with no concept of personal space.  Notably, there is no merchandise table:  As is the way with Brown Brogues, tonight is for the fun of it.

Openers Dirty Heels offer up a blistering start to the evening.  Hailing from Manchester, Ben and Callum throw down a startling mix, with echoes of classic Rock and Roll yet still managing to holler-up a totally full-on, gritty garage sound.  There’s an interesting  dynamic at play in the band and they seem to be playing for each other and totally absorbed, and it’s credit to the band that they can both create such a big, dirty sound, yet still engage with a first time listener.  It’s refreshing to find a “garage” band who don’t rely just on having that classic sound, but care as much about writing a good song.  It’s telling in their choice of Christmas song tonight – Christmas (Baby, please come home), written in 1963 by Phil Spector. (A post set chat illuminates further, throwing up references to Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, MC5 and Thin Lizzy, as well as a plethora of garage bands I’ve never heard of but will seek out).    They’re still at early days as a set-up, but their musical honesty and energy will serve them well.


I realise as they take the stage that I have seen Abjects play last year, supporting La Luz at the Brixton Windmill.  A three piece of Noemi on vocals and guitar, Yuki on bass and Alice on drums, my impression then was they were very similar to La Luz as being a simplistic take on garage/surf bands.  Tonight I realise there is something a little darker going on – Abjects have taken the west-coast 60’s ideal and meshed this with a grittier pop-punk ethic (I hear elements of the clash and banshees) and compressed this into some 2 minute mini-epics. Again it’s the juxtaposition of different elements that’s engaging:  They’re classic 60’s but still sound relevant, have presence and confidence but are just raw enough around the edges to show you they have more to bring, but they’re effortlessly cool.  Their Christmas song ‘Ho Ho Ho (I wanna get you in the snow)’ is also one of the darker, more threatening love songs you’ll hear this year. And they create a neat counterpoint to the chaos to come….

There is a wayward genius to Brown Brogues, and I’m always excited to see them play.  I’ve never understood the easy comparisons to White Stripes, or the Cramps:  The Brogues travel a different road, creating a lo-fi but upbeat racket, a high-energy melee that is multi-layered and effect laden but avoids the muggy drag of less talented effects-driven bands by demanding a dancing return from their acolytes.   And in addition Ben and Mark can appear to be – simultaneously – the most pissed off and happiest of people, and you have to love them for that.

Coming on stage, there is a celebratory sharing of drink with the crowd, and the music kicks in:  At times the sound quality is off, but the energy and drive is always there, and the reality is that by this point in the evening no-one cares as the pure fun and spirit of the night sweeps us along.  Joined onstage for a number of songs by various members of Pins, in true Brown Brogues fashion the lyrics for the Christmas “Sing-a-long” are twisted, seeming to focus predominantly on abduction (‘Mrs claus is being held to ransom’) and the inherently sinister nature of Santa’s annual visit (Sample lyric:  “You better watch out, You better beware, He’s climbing your stairs, He’s combing your hair” – Santa’s Cummin’).   High point is probably the Pins  ‘Kiss Me Quickly (It’s Christmas)’ before the whole set degenerates into spontaneous shirt throwing, giant paper snowballs being thrown into the crowd, and a mass-stage invasion.  A night to remember, and many thanks to Brown Brogues for keeping alive the real spirit of Christmas.

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