Goa Express and the Bug Club live at Manchester Gorilla

I’ve seen The Goa Express a few times over the past 4 years, but catching them supporting the mighty Shame in Leeds reminded me just how much I needed to see a bit more of their youthful vibe and vigour, and so last minute I also nabbed a ticket for their Christmas Show at Manchester Gorilla.

First up on the bill was The Bug Club, a creative 3 piece from Monmouthshire (yey, my home county). If you like the musical style of the raw early R n b/ garage/ punk likes of Jonathan Richmond, Syd Barrett, Dr Feelgood and the Velvet Underground then you will be very comfortable in the company of The Bug Club. I think the term “deceptively simple” applies here.

The Bug Club music has a simple intense sound, really a pounding rhythm and beat and an almost apologetic, sardonic vocal on top from Sam Willmett (guitar) and Tilly Harris (bass). The male and female vocal often intertwine with Sam taking on most on verse, and Tilly often joining in for chorus. Dan Matthew completes the trio on drums and he also on this night ran the merch store, with a burning trade in flexi- disks with hand drawn sleeves, and chatting with rather drunk elderly punters (OK that would be me).

Those drawn record sleeves reflect that garage, homespun feel to The Bug Club; I don’t see them spending months in the studio honing their recordings, the real pleasure in their most recent album Pure Particles is that sense of realism and every day. There’s also some deliciously wry sardonic commentary in the music as tracks like “If my mum thinks I’m happy then I’m happy” confirm. I admire the genius of the lyric “how many times can I say fuk in a love song and really mean it” (the answer is nine apparently).

Bug Club are a band who want to give everyone a good time, and they achieved that ambition in spades.

Coming from South Wales means that the band don’t stray up north too often (and to be fair, why would you?), but perhaps with well received gigs such as this one (together with their recent gig in Liverpool), might encourage them to take the plod up the M6 a little more regularly.     

I’m a bit of a rubbish music interviewer and I don’t do it too often, but one thing I do regret is not taking up a loose arrangement for a chat I had made with The Goa Express a few years back at the Golden Lion in the band’s original neck of the woods, Todmorden. The lads are far too big for my little minnow website these days, and their recent gigs with the Magic Gang and Shame have given these men no end of positive vibes and fresh exposure. That said, I can at least have as a claim to fame that I sold the band a couple of spare tickets back for their own gig at Manchester Yes earlier this year (Joey’s dad had missed out).

My review of The Goa Express for Halfway 2 Nowhere from September 2019 did share my thought the band were one of a few I’d seen that year that could go huge if that was what they wanted. I’m thinking the band are starting to move towards that ambition. It feels perhaps like they needed a bit of time to work through what they wanted, while they honed their skills. Their joyous 2021 single Second Time is on many end of year lists, including mine.

Just as it was for the Shame gig I saw them at, The Goa Express made a lot of new friends here. The Bug Club were a more than good compliment to The Goa Express as they are both about pure and raw; in the case of The Goa Express raw R n B but brought up to date from 1962 Rolling Stones era with a fresh energy.

The track Overpass quite literally had the audience in a frenzy with its delicious bluesy use of mouth harmonica. I kind of felt I now know what the folk who saw early Dylan saw; a lyric about everyday life, and perhaps the silliness of life, and that raw pure energy.

That bluesy rootsiness continues with the likes of earlier single Be My Friend, where the music of the Goa Express bangs through with the pounding insistence of a bailiff at the door. This is a band who will not give up until you sweat up a dance. When you add in the keys of Joe Clarke, it helps to complete that mad swingy 60’s feel to the sound.

This was a hot, sweaty (not in a covid way) night which are already sticking in the memory banks, and which remind me why I will be in my dotage doing love live music. Make sure you grab your own Bug Club/Goa Express experience before too long.

Chris R

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