Reviews

Bar Stool Preachers kick off their tour with a debut UK performance from UltraBomb!

Bands and fans lit up the Camden night as the music and cameraderie sparked and blazed!

It’s not every day a gig you’ve been looking forward to for ages comes along – especially one where a distinguished support band are making their London debut! A frosty Friday on the first day of December saw the launch of Bar Stool Preachers‘ second UK tour this year at Camden’s Underworld, supported by Punk supergroup UltraBomb, and good friends The Zipheads.

All three bands were promoting recent releases; Bar Stool Preachers album ‘Above The Static‘ (2023), UltraBomb’s ‘Time To Burn‘ (2022) and The Zipheads new single ‘Everybody Knows‘ from their third album, due for release next year. UltraBomb had understandably delayed their planned 2022 UK tour following the news of bassist Greg Norton‘s cancer diagnosis, but he’s now fit and well again and was excited to be over here at last!

Ray Waters - The Zipheads
Ray Waters - The Zipheads © Ruth Rae

Rockabilly Punks The Zipheads are fronted by the talented and hard-working Ray Waters, who tonight was doing double duty, as he also plays guitar with Bar Stool Preachers! Along with Dick Dynamite on double bass and Will Bennet on Drums, the trio rapidly lit the flame with their catchy, melodic tunes.

On the two previous occasions I’ve seen the band, the double bass sufered a broken string – this time Dick managed to keep his strings intact, which he later told me was down to padding with leather to reduce the shock from the pounding they get! Ray’s guitar receives equal punishment, as his blistering, frantic solos attest, and Will plays some pretty complex ryhthms with equal gusto on the drum kit.

Dick Dynamo - The Zipheads
Dick Dynamite - The Zipheads © Ruth Rae
Will Bennet - The Zipheads © Ruth Rae

Next on stage were the eagerly-awaited UltraBomb, formed by Greg Norton on bass and vocals (Hüsker Dü), Finny McConnell on guitar and vocals (The Mahones) and Jamie Oliver on drums and vocals (ex-U.K. Subs, 4ft Fingers). As expected, this trio unleashed a very powerful set, with a spirited mix of their own songs and cover versions.

Stickman vs Hangman‘, ‘Fear Your Gods‘, ‘Like the Wind‘ and ‘Star‘ were played from their album, the last of these was written about Greg’s daughter Coco. We also heard their covers of ‘Sonic Reducer‘ (Dead Boys) and Hüsker Dü’s ‘New Day Rising‘, ‘It’s Not Funny Anymore‘ and ‘Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely‘ – wow!

Greg Norton - UltraBomb
Greg Norton - UltraBomb © Ruth Rae

A very healthy looking Greg repeatedly jumped high and unleashed the occasional karate kick as he bounced around the stage, with considerably more energy than most 64 year olds! Finny matched him, barely standing still, dropping to his knees as he played or contorting his body around his guitar. Mid set he paid tribute to his old friend Shane McGowan, leading us all in a sing-along to the first verse of The PoguesDirty Old Town‘.

It probably doesn’t get more Punk than having your set list scribbled on a piece of cardboard torn off a box.. yet UltraBomb are thinking ahead, with Finny announcing the news that they are using this visit to record their next album in London – right now! The guys are also playing three solo shows in Europe in between their tour dates with the Preachers – catch them here:
11.12 – DE-Berlin – QUASIMODO
12.12 – DE-Cologne – HELIOS37
13.12 – NL-DN Haarlem – PATRONAAT

Finny McConnell - UltraBomb
Finny McConnell - UltraBomb © Ruth Rae
Jamie Oliver - UltraBomb
Jamie Oliver - UltraBomb © Ruth Rae

The excitement in the room reached fever pitch as the venue packed tightly for the headliners. The lights dimmed, a solitary hand reached around the curtain to tap the keyboard, then the sound of ‘Call Me on the Way Home‘ on piano with slow vocals filled the space..

After a couple of verses and a chorus, the band emerged and launched into the full electric vesion! Dressed in assorted black and white clothing, they have now adopted an interconnected yin-yang image. Front man T.J. McFaull enthusiastically greeted the audience, asking who’d seen the band previously and who hadn’t – to the new fans he declared “Welcome to the family”!

T.J. McFaull - Bar Stool Preachers
T.J. McFaull - Bar Stool Preachers © Ruth Rae

Another band whose members are filled with energy, the Preachers almost seemed to occupy more space than solely the small stage. Older songs intermingled with new, and we were all delighted to hear ‘Never Gonna Happen‘ from the latest album played live for the first time! Introducing the band’s original hit ‘One Fool Down‘, Tom Gibbs on guitar recalled it had been released in 2014.. “They’ll stop calling us a new band if we’re not careful!” quipped T.J.

Another debut live outing came for ‘Two Dog Night‘, also from ‘Above The Static‘, which I was over the moon to hear! I adore the guitar solo in the song, and chatting with lead guitarist Karl Smith later, he told me that originally the song hadn’t included one. When the others asked him to do something about this, he deliberately came up with the most over-the-top rock solo he could! After playing it through, the rest of the band were amazed at how great it was, and added it to the recording instantly.

The crowd became wilder, many of us singing along to every word. T.J. occasionally held his microphone to one of our mouths, because at a Bar Stool Preachers gig, the audience are as much part of the show as the band. Just before ‘Choose My Friends‘, T.J. asked for a brave volunteer to come up on stage to sing with him. Two fans accepted the challenge and were given their own mic – and they did an excellent job – well done ladies!

Crowd pleasers ‘Doorstep‘ and ‘Flatlined‘ were followed by last song of the set ‘8.6 Days (All the Broken Hearts)‘ as the crowd surged forward. It was nearly ‘All the broken bodies’ as the Underworld stage has no barrier, so those of us against it got bruised hips and legs from being shoved into its sharp edge. Next time I’ll wear padding!

Alex Hay - Bar Stool Preachers
Alex Hay - Bar Stool Preachers © Ruth Rae
Karl Smith - Bar Stool Preachers © Ruth Rae
Bungle & Ray - Bar Stool Preachers © Ruth Rae
Fans on stage - Bar Stool Preachers
Fans join in - Bar Stool Preachers © Ruth Rae
T.J, Gibbs & Bungle - Bar Stool Preachers
T.J, Gibbs & Bungle - Bar Stool Preachers © Ruth Rae

A very short break, then T.J. on vocals and Alex Hay on keyboards returned to play the emotional yet beautiful ‘Lighthouse Keeper‘. T.J.’s parents were watching, and you could tell how proud they are of him. (T.J.’s dad is Cock Sparrer‘s frontman Colin McFaull, for those who don’t know). Lockdown song ‘When This World Ends‘ was followed by the traditional set closer ‘Bar Stool Preacher‘.

Karl was given the job of teaching the crowd to sing the “woah”s for the first time – he also took the opportunity to take a stage dive! Landing sucessfully upon a sea of arms, he was held up then returned to the edge to find Finny playing his guitar for him, much to everyone’s amusement! Afterwards the bands were available to chat, sign items and pose for selfies while merch was sold. I took the opportunity to buy a lovely long sleeved ‘Above The Static‘ T-shirt from the ever-amiable bass player Bungle Preacher. He was very satisfied with the roaring trade and all the praise for a totally fabulous show!

Bar Stool Preachers - Camden Dec 2023
Bar Stool Preachers - Camden Underworld Dec 2023 - photo by Mik Shawyer

Starting again on Thursday, the tour continues across the country – see the poster below – so there’s a good chance that Bar Stool Preachers and UltraBomb are playing in a town near you. Don’t miss out – get along if you can for one of the best nights of music and fun you’ll have this year!

BSP tour Dec 2023

Bar Stool Preachers remaining tour dates – please note that the Oxford show will be at the O2 Academy 2, not The Bullingdon!

Main Photo Credit: RUTH RAE

  1. Call Me on the Way Home
  2. Grazie Governo
  3. All Turned Blue
  4. Don’t Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out
  5. Never Gonna Happen (Live debut)
  6. One Fool Down
  7. Two Dog Night (Live debut)
  8. State of Emergency
  9. Don’t Die Today
  10. Love the Love
  11. Choose My Friends
  12. Doorstep
  13. Flatlined
  14. 8.6 Days (All the Broken Hearts)

Encore:

  1. Lighthouse Keeper
  2. When This World Ends
  3. Bar Stool Preacher
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