I’d been waiting for this gig for months – I imagine this is how weird people feel about Christmas.
After seeing The Blinders back in August at Fieldview Festival – on a tiny, unassuming stage – I was completely sold, and I barely moved during their set. I was pinned to my position, voluntarily being fed their manifesto of hope, angst and political awakening.
The first time seeing The Blinders will always remain dear to me for many reasons, but when I saw them at The Bullingdon, Oxford, they in no way disappointed. I was in a perpetual state of confliction between dancing and taking to the streets to start a riot.
The Blinders started about five minutes before they came on stage. Eerie white noise and satellite glitches made for an ominous, and perfect, prelude to their set. (I imagine) it’s like that burning state you fall into before you come up on a pill. You’re impatiently waiting for that drop which instils you with a playful excitement. Suddenly you’re catapulted forward, happily terrified of the uncertainty that you’re being engulfed by. The Blinders are on the stage.
On tour with their album ‘Columbia’ they’re not complaining about modern society – they’re initiating change, new ideas and comradery.
The set, – of which the song list practically parallels the album – is an amalgamation of rock ballad (Orbit), cathartic mantras (I Can’t Breathe) and political awakening (Brutus) which has sonically and lyrically been crafted in a very raw and sophisticated manner.
It’s no wonder politicians are making cuts to the arts, because The Blinders have created an antidote, or even a weapon, in a time of crisis to ignite hope and diminish complacency as Tom Haywood’s stage persona, ‘Johnny Dream’, orchestrates the crowd to “Come together, we need each other” (Rat In A Cage) because we’re prisoners surrounded by “a world of walls and cameras and censored flaws” (Orbit), but all is not lost. This is a call to action, – not a white flag of surrender – to “free the child from the minister who restricts his thoughts” (Free the Slave) – wrapped up in their gothic finesse.
For a young band which has a lot of raw edge, they’re also very polished and captivating. As a stage presence they’ve got Johnny dream (vocals, guitar) at the helm with Kiss’s energy, Charlie McGough (bass) embodying Nick Cave’s mystery and swagger, and Matthew Neale creating thunder on the drums – the underlying rumbles of the underground which erupt in organised outbursts.
I remained stood in awe as my brain tingled with detections of references. It’s a subjective point of view, for sure, but I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Iggy Pop (particularly ‘Nightclubbing’ during the intro to ‘Where No Man Comes’) and Patti Smith. As my favourite artist I am never light to make such a comparison, but their poetical storytelling of Orbit really resonated with Smith’s Birdland.
By the end of it all I felt liberated. I also came away with Columbia on vinyl, and CD (for my car rides). I’d say Columbia is one of the most important albums to come out of 2018. Just when I thought there was nothing to pick up my spirits from Britain’s political misery, I was introduced to the brave new world that we’ve been waiting for. The next time The Blinders return to Oxford, I predict it’ll be at the O2 Academy.
Photographs by Alan Wells.