February 14, 2012
Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 7LJ
Any music fan knows a band should never be judged by their lead singer, but when Frank Carter announced his departure from hardcore band Gallows in 2011 we knew they’d never be the same. Arguably the best punk band to come out of the UK since the birth of punk in the ’70s, so much of their genius was in Franks lyrics and his delivery; and over the years I’ve seen him crawl every inch of the tiny venues in which I’d been blessed to see them play. Walking upside down on the ceiling, stage-diving off speaker stacks, he was a tattooed, snarling ball of energy. So, although it was no shock when Frank quit the band, the focus was less on who would replace him, but what band Frank would next put his snarl to.
The answer was his own band, Pure Love, who have been shrouded in secrecy since the announcement was made late last year. Their first gig, played at the legendary Bush Hall on Valentine’s Day this year, saw them sell out the venue before releasing a single note of music – apart from the 1m 40 sec post rock intro to their upcoming album – so the gig served as a “blind date” for everyone involved.
It was a surreal experience, people queuing around the block and buying merchandise of a band they’d never heard and, more’s the point, might not like. Most of us were hoping for hardcore – not a Gallows mark II, but at least a progression of the violent, frenetic sound that made Frank his name… When after 3 hours they finally graced the stage, there was a visible shock that slowly spread from the front row to the back, from where the pit would normally be at a Gallows gig, to the double doors into the bar. There wasn’t a whiff of hardcore in sight – what’s more, there were hand claps. And melodies. These were well crafted songs, bordering on being pop songs, and Frank was singing. “Fucking learned how to sing, didn’t I?” he grinned half way through the gig. And he’s right; he has. Gone is the adolescent howler of Gallows, and in its place stands a mature rock vocalist, singing about the sick side of love. Indeed, the only thing punk about Pure Love is Frank Carter himself. In other hands, the mixture of grunge with rock ‘n’ roll on display here could come across as tame, but Frank somehow makes this collection of pop-tinged rock songs seem raw and brutal. Always the perfect front man, Frank threw himself around the stage, spat in his own face, jumped into the crowd to sing an intimate ballad (yes, a whole ballad!) and crowd surfed, complaining afterwards “I’m too old for this shit”, as he tucked his shirt back in. What’s more, he seems genuinely happy. Newly engaged, and dedicating a song to his fiancée in the balcony, Frank seemed on top of the world. Signalling the crowd to “have some fun”, a couple of small pits started, a kind of euphoric moshing I’d seen at so many skinhead punks gigs that I frequented when I first moved to London. The security didn’t seem to know what to make of it, but I was glad to see all these hardcore kids who were so used to the violence and aggression of the scene having fun.
I can tell you very little about the songs, other than that the ballad is called ‘Anthem’, and the opening song has been tagged on YouTube as ‘She’. The music was straight up pop ‘n’ roll. An authentic mix of the vintage, the current and the commercial, the lyrics are honest, the vocals are raw and the music is rocking. Frank promised us the album will be out as soon as it’s recorded, so I’m sure we will be hearing something official soon. All I can say is, it’s good. Really good. And Frank Carter is a very clever man – he left the band that made him a name at the height of their fame, only to start a project that is far more commercial and will make him bigger than Gallows could ever be. By the end of the year, everyone will know the name Frank Carter, and it’s about time.