23 Oct 2021

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Mudbelly - Gig Review: Mudbelly @ 12 Bar, Christchurch - 29/05/2021

30 May 2021 // A review by Kev Rowland

In the middle of a red alert weather warning, I trekked from Oxford into Christchurch to attend Mudbelly’s album launch. It has been a while since I last went to a gig down here, but I have been to some real killers in the past (Sepultura, Death Angel and Blindfolded And Led To The Woods at Canterbury University’s The Foundry will long stick in my mind), so was looking forward to this. As I walked into 12 Bar I liked the large list of craft ales on offer, and as I supped the medicinal porter, I had a good look at the set up and was immediately impressed. There is a permanent stage (which could do with being a little higher to be honest), plus lots of different seating arrangements from cubicles to settees facing the stage, as well as raised tables with chairs which is where I perched. The wall closest to me was covered in framed album covers, and anyone who puts Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Bill Broonzy on their wall is always going to find favour with me. I was soon chatting with Mudbelly’s bassist, Marcus Clyne, who explained they had brought in the haze and smoke machines, as well as the lighting rig and had hired a crew to run it. They were determined tonight was going to be an event and had pulled out all the stops, including inviting loads of local muso friends to come and witness what was happening, something which singer Bex Barrett told me later made her feel incredibly nervous when she saw them all there.

But first up tonight was Stomping Nick, Nick Jackman. I am not sure if I have ever seen a one-man band like Nick before, but he sat on a stool and provided electric guitar, harmonica, snare drum, kick drum and cymbal. Note, these were all proper instruments as opposed to stomp boxes or similar so all credit to him for that, and he soon settled into a rough and raw attacking railroad punk blues which had people moving.

The haze machine was in full force, so it really did feel like we were in a dingy blues club from times gone by, with Nick’s aggressive approach certainly not sounding as if it was coming from the 21st century. His voice is raw, with passion and aggression, and there were times when he reminded me of the mighty Groundhogs when he was at full bore, yet here was just one man with no backing tracks or trickery, doing it all live in front of us. This was in your face, with no room for solos or finesse, just belt through and then on with the next.

A few of the songs were originally recorded and performed with Blues Professor and tonight was the debut performance for some of them with Nick solo, but he showed no signs of nerves as he kept blasting them out. There was little in the way of subtlety here, it was always in your face and in your ears, but the crowd reacted very positively indeed, especially on the quicker songs and when Nick ended his set, he could be content in a job well done. He had certainly warmed up the crowd, with drama, warmth, and passion, and it was incredible to realise what he had delivered while being always seated.

It was soon time for Mudbelly, not that anyone could see them when they started. They cranked up both the haze and the smoke machines, had the stage dowsed in blue light and then Marcus started dragging some sounds out of his bass, soon followed by Michael doing the same with his guitar. They were building a soundscape which was very doom in its portent and style, and due to the lighting and smoke they were still both pretty much invisible and were soon joined by John on delicate cymbals. This was an incredibly powerful and atmospheric beginning to a show, and just a few minutes into the set I was massively impressed that a band was going to all this effort in a small venue.

Then the riffs kicked in, as the band started into Crooked Magic proper, and a red light picked out Bex and we were off. I was sitting there with a massive smile on my face as Bex is one heck of a singer and frontwoman, putting everything into the show, with a voice somewhere between Janis Joplin and Maggie Bell. I was immediately reminded of the classic 70’s band Stone the Crows, and no-one would think this band have been through so many difficulties in recent times. The album was finished more than a year ago, but at one point the band was down to just Bex and John who decided not to force anything and instead wait for the right musicians to come along, with Marcus only joining in November and Michael just the month before. This was one of the reasons they were determined tonight was going to be special as they had waited so long to be able to undertake the album launch but given the way these guys played, I somehow think they will be together for quite some time. Musically they are incredibly tight with strong bass and guitar interplay and powerful drumming and have a very Seventies blues-based hard rock feel good feel which is right up my musical alley.

Tonight was originals mixed with cover versions, all given their very own treatment, with a very strong knowledge of the need for contrast and dynamics with the band changing the pace throughout the set. Bullet was up next, a real highlight with loads of reverb on the guitar and when it hits the bridge it just cranked up. This was just so powerful musically with great vocals from someone who was living every word and when the guitar solo started it cut through everything.

At times there is a lot of space within the music, and at others the guitar and bass use effects which make it more into a soundscape, always with the percussion providing the strike and always with those rich, wide, vocals at the forefront. This song was just full of emotion, and was a great lead into Should I Stay, which was far slower than the original. This was not the only cover to get a very different treatment tonight, as for the second time inside a month I heard a band perform a version of Toxic. Last time it was Café Fistfight putting their spin on it, and tonight it had been slowed down and turned into something incredibly dramatic which shows that the bones of the song itself are very good even if one does not like the original (that would be me).

Their new single, Baby U No Good, was very powerful indeed and unless they knew, no-one would guess that Michael had only just joined the band as he was the focal point for this one with some great breaks. Before they started an unannounced, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, they placed a floor tom onto the floor with sticks and told the audience that anyone who wanted to, could join in, something I had never seen a band ever do before, and loads of people took up the opportunity. Yet again this was treated totally differently from the original, with just the drum pattern being familiar. Another highlight was Better Off Dead where John left the drumkit to pick up an acoustic and undertake a duet with Bex, and this showed a very different facet of the band, with this song sounding very different to what had gone before yet also very much in keeping.

As for Mercedes Benz, what can one say about a singer who is prepared to take on a Janis Joplin song, unaccompanied for the first verse? They know they will always be compared to one of the greatest singers of all time, so they must have balls, and total confidence in their own ability, and Bex has not only these but the ability to pull it off. The second verse just had handclaps and kick drum for accompaniment with the band not coming in until the third, incredible. Couples were told to smooch together, which was fine until Michael kicked into Whole Lotta Love, yet what made the night work so well was not only the covers, and what they did with them, but how they fitted in perfectly with the bands own songs and nothing sounded out of place. On Fire is another which started with a soundscape, gradually moving the sound as the vocals soar over the top. It is fluid and moving, and one was never sure exactly where the music was going to lead but knowing the journey was always going to be interesting. It is safe to say I was blown away by the band tonight and am looking forward to when I can see them again.

Although this was their gig, they had opted to go on in the middle, so there was still a band to play, none other than Saint Peter's Thursday, who describe themselves as a dead filthy grunge rock trio born in Christchurch. The one thing about trios is that they tend to be superb, or awful, as there is no room for anyone to hide, and there is no doubt in my mind as to where these guys fall. Wow, are they intense or what? There was a very quick change over and they may have started slow, but suddenly, they burst into Pterodactyl. and it was like the band were possessed. According to their Bandcamp page the line-up on their latest demo is Chief Death Salt (drums), Councilor Death Salt (bass) and Doctor Death Salt (Vocals/Guitar), but they have been creating quite a stir around Christchurch and one can certainly see and hear why. There is complex interplay between the trio, with hard riffing guitar and gutsy vocals mixing with complex runs by a bassist playing a 5-string and Keith Moon on drums. Seriously, all these guys really know what they are doing and each of them would go off on a tangent to take the music in a different direction knowing the others would keep it going.

There was a real variety between the songs, and I soon realised there were clever usage of odd cymbal hits which provided real finesses. There was loads of space between the instruments, yet at times they could all be locked in driving the music forward. Much of the audience had left after Mudbelly which was a shame as they missed a real treat with these guys never stopping. They have a real soul and groove within their sound, something raw and vital like a living breathing beast. We even had a wah-wah pedal on the bass at one point and it has been a while since I heard that! The songs were often blues based, but the grunge came through and the guys never stopped pushing with Reptile a real highlight.  The louder and heavier they played the more the audience liked it, and there was plenty of headbanging going on, and then all of a sudden it was over. I knew that two of the guys had another gig to go to and as soon as the last note finished, they were out of there, leaving the audience wondering just what had hit them.

An incredible night in a wonderful venue, and if I were living down here permanently again I can see this being my second home and I certainly look forward to catching all these guys again in the future.

Photo Credits: Kev Rowland



About Mudbelly

Mudbelly. It's a name.

We are a dirty blues band from Christchurch. If we were ever invited to define ourselves in the Oxford Dictionary: Power-rockin, ball-bustin, whisky-whackin ninjas of blues laden rock would be in our top three.

Fronted by Bex, swaggering rock banshee who won her voice in a poker game with the devil, together with Michael (guitar), Marcus (bass) and John (drums), the sound....just sounds right.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Mudbelly


Year: 2020
Type: Album

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