Within minutes of The Littlemores opening their set at The Cockpit they’ve grabbed the crowd’s attention. Their grass-roots brand of ska-spattered indie gets the room tapping feet, bobbing heads and, in one isolated case, beating the life out of a set of “air drums”. From the opening trumpet blast the songs bound along with well measured guitar accents adding depth to tracks carried high on a tight rhythm section, bringing to mind some kind of Arctic Monkeys-Courteeners hybrid. It’s slightly strange to see the trumpet get replaced by an accordion but it slots into the mix well and the music doesn’t suffer in the slightest. Later the trumpet is reinstated so it can trade licks with the lead guitar as the music nods towards slightly more epic sounding songs which would suit much larger venues. To close we are treated to one last blast of ska/reggae/indie dance-floor-fillerism – expertly delivered despite the best efforts of an unruly mic stand, and it feels like the music world could do much worse than seeing more of these five lads.
Next up were Daytona Lights, who were recently recruited to play a newly formed band in Hollyoaks. However, unlike their on screen aliases, rather than meeting on the overly-eventful streets of a small Cheshire suburb this London five-piece met at drama school which may account for the marked difference in the feel of their performance. Frontman Danny Lawrence comes alive immediately and seems to begin channelling Tony Hadley – I’m sure they’re used to it but if I was one of the other band members I’d be fearful of being hit in the face by an over-enthusiastically swung arm. He is a remarkable focal point for a band who have a slicker sound – it’s a more ‘pop’ kind of indie than the previous offering. There are no lyrics about a “20 deck of fags” being somebody’s only pleasure here and, initially at least, the contrast flattens the mood. They are decent enough though, and very obviously enjoy performing. The drummer looks incredibly pleased with himself as he thumps the tubs and grins at his four accomplices belting out tight, Friendly Fires-like vocal lines. This enjoyment spreads to the crowd, who begin bouncing along to the very busy kick drum and only really stop to applaud the close of this set delivered by what definitely felt like a support act.
There are high expectations of The Janice Graham Band (not surprising, given the hype surrounding them) and once they fly into their opening song, where again we are brought to attention by a trumpet, it is clear that these guys know what they’re doing. They barge through each track with bucket-loads of confidence. At times it’s like Ian Brown and The Specials gave birth to quadruplets but kept them secret for years, and only now are we reaping the reward – because they are good. During their more reggae-influenced songs the bass lines become pure filth and there is an almost sinister edge to the sound – these are the moments that could well set them aside from the rest of the pack. There is an on stage attitude that instantly distracts you from the fact that frontman Joe Jones looks far too young to even be allowed out past 9 o’clock, never mind be fronting the latest “next big thing” from west of the Pennines. It’s the same swagger that made parents universally disapprove of Shaun Ryder and, later, the Gallaghers – and it explodes again later when the soundman gets a bollocking from Jones for allowing a wave of feedback to swamp the room. Although it is probably engrained in them, I couldn’t help thinking they would benefit from steering away from the more obvious indie sounds as the songs that run in this vein don’t seem to fit anywhere near as well. The gig is rounded off with the excellent “Carnival”; however, I wasn’t blown away by this performance. Maybe that was the fault of all that hype – the column inches making out like they’re one step away from world domination. Will they ever achieve more than cult status? Maybe, because tonight felt like they were just warming up.