By Oliver Ledingham-Smith
Situated on North Road, Empty Shop is a wonderfully small venue that doesn’t try too hard. And that’s the great power behind it: it’s a brilliant little place, perfect for going for a quiet drink, listening to a particular topic of interest, or else spending your evening being smothered by a variety of local bands as they try to drum up an audience for the headliner.
On this particular evening, the first band that took to the stage was local indie-rock group Clockwork Foxes. Once they’d gotten over their sound issue, which was basically interference and there wasn’t much that could be done about that, they excelled in getting the crowd ramped up for the next band. Clockwork Foxes were probably perfect for starting the line-up because while they were good, they were not quite there yet in terms of headlining. Their set included a combination of covers and their own original content: which was more than fine, as it enabled the crowd to see what they were capable of. As the first band of the night, they paved the way for what was to come later on; I just wish that they perhaps had a couple more songs in their arsenal or a bit more time in their set.
Clockwork Foxes were shortly followed by local indie/ alternative rock band The Tonics: from the very first song, they had the audience jumping. By this, I don’t simply mean that everyone was having a good time and bouncing slightly with the beat: I mean that the crowd were actually jumping up and down, so much so that you could see the floor reacting to the weight of so many feet leaving and re-connecting with it constantly. This, for me, was something worth shouting about. If a band can get its audience to react like this, then there must have been something special going on. There are two things that I do want to bring up here: firstly, if you’ve ever been to gigs in Durham and heard The Tonics perform at those gigs, then chances are, you’ve probably heard a lot of their music. That’s fine if the music is good: and in this case, it was firmly established to be more than good. And if you’ve got a following of fans, then it’s always worthwhile to bring them along to whatever venue you’re playing at: not just because it shows that you’ve got supporters, but also because it helps to promote the gig. And when there are more people at a gig – especially one that’s held at Empty Shop – then it creates the perfect vibe for a brilliant night.
This leads me to my second point, and this is where things get a bit complicated. After The Tonics finished their set, their fans all seemed to disappear, as if they weren’t interested in the rest of the gig. This left the following band, Caylon, with a dramatically reduced audience size. While there were enough people still there that this wasn’t a huge problem, it did lead me to wonder if it would have been better to put Caylon second on the bill, and The Tonics third. That way, not only would Caylon have been able to play to a bigger crowd, but The Tonics’ fans would have stuck around for more of the show.
Like the two bands before them, Caylon are a student rock band from Durham, who combine elements of progressive rock, alternative rock, and blues. The thing with this band was that the lead singer seemed to have so much energy, it was almost as if he was sucking it from the rest of the band members. I watched as he danced around and got progressively sweatier, while the other two guitarists barely moved in comparison. It felt a bit uncomfortable, as it looked like the front-man was putting an extortionate amount of unnecessary effort into the proceedings.
Finally came the headliners: False Advertising. What I liked about this band was that they didn’t act like they had anything to prove. An alternative rock band hailing from Manchester, this show was False Advertising’s debut visit to Durham. I did feel that they could have done more to engage with the audience, however, they grew in confidence the longer they played, and by the end of their set, it looked like everyone was having a great end to a fantastic evening. False Advertising concluded the evening pretty well, tying everything together in a nice little musical bow that everyone was able to appreciate.
Despite this positive end to the gig, there were a couple of noticeable things that I do need to point out, and this is through no-one’s fault at all. The marketing for this gig was fine: it was promoted constantly all over social media by the bands and the gig promoters, so there was no need to cry for alarm on that front. I think the gig would have worked better with regards to audience size if The Tonics had been third in the line-up, yet I have a funny feeling that the dreaded “Fresher’s Flu” might have contributed to the proceedings a little bit, which again is out of everyone’s control. However, the crowd wasn’t just made up of students: there were some locals who were attracted to the gig, and they, too, seemed to be enjoying themselves, merging with the students and having a good time.
All in all, this was a gig that had a couple of ups and downs, and some bumps that were ironed out – such as the feedback and interference from the tech, and the fluctuating audience size – but everyone who turned up left with smiles on their faces and an air of barely suppressed excitement, courtesy of the four bands who performed at Empty Shop that evening.
Photograph: Ollie Ledingham-Smith