Britpop, lad-rock, mod-rock – whatever you want to call it. The Social Club wear their influences (and their hearts) on their sleeve at The Lions Den.
“We want to bring back Britpop,” the members of The Social Club tell me as we share a cigarette in the Deaf Institute smoking area. Struck by the group’s assertiveness and ambition, I decide to come along to their headline show at The Lions Den in Deansgate, without even having heard a single note of their music. Brash, fast-paced and enamoured with mid-90’s melodies; do The Social Club manage to bring back Britpop for the post-COVID age? Whether such a thing is possible, I’m not too sure, but their performance seems to suggest that they’re at least going to have a good crack at it.
The first thing to note about The Social Club is their energy. Within a few minutes, they make it clear that they are a band that understand that music, although inarguably an art form, is also, equally – and every bit as importantly – a form of entertainment. Distinctly lacking in pretence or warped sense of self-importance (let’s face it, we get a fair bit of that in indie music), they amble onto stage, sip their pints and simply focus on the task at hand: giving their audience their money’s worth. Put simply, The Social Club are one of the most fun live bands I’ve had the pleasure of watching in Manchester. Fred Perry-clad and jittering like a pilled-up Keith Moon, drummer George Butler leads the collective thrashing with stylish fills, a driving backbeat and a Cheshire Cat-like grin.
The other members of the band can only attempt to keep up with his Reni-esque rhythmic swagger, cultivating in a wonderful cover of ‘She Bangs The Drum’s’: an ode to Manchester’s musical heritage in which the other members of the band prove that they are more than up to the challenge of staying on top of their erratic time-keeper. John Squire’s six-string intricacies are, somewhat astonishingly, done justice by lead guitarist Bradley Cork… The Social Club’s cover makes The Stone Roses cover bands I’ve seen in the past sound like hungover teenagers knocking about indie covers in their parents’ garages.
As the band rollicked through their set list – a collection of songs owing to the crafty wit of The Kinks, the baggy grooves of The Charlatans (bassist Harrison Corbin shining with a particular dexterity and presence) and the melodic prowess of early Oasis – they demonstrate a commendable versatility. I had approached the show worried that the band’s sound may be easily pigeonholed – after all, there are countless bands that we’ve heard attempt to be a hybrid of Arctic Monkeys/Oasis – but The Social Club take their influences from enough stylistic corners to make their sound nuanced, engaging, and, most importantly, not just trying to recreate the suburban success of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. We’ve heard enough of that at this point…
There’s something here for every generation to cling onto, whether it’s the jiving rhythm section reminiscent of 60’s mod-rock-gods The Who, or the soaring vocals akin to current starry-eyed, indie rockers The Lathums. Turning back and forth from the stage to the audience, I see people swaying of all different ages, genders and identities – perhaps a sign that the sounds of Britpop (whether it can be fairly labelled ‘a reductive mod’s revival revival’ or not) may very well be welcomed back into a wider mainstream media sometime soon.
The Social Club’s set is broken up into three parts – a no-nonsense opening cluster of observational community (and COVID) inspired ditties, an intimate acoustic section, and then a return to up-tempo indie rock ’n’ roll. The acoustic section is an intriguing point of the band’s set: singer Dec O’Brien is left alone on stage, acoustic guitar in hand, casting a tentative glance from the fretboard to the crowd, and back again. Nerves are apparent. Bravado subtly cracks. What follows is a genuinely shocking moment: the lager-loving, lad-rock image is moved to the side in favour of a rare instance of masculine emotional transparency, familial solidarity and earnest mourning.
With soaring vocals and a hard-hitting emotional core, ’Shooting Star’ and ‘The Ballad of Paddy Bourton’ are tender glimmers of a songwriter’s staggering potential – a songwriter who can effortlessly switch between the stiff upper lip and heart on sleeve. O’Brien’s bandmates come back onto stage with a newfound glow, perhaps moved, like we are, by their frontman’s musings. Acoustic segments can be profoundly effective in a band’s live repertoire, and The Social Club use theirs to perfection. What follows can only be described as a resounding success for the boys in the band.
Go see The Social Club. In just a few months, they’ve cultivated a live set that bands years their senior would smash kneecaps for. Whether they end up bringing back Britpop or not, they put on a great show. That’s a start.
Powered By Spotlight Studios
0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR