The Subways - Hammersmith Club, London
It’s not everyday that you get invited to a ‘top secret’ gig in the suburbs of Hammersmith, especially to see the comeback of a pretty popular band. Most desire to hit Wembley ASAP, ignoring the grass roots who gave them the stability and staying power in the first place. Not the Subways though, they were setting out like ET on a bicycle, contacting home and returning to base.
It was no wonder then that expectations were high, especially as the gig was a unique acoustic set of oldies and newbies, held in Hammersmith Club which was more like a toff’s teeny village hall than a rock and roll venue. It was more intimate than sharing a bath with your lover, as let's just say, the speakers and the stage-esque area took up a third of the room and all they had was a drum kit and a stool. There was a diverse range of people who all squeezed into the venue with relative difficulty; like a Subway Melt (pardon the pun) they all mixed together, blended by the band. It was also an unusual experience to be watching a gig whilst sitting on a rather plush beanbag; I felt I was in some swanky French Bistro not in a glorified garage in an inner West London Borough. It seemed that the Subways were out to impress, and that as first impressions go is what they achieved, my only criticism being that the alcohol wasn’t free, but I shall overlook that for the purpose of professionalism.
After eagerly waiting for an hour, the lights dimmed down and on stepped a rather sheepish looking Billy Lunn, who grinned cheekily as he took the errr … stage/floor area. He promptly sat himself down on his stool and after a few polite words involving “hello” and “thank you” he proceeded to belt out ‘I Won’t Let You Down’ on his acoustic. It was obvious that this song meant a lot to him, centering around issues of heartbreak and loss, spouting “I twist your skin and bruise you badly…you say there’s nothing else for you to do but hate me.” It seemed there was some reference to Billy and bassist Charlotte Cooper’s break-up, with his pained expressions and heart-felt exaggeration on the chorus line “I won’t let you down” emphasising the raw emotions behind the song. The beauty of the acoustic is the ability to hear every last word that is sung, which in this circumstance led to the lyrics of Billy being embedded into everyone’s consciousness. The Lunn had landed and the crowd were loving it, with Billy receiving a rapturous round of applause and persistent whooping after the closing chords.
Charlotte appeared one song later dressed in black with haunting pale skin, lighting up Billy’s eyes as she assumed the same stance she took in nearly every video off their debut album. Before jumping into ‘Girls and Boys,’ Billy glanced over to his ex-fiancé and stated “It’s better now she’s here.” Needless to say she gave a little smile and hinted with her eyes that she just wanted to get on and play. The song however fell at the first hurdle due to bass technical difficulties, adding, it seemed, more anxiety to Billy’s already pent-up nerves. Mr Lunn then attempted to make small talk, giving a little cheeky grin to the audience as he said “It’s so new, we weren’t ready.” A few seconds later and they were. Even though it was acoustic, you could get the sense that it’s one of the heavier tracks on the album, with Charlotte moving behind her bass like a rock vampiress attracting not only the males in the audience but also Billy, who’s every gaze ended up on her.
Following the rockier riffs that transported you to a darker phase in the band’s lives, drummer Josh Morgan clambered on to the floor, giving a flick of a wave before settling down behind his uniform black and white drum kit. Billy then smiled at his band mate and commented “It’s unusual for Josh to have his top on, and me for that matter,” unfortunately this didn’t lead to any disrobing, which, I cannot lie, made me thoroughly disappointed. I did, however, get over it when the now re-unified trio kicked straight into their debut single ‘Oh Yeah.’ Upon recognising the riffs that defined many of the crowd’s teenage years, they all launched religiously into one massive head-nodding Mexican wave, tapping their feet and passionately blurting out the lyrics. It was plain to see Josh was loving every moment, hitting the hi-hat and tom toms with much gusto, looking like the Muppet’s Animal on steroids. It was by far the best received song of the night.
After the crowd-pleaser, the Subways got underway with their next single, ‘Alright.’ It lived up to its title, with Billy’s strumming making the track a melodic rocky hymn with a shoreline feel. The audience got the sense that the new album was going to be darker and more reflective, with the songs mirroring a maturity that the debut lacked. Billy ends the track confessing “We’re proper bricking it,” yet he needn’t have been. The small yet faithful gathering hung on his every word, supporting him through the set with much hand-clapping and finger-tapping good old-fashioned umph.
Next to be played was ‘Move to Newlyn,’ a more sombre track which mellowed the mood, that was until a couple of bald guys at the front decided to shout “WHOOP” quite loudly, leaving a smile on Billy’s face. Self-confessed favourite song to play, ‘Shake Shake’ was next on the list. It occupied a fast-paced rhythm with a head-banging beat that caused Charlotte to shake her postmodern bob like she had dandruff (which, fortunately, she didn’t). The crowd were unsure what to make of this track yet Billy’s never-ending energy made sure it went down better than a spoonful of sugar in a Von Trapp child.
The band then bursted into ‘Rock and Roll Queen,’ their biggest hit to date, sending the crowd into a euphoric lyrical chant causing Billy to beg everyone to “Put your fucking hands up,” and because he asked so nicely, we did. Everyone, and I mean everyone, moved some part of their body to the rhythm. Lunn screamed out the lyrics with 110% passion, almost urging Charlotte to take note of him, to stimulate any kind of feeling within her. I couldn’t help but look at Billy and think ‘Bless his cottons,’ if Charlotte doesn’t want him, I’ll have him.
It may have only been 45 minutes, but it was one of the most original I’ve seen from any band. I felt privileged to be in their presence, especially in such close proximity. I got the feeling this new album has progressed the band from adolescent to adult rock, with heavier, more meaningful lyrics that don’t centre around what they’re having for breakfast. The good news is, although the Subways are more mature and open to experimentation, they haven’t forgotten their roots. I spoke to Charlotte after the set and she acknowledged the fact they’re going to have to start-again, relatively speaking, in terms of fan base; “It’s been a while since the first album." The problem now is whether it’s been too long, or whether it’s been just long enough to leave their core fan base wanting more. Judging from the reaction they got in Hammersmith, I’m guessing it’s the latter.