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The Enjoy Yourself! crew sell their souls and head out for a week on the road with London based rock ‘n’ roll band Saint Agnes…
Possession? Obsession? Compulsion? I’m not sure exactly what it is when sometimes a band gets a grip on the imagination and forces its way into your life but something made me absolutely certain that I would be seeing a lot more of Saint Agnes after seeing them last year in Portsmouth. As soon as The Witching Hour UK tour dates were announced there was that familiar feverish urge to attend as many as possible. Real life managed to get in the way however and the band has 14 dates under their belts already by the time EY! catch up with them on a cold Monday evening in the grimy and slightly smelly setting of The Cellar in Oxford.
Those that did attend are unlikely to forget it. The band hammer into the 2016 single ‘Merry Mother Of God Go Round’ with a ferocious intensity that never lets up. It’s fucking loud; the sort of loud that hits you in the guts and is bordering on painful, just about on the limit of endurance. The smoke alarm adds to the effect by going off before the first track has finished; not the last time this would happen during the week! The rest of the set is new to me other than perhaps hearing some of them back at that one gig last year, but there are songs here that I immediately know will be with me forever.
Kitty is a beguiling performer, lost in the songs, part of the music; jerky, possessed, hexed-up and venomous one minute but then a softer side shows, crooning huskily, and we occasionally get that dark baleful stare, thoughts focussed inwards seeing I’m not quite sure what…
This isn’t just a one-person band however, there is a chemistry there between them all that gives off sparks and they are all excellent individually as well. Lead guitarist Jon, outlaw rocker mannerisms and epic solos, also adds a lot of vocals and harmonica on some tracks that add to the unique sound, Andy is a furiously powerful drummer and Ben plays the bass in a way that is different to just about anyone else; these two aren’t any mere rhythm section, they are urgent and powerful throughout. The growling bass is expressive and prominent during ‘Moves Like A Ghost’, as Kitty begins to stalk her stage territory. ‘The Death Or Glory Gang’ is raunchy and crunching and full of attitude, seductive vocals and full-on rock ‘n’ roll guitar overload. ‘I Feel Dangerous Around You’ starts off slow and bluesy, builds up the tension with some beautiful guitar and keyboards then launches into a dirty swamp blues maelstrom, unashamedly showing off heavy rock influences. ‘Silvertown’ continues the classic timeless feel, hard and heavy and aggressive.
The next number starts with a low tribal pulsing beat, cranks up the pressure and then hits its stride fully; this then is ‘The Witching Hour’, a dirty sleazy beast of a track, defiant and mesmerising and full of delicious guitar sounds and changes of pace. It straight away becomes my favourite song for a long time. The drums drive it along with a manic ferocity but there are so many elements to it there is always something else there to grab your attention. Forget labels and sub-genres and comparisons; this is just a classic rock song and I can’t wait to hear a recorded version. There is no let-up; ‘Why Do You Refuse To Die’ is another growling low and menacing raw blues-like track and then we get ‘Black Horse’, featuring lots of vocal interplay between Kitty and Jon; pure inspiration, punchy and rocking and desperate. They finish with ‘Diablo Take Me Home’ which is another stomping riff- heavy rocker; something dark and satanic and threatening lurking away in the full-on aural attack at the end. I’m left with ears ringing, heart pounding and a real hunger to get to the next one and hear it all again. Beautiful and brutal rock ‘n’ roll.
The Purple Turtle in Reading is straight away a different prospect as there is a lot more expectation (and people) in the room. I’ve only been around the band a short while but it is apparent that there is a great attention to detail; the sound obviously has to be right but the look is part of it, both of band members and the stage itself, with a planned out light show with smoke (when permitted, they’re not tonight!) and intro music. Yes, I know, it’s all about the songs! – without that forget it – but for me, and more importantly here, for Saint Agnes, it is also clearly about the show as well. This is music as ritual, as shared experience as it must have been initially; creating the right mood and focus to channel the energies into magick powerful enough to change the state of mind of the listener. We’re in The Witching Hour after all…
Intro music ‘John The Revelator’ sets the scene perfectly; mournful, impassioned gospel blues, full of apocalyptic feeling. They play the same set tonight but in a slightly different order; ‘The Witching Hour’ and ‘Black Horse’ back to back is a transcendental experience as we’re delivered one high after another, and whatever words I am trying to write to describe it come out as stream of consciousness insanity! The blues influence is there throughout the set, partly the sound – the guitar and harmonica, partly the overall feel – there’s a desperate and yearning edge that comes through. This is combined with a real gothic feel, and we’re not talking Batcave plastic goth here but the depraved, on edge Southern Gothic of Nick Cave’s ‘And The Ass Saw The Angel’ novel. There is something feral and primal going on.
It’s another great set, different in feel to last night, saturated in a strange dark glamour. That for me is the beauty in seeing a band you love multiple times; there is often a different vibe depending on various things: the sound, the venue, audience feedback, personal moods, alignment of the stars, whatever it is that affects the overall performance.
The Moon in Cardiff is a unique venue in that the tiny stage appears to be part cupboard, part staircase, with about half of the venue space behind it. The tour schedule is taking its toll and the set is changed slightly tonight in an attempt to preserve Kitty’s voice. The performance doesn’t suffer though and colds and bad throats are ignored as they tear into ‘Merry Mother Of God…’, as always a great opener full of barely suppressed musical anger and controlled aggression. There seems to be a bit of an edge to the set tonight, there’s a bit of the devil in them this evening with songs belted out with even more fury than normal and Jon seems more wired than normal, possibly taking on more of the vocals than usual? ‘The Witching Hour’ just gets better – almost cinematic – every time I hear it; a beautiful guitar solo, slinky keyboards, the whole thing propulsive and driving. ‘Black Horse’ makes the hairs on my neck stand up and my spine tingle; it’s one of those intoxicating moments when you feel untouchable and alive; it’s the drug that keeps us on the road, keeps us coming back for another gig, in another town. They add ‘Roadhouse Blues’ to the set tonight, restrained and bewitching, and by the end of it you could be forgiven for thinking they’d wrote it themselves. They finish again with ‘Diablo Take Me Home’ which sends the small but appreciative audience home happy. The set has clearly been difficult for Kitty who jumps off the stage and walks straight out of the building, hopefully to continue with the rest of the week…
I have to miss the next date but two of us from the Enjoy Yourself! team rejoins the band in… St Agnes for what turns out to be an epic day all round, for a whole range of reasons! The gig is at an old Cornish village pub by the sea, beer festival in full flow and the place is rammed. There is an expectation in the room although possibly slightly misguided as at least some of the locals we talked to had absolutely no idea what they were in for! The packed sweaty room, low ceilings, smoke, and lights create the perfect build up and as the intro plays I can feel the electricity in my veins. The crowd is won over from the beginning – the sheer visceral power of being up that close to a band firing on all cylinders is overpowering and the band clearly feel it too.
“We are Saint Agnes, you are St Agnes” says Jon over the mic and the pact is sealed; the audience is there for the taking now and the band does exactly that, Kitty is emanating dark animal magnetism and the whole band is in abandoned, commanding form. Reasoning and analysis isn’t my strong point tonight but ‘Silvertown’ is back in the set, ‘Black Horse’ isn’t, ‘Roadhouse Blues is a celebratory affair and they end with an early track ‘Old Bone Rattle’, a perfect blissful end to a magickal performance from the band and the watchers. They should make it an annual event…a new part of Cornish folklore…
The elements that make up the Saint Agnes sound may be vintage garage rock ‘n’ roll, blues, punk, and rock but the demonic intensity with which they are combined makes for something new, the raw essence of all that has gone before condensed and cooked up into a new style, a new addition to rock ‘n’ roll mythology. It’s got me hooked, entranced and desperate for the next fix! The coven is growing and it was great to be part of it for a week. You need to join it too. They mentioned somewhere about wanting your kidneys …I escaped with mine intact – but what they are really after is your soul….go and lose yours at..
Southampton Heartbreakers: April 5th
Brighton Hope & Ruin: April 6th
London Lexington: April 8th
Words: Gary Powell © for Enjoy Yourself!
Images: Dave Taylor © for Enjoy Yourself!
Additional images can be found at: http://www.enjoyyourself.club/gallery