Still bewitched after the first part of the tour Enjoy Yourself! saddle up the Black Horse for part 2….
The majority of The Witching Hour UK tour is over but Saint Agnes, with Enjoy Yourself! tagging along, take their dark arts back out onto the road for a final three dates – the Unholy Trinity – in the South of the country. We start in Southampton, an unholy place on a Thursday night if ever there was one, but it’s hot, loud and sweaty at Heartbreakers and all the signs are good…
The band launches into the staccato blitz of ‘Merry Mother Of God Go Round’ and it’s a wild ride right from the start! If you’re not familiar with the band expect wicked rock ‘n’ roll glamour, glorious wasted blues, punk energy and electrifying performances from all four band members! There’s not a single note wasted, not a single second of filler or anything second-rate or less than spot on. Each instrument seems to fight for supremacy and the result is savage and heavy but with lots of subtle flourishes that will come to prominence when these songs are recorded. The keyboard tonight sounds particularly strong, shards of crystal amongst the madness. They are on epic form throughout the set.
Kitty (vocals, guitar, keyboards), draped in witch symbolism, is seething with dark energy; animated and channelling vibrations from who knows where. She is an entrancing performer, inhabiting a space all of her own, picking the bones of previous female rock icons and creating a unique style. Her voice ranges from cold and imperious, yearning and bruised to a rich classic rock husky howl. I see members of the audience smiling to themselves, spellbound and transfixed by her performance.
‘Why Do You Refuse To Die’ is a great illustration of one of the things that sets Saint Agnes apart. It starts with Kitty in femme fatale mode, tragic and desperate, and then Jon (lead guitar, vocals, harmonica) takes the narrative on. It’s epic, grandiose and almost theatrical; rock ‘n’ roll myth storytelling, a murderous decadent ballad. I’ve seen a lot of very good bands recently but good frontmen and frontwomen, who can command a stage and demand your attention, seem a rare breed. Saint Agnes are blessed; both Kitty and Jon could front bands all on their own such is the passion they put into it.
The gig is a massive success and the band knows it. It’s like they’ve rested up since the first leg of the tour, shed their skins and come back fresher, brighter and fired up. They were brilliant on the earlier dates but there seems to have been a metamorphosis in the time they’ve had off between shows; as if they’ve had time to reflect and realise just how good they are at the moment. ‘Silvertown’ is back in the set and ‘Sister Electric’ a single release from 2016 is played for the first time in the shows I’ve seen. It all fits perfectly into a furious pummelling maelstrom, drummer Andy seemingly trying to kill his kit such is the ferocity with which he plays, and bassist Ben churning out basslines like juggernauts, effects pedals adding a warped and fuzzed up garage/psychedelic feel to some of them.
Second of the three dates is Brighton, at the Hope and Ruin, for a show put together by the ever-enthusiastic Acid Box crew. Saint Agnes are yet again in stunning form and hammer through the set in glorious style. The tour has thrown up some quirky venues and difficult nights, as is to be expected, but it is great to see them playing to packed rooms and massively enthusiastic audiences such as this. They are clearly going to be playing bigger venues pretty soon and won’t have any trouble at all filling larger stages, but the sheer adversity of traveling the length of the country playing at times to a few handfuls of people will only serve them well and strengthen their resolve. For me, the mark of a real band, passionate about the music they create, is their willingness and ability to give their all every night and put the same effort in regardless of the size of the crowd, the sound, the venue or the fact they had to travel hundreds of miles to get there. You definitely get that with Saint Agnes; I’ve never seen less than 110%. The set is rammed full of epic songs; ‘The Witching Hour’, ‘Diablo, Take Me Home’ ‘I Feel Dangerous Around You’ – they just don’t have a weak track. There’s not even room in the set for ‘Black Horse’ on these three dates; a better song than many bands will ever write in their careers! The songs seem to fit together and exist in their own place and time; Saint Agnes creating their own mythos; a darkly romantic world of occult glamour, epic road trips, and deals with the devil. When the album comes out I’m expecting it to be on a grand scale – a concept album almost (without the dodgy prog rock connotations) rather than just a collection of songs – with everything relating back to the unique and timeless world of imagery and atmosphere that they have created.
‘The Witching Hour’ – just out as a single – is a cinematic, gothic masterpiece; a steadily building incantation, throbbing bassline, and ghost dance drums are split open by an overblown, unapologetically over the top guitar solo! They even throw in an unhinged B- movie freakout keyboard solo for good measure! An album’s worth of tempo changes and different elements all arranged into one dark, pulsing spell! The song is full of echoes of classic rock moments through the years but brewed up in a mixture that is pure and easily recognisable Saint Agnes. Music in widescreen; shamanic and powerful and inspirational.
There is an attitude to the band, a gang mentality – there has to be to perform like this – but I don’t feel any arrogance in it at all. Somehow the aggression, fire, and passion are inclusive and contagious. You are part of the performance, a participant in the ritual, involved in the celebration. It’s us – the Coven – against them, the rest of the world out there, the unbelievers.
After two triumphant performances the London date, at a sold-out Lexington, was always going to be special. The excited tension had been building throughout the day as the audience had already been treated to five bands. The buzz in the room was palpable and expectation was raised even higher as three cowled figures, faces obscured, appeared on the stage in front of the neon inverted crosses. They remained there motionless, for some minutes as the atmosphere grew heavier. When the despairing tones of intro music ‘John The Revelator’ starts, like a wail of mourning from the abyss, the magick is fully woven and the spell is cast. The devil is in the detail after all…
The band hit the stage and instantly explode into furious action. Jon is electrified from the start and wired as always, his classic rocker mannerisms and guitar-wielding all-action style contrasting initially with Kitty’s more knowing and calculated persona as she stalks around the stage and hangs witchily from the mic stand, but it doesn’t take long for the spirits to take hold and she is soon feeding off the audience and letting go more than I’ve seen before. Throughout the set, she leaps from monitors, climbs on amps, jumps into the audience, thrashes around on the floor abusing her guitar – and still finds time to sing and play keys! Ben is also clearly feeding off the energy in the room and really letting it all go, while Andy, a fury of movement as ever, batters his drum kit into submission.
It’s a full-on celebration, an end of tour set as they should be, wired, buzzing, charged. I can see the adrenalin in the crowd, people grinning at the sheer power of the event as the band leave the stage, with instruments and kit left in disorder.
The sense of community that the band and their music create is something I’ve not felt at many gigs or from many bands for a long time; that connection between band and audience. I think they genuinely do want to create that sense of belonging, of tribe loyalty, and they seem to thrive on it. It is feelings like that, and a relentless touring schedule won’t hurt either! – that breeds loyalty from gig goers and band followers. There is momentum here, outside of any strict scene or genre and I can only see the Coven growing. The album, when it finally hits, will be a killer. Events have been set in motion… they’re coming for you…
They are Saint Agnes. We are Saint Agnes.
Words: Gary Powell for Enjoy Yourself!
Images: Dave Taylor for Enjoy Yourself!