“It was that moment that pushed my time seeing Bombay Bicycle Club into the realm of my greatest ever live experience.”
WORDS BY BEN WHEADON
FEATURED PHOTO BY BEN WHEADON
The music stopped. The gig wasn’t finished, but Bombay Bicycle Club weren’t playing anymore. They couldn’t. A never-ending tide of rapturous applause had risen up from the standing section of the O2 Academy Brixton, rising up from the standing section and back up across the seated balcony, seats now empty in a collective ovation for the return of one of London’s most beloved groups, ten years in the making.
Rewind to the summer of 2009. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is in theatres, Swine Flu is gripping the nation and Barack Obama has entered the White House. All that, and London indie-rock quartet Bombay Bicycle Club are releasing their debut album. I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose still, to me, sounds completely unique in the landscape of inventive rock. Between the nasally whine of frontman Jack Steadman, the jumpy percussion of Suren de Saram and a liberal sprinkling of sparkly major-ninth chords, this album accompanied me through everything for the next near-decade. From my father playing it to me for the first time, to the backbeat of my exam revision, I Had The Blues sat in my car’s CD player on long drives through the hills of South Wales for weeks at a time. It was, and is, my favourite album of all time.
Bombay Bicycle Club’s single-coil Stratocaster pickups and anthemic choruses combined into an incredibly successful full length debut, but it was immediately followed by a dramatic change in sound. 2010’s Flaws traded overdriven electricity for acoustic folk-ness, and two later albums pushed the band further away from those guitar rock origins and into sample-heavy electronic tunes. Then in 2016 Bombay Bicycle Club surprised us all, announcing an indefinite hiatus and fading away.
Time passed. Bassist Ed Nash released solo music as ‘Toothless’, Steadman doing the same as Mr. Jukes – guitarist Jamie MacColl even enrolled at King’s College, London for a degree in War Studies. Years went by, but then all of a sudden BBC returned with a new single the promise of an album. My favourite band were back and all was right with the world. The new song was great. It wasn’t like the first album, of course I had come to terms with the fact that I Had The Blues was well in the past, but at least they were back.
But I was wrong. That summer, ten years on from the album that had meant so much to me, Bombay Bicycle Club announced a show that would have me rushing to the computer, wallet in hand, desperately clawing at my keyboard for a ticket.
O2 Academy Brixton – 8th November 2019
BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB PERFORM “I HAD THE BLUES BUT I SHOOK THEM LOOSE” IN FULL
I think I fell off my chair. For the ten year anniversary of that first album releasing in the summer of 2009, Bombay Bicycle Club would be coming back to London for a homecoming gig, and I was going to be there. Myself and two close friends would journey from our student apartments in Bow across to my favourite venue in the city. The phenomenal Gengahr would open the show, but my focus could not be swayed from the anticipation of being enveloped by the performance of my favourite album of all time.
What followed was an inexpressible connection between an audience and a band, revelling in the revival of a ten year old sound. From the iconic count-in of Emergency Contraception Blues the frenetic energy of BBC felt like a weight had been lifted, finally permitting the foursome to play with the wild expression that only their first album could allow. For the first time in years, Bombay Bicycle Club played a rock show, and it was incredible.
Lamplight absorbed the crowd, before a single spotlight shone down upon bassist Ed Nash, as the crowd screamed in recognition of the riff he gets all to himself that kicks off Evening / Morning, but in all my experiences of seeing bands live truly nothing has ever felt as impossibly cathartic as hearing that opening sample to Always Like This begin. The songs blasted by, each one delivered live with the intensity and perfection as heard on the record, but blasted full volume from hefty cabinets all the way to the roof and back of the Academy. The setlist blasted by, each song perfectly rendered, but fleeting all to quickly for me to take. They would return for an encore of their most famous songs from subsequent albums, but just as the band came to the culmination of their set, something amazing happened.
The four stopped playing, daring us to applaud, but we were well ahead of them. The whole venue sparked into a cacophony of clapped hands, and the band stood and admired, but the clapping would not stop. Jack Steadman, increasingly surprised that the applause continued, prepared to play the final notes to the set, but that opportunity would not come. Each time the applause came close to dying down, another tidal wave of appreciation would come careening in. The sense of pride on the group’s faces told a story of genuine amazement at the response to their set. Minutes of uninterrupted clapping continued, before finally giving way to MacColl, remarking “that was like a game of chicken” to see who would cave first, the admiring fans, or the musicians waiting to finish off their performance.
It was that moment that pushed my time seeing Bombay Bicycle Club into the realm of my greatest ever live experience. That tsunami of shouts and whistles was hardly a simple celebration of a great set, it was indicative of so much more. It was thousands of people collectively transporting themselves back into an album that meant so much to so many of us. It was a chance to revisit long lost memories tied inexplicably to the music that they had created, and it was a homecoming we were all proud to participate in.
Ben Wheadon is the editor, founder, head music writer and all round mastermind behind student-led culture blog Slow Motion Panic Masters. SMPM is a forward thinking, ever evolving media outlet spearheading a new exciting wave of journalism, expertly keeping all you avid cultural consumers in the loop.
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