Skating Polly + She Makes War
Gullivers, 109 Oldham Street, Manchester, M4 1LW
Monday 14th October 2019

I’ve been on a bit of a roll recently where every gig I attend hits the spot.  On the photography front, it was an honour and a privilege to photograph Grace Jones a couple of months ago, and next month I’ve had the nod for an artist I’m really excited about photographing, and even a small chance of a massive global artist next year.  So it’s been an exciting time for me personally, but there’s one gig I’ve been excited about more than any other since it was announced back in April – Skating Polly.

From the moment I heard “Hail Mary” I knew the band were something special.  Just as we didn’t discover Breaking Bad until Season 5 was airing, and once we started watching it became my favourite series of all time hands down, working my way through 10 years of Skating Polly’s back catalogue comprising of 5 albums (4 available online) and 31 music videos – every bit as creative and addictive as the songs they represent- has been a real treat and they’ve become my favourite band.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the next 10 years.

Some of my favourite bands over the years have been a bit hit and miss live, The Fall for example were notorious for 50% of their gigs being amazing and 50% dire.  I was caught out the first time I saw them when they were on form and told all my mates, who weren’t best pleased with me when we went to see them and they were terrible.  Fortunately, what turned out to be the last time I saw them before Mark E. Smith died, he was on blistering form.  Likewise Roots Manuva, I’ve seen him 4 times, twice he was mind blowing, the other 2 times, not so.  But to be honest his back catalogue is so good that I’d buy a ticket to see him, even if he was playing Take That’s greatest hits on the kazoo.  Possibly.

So I didn’t want to set my expectations for tonight too high.  Skating Polly’s back catalogue is so good that even if they couldn’t pull it off live, they are still a cut above most bands.  But I needn’t have worried, they were brilliant!

Sods law, of course if you’re looking fwd to the gig of the year, what’s going to happen?  Saturday – hmm my throat seems a bit sore.  Sunday – that’s definitely a sore throat.  Monday morning – ahh-tishoo!  Great, just great!

But there was no way I was missing this gig as long as I had breath left in my body (a bit dramatic, but you get the gist) so after many lem-sips, cough medicine, paracetamol and so on, I managed to drag myself out in the drizzle on the Liverpool to Manchester train.

I love Gullivers and it’s sister-venue across the road, The Castle Hotel – proper old-school gig venues where great bands and real fans combine to make some absolutely memorable nights.  (Lighting could be better though 😉 )

When a gig is sold-out on a Monday night, it’s obvious it’s not just me that thinks it’s going to be something special.

With no photo-pit, even though I had a photo-pass (Naturally I bought a ticket too as I like to support the bands) I needed to be there for door-o’clock to get to the front.  There I met a guy who was wearing a Skating Polly t-shirt, he’s seen them 3 times and we hit it off right away, talking like a pair of teenagers about our favourite band, trying in vain to name our favourite single as they are all so good, and so different!

She Makes War

Somehow I seem to keep missing great artists.  I see from She Makes War’s page that 18 mutual friends, all of them with impeccable taste I might add, have already liked her page.

With all my excitement about Skating Polly, I’d kind of overlooked She Makes War.  After being at a festival last week with 30 bands photos to edit, and catching up with work, I had a quick listen to “Devastate Me”, thought it was a great catchy single but didn’t really have time to check out any more.

When someone has put out a song with Tanya Donelly it’s a pretty big clue that they are going to be a bit special in their own right!

And special she was! With a captivating sarcasm, and down-to-earth approach, I think she quickly won over those of us who weren’t familiar with her material.

My new gig buddy didn’t know much about her either, but we were blown away by her set.  It’s no wonder her album “Braced for Impact” hit the album charts last year – an incredible feat for an independent artist!

After 3 storming tunes, the band left the stage and she did some quieter solo numbers with a ukulele, finishing her set with a couple of full band tracks.

She did some “live layering” (not sure what the technical term is) where she recorded her voice and looped it to create a kind of backing track.  It was absolutely mesmerising and you could hear a pin drop.

At one point she stopped the song to stop someone filming on their phone.  It could have been me if it was the song before.

It got me thinking about the whole thing of recording video at gigs.  In my day, you had to be pretty determined to smuggle a box brownie to a gig (ok, I’m not THAT old!) and so it was never an issue.  These days, everyone has a phone, and with the exception of Jack White gigs, people will try and film, technically infringing copyright, but security will often turn a blind eye if the band are cool with it.

I tend to record snippets to jog my memory when I’m writing my review, and if something is particularly good I’ll post it on my personal facebook.  I’ve found that posting official videos on my personal facebook page is like tumbleweed, but for some reason, live videos tend to get some interest.

If I enjoy a band, I want to tell the world about them, that’s why I started a blog (despite writing not being my strong point, see, erm this blog!) so it’s natural to want to post up video and hope that a few people discover the band and go and see them themselves.

But, I wonder if they sometimes do more harm than good.

I didn’t post up the clip I took of She Makes War as I didn’t think she’d appreciate it, but I did post up a clip of Skating Polly as people seem to post clips from all their gigs.  However, on listening to it today, it sounds like their voices fade out, when they definitely didn’t in real life otherwise I wouldn’t have posted up the video.  I posted it because they sounded so amazing (and I was stone-cold sober as I was photographing).

In fact I’m still to hear a live clip of Skating Polly that comes anywhere near the incredible sound I heard last night.

For the first time since 2005 I didn’t get Glastonbury tickets this year, so watched it at home – and a lot of the sets had terrible sound – people who were there assured me it sounded fine live.  If the BBC with all their experience and equipment can struggle to catch live performance and make it sound good, it’s perhaps no wonder that phones with their tiny mics can’t do it justice, in the same way that I’d never dream of photographing a gig with my phone.

So I’ll definitely be thinking more carefully before I share video in future – to ensure that it does the artist justice.

I bought a copy of “Braced for Impact” on Vinyl and will look forward to discovering that and She Makes War’s other 2 albums – however, I’m a bit late to the party as she recently announced she’s ending the band!

Fortunately, she’s starting a new project, and from what I saw of her musical talents tonight, I suspect it will be rather good.

Skating Polly

From the opening notes of “Queen for a day” to the closing of “They’re Cheap, I’m Free” it was 50 minutes of pure joyous perfection.

Kelli is very much the focal point of the band, storming around the stage, kicking and jumping like an angry tornado, and that’s just on the ballads 😉 An exceptional vocalist, with an incredibly expressive face – probably a lousy poker-player but an outstanding front-person for a band!  It’s unbelievable when you consider that she started the band when she was just 9 years old, and yet even their early material (that I’ve heard) is great!

When a band has a force of nature like Kelli, often the other band members just kind of fade into the woodwork, but that’s not the case with Skating Polly.  Her step-sister/half-sister (not sure which) Peyton is certainly much more reserved, perhaps even a little shy in an endearing way like Morrissey (before he became a massive berk, obviously!) but when she sings, she’s absolutely incredible.  Her brother Kurtis is absolutely superb on the drums, tying the whole thing together.

Of course to make a memorable night, you need both a memorable band and an appreciative audience – and we certainly had that tonight, in spades!

With the audience singing along and dancing, it made a perfect evening even more perfect, and Kelli even went crowd surfing!

And you know what, my cold had gone – the gig was just what the doctor ordered!

After such an energetic performance, you could forgive the band if they’d gone back to their dressing room to chill out, but no, they met fans and were incredibly lovely people.

There was much love for the band in that room, fortunately not in a creepy way, as like Hands Off Gretel who they toured with a couple of years ago, they’ve had to call out guys for being creepy at their gigs.  Tonight it seemed like things were as they should be – people enjoying the music and treating the band with the respect they deserve.

Kurtis seemed genuinely humbled when lots of people were asking him when they would be back in Manchester, and he said “hopefully next October” and was bombarded by people asking if they could return before then!

At the moment it feels like I’m party to a very special secret, a band so good it’s hard to believe they are real.

But judging by the reception they got last night, the secret will be out before long, whether they wish to play mega stadiums,  or just be less underground to make touring make more sense financially, they deserve every success they get.  Like I suspect everyone in the room last night, I’m marking off the days until next October!

Gig of the year – 5/5


Words + Pictures: John W. King