LIVE REVIEW: Big Joanie, Ghum, Irked @ The Cluny, Newcastle (15.01.23) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Victoria Wai

We are Big Joanie. We are a Black, feminist punk band,” proclaims Chardine Taylor-Stone, drumstick held aloft behind a kit adorned with flowers, a warm smirk creeping across her face. It’s a moment that sears itself into the memory in the midst of a bewitching set, and one that speaks to the trio’s vital presence as innovators of the British punk scene. They are a band who make songs as beautiful as they are defiant, as endearingly frank as they are intelligent, and in front of a crammed crowd down on the Ouseburn, they burn with a luminescent brilliance.  

First up, though, are local rabble-rousers Irked, who are a fine case study in nominative determinism. The quintet sound suitably miffed, and their set is absolutely ferocious; fleeting and furious, like brushing your teeth with a pebble dash gun. Still in their relative infancy as a band, a snarling, breakneck turn belies any of the usual wary growing pains.

From the moment main support Ghum take to the stage, one thing is achingly clear; they’re probably cooler than you, they’re certainly cooler than me, and they might just be one of the coolest bands in the entire country right now. Last year’s stellar debut album Bitter was something of an under-appreciated gem, but one that painted an arresting picture of a group with obvious might and vast potential. 

Sculpting brooding, sprawling slabs of skullduggery from savage rhythmic machinations and guitar lines that sound as if they skulk through murky underpasses in the early hours, Ghum are a multi-lingual coup de grâce with hooks that burrow into your subconscious like pleasant parasites. 

Really though, for all of the simmering verve of their tour mates, tonight is all about Big Joanie. From the initial hypnotic erraticism and muted soarings of opener Cactus Tree, the trio – standing shoulder to shoulder throughout in an apt illustration of the solidarity they champion so readily – are simply wonderful.

Songs like Confident Man and Taut, both taken from last year’s remarkable sophomore record Back Home, are met with rapturous reception and enraptured veneration in equal measure, while the driving, infinitely danceable Fall Asleep is a pulsating zenith. 

In softer moments, like the jagged tenderness of Cranes In The Sky, Big Joanie exhibit a range, and a dexterous ease with minimalist arrangements, that many of their peers can only aspire to. Theirs is an approach to punk music without pageantry or pretence, one that picks away at the flesh of bravado until all that is left are the urgent, skeletal remains of the genre. It’s ethos over aggression, composure over bombast, and in the dying embers of a bitterly cold January weekend, it’s a heartening thing to witness.

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