As I survey the interior of this Camden live music institution – a venue that helped establish bands and artists who, in turn, helped establish the pub as a rock ‘n’ roll nirvana to imbibe quality live music performances – I wonder why I have yet sampled this spot during my 18 months in London. This is where Camden locals, Madness, unleashed their 2-Tone/Ska manic performances during their nascent days in the 1970s; Amy Winehouse, another Camden native, was also a frequent visitor to the pub. Now, at 9pm on a cool Friday evening, hoping to emulate the success of those aforementioned artists are Partisan. They take to the stage with a confident and breezy aplomb, which is characteristic of Mancunian artists who know they possess a certain je ne sais quoi that will send the masses reeling into rockin’ rhythmic frenzy.
They open with the thoughtful ‘Two Lovers’, which is a more melodic, and lyrically rich, track in the group’s repertoire. It is a relic from the heydey of Six10Repeater – the previous band fronted by lead singer and guitarist, Stuart Armstrong, but sounding much more mature in it’s present form. The pulsing drumbeat has feet-tapping rhythm and all is beautifully complemented by Armstrong’s wailing vocals.
I have been following the musical journey of Partisan‘s lead singer and guitarist for nine-plus years, from the days of Six10Repeater and the modest success they enjoyed including being named ‘Best Unsigned Band’ of 2009 by XFM radio station as well as supporting slots with fellow Mancunian rock group, Nine Black Alps. The group disbanded in 2012, but I continued to follow Stu when, the following year, along with fellow band members Dan Albon (bass guitar) and Leo Stanfield (drums), the current rock incarnation was formed.
Juggernaut is one of the latest singles released by the band. A powerful rock anthem that teases with deftly smooth, calm but quick verse instrumentation, before expanding, during the chorus, into energetic strumming and drum-beating, accompanied by Armstrong’s characteristic wailing, which sometimes seems on the cusp of being a yodel. The song flirts with the sound of post-punk revivalism of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Subways bent, but the band keep just a short enough leash to maintain the song’s melodic charm. It is clear that Stuart’s musicianship and songwriting has evolved rapidly, since things came to a close on his previous project, as the sound is much more polished.
However, the rip-roaring, garage rock-type crowd-pleasers are not wholly abandoned. The band’s pen-master still remains true to his rock ‘n’ roll songwriting beginnings. Ashes with its jangling guitar intro explodes into a molten rock number and as we get to the meat of the set list, the band begin interweaving punk and, conversely, post-punk elements. Oxygen settles us back into the richer an deeper melodies that the band are crafting, supported by Armstrong’s gorgeous wails. The pulsating bass and drum-beat that are the scaffolding of the track, would not be out of place in a Royal Blood album, who are prominent purveyors of this foundational rock formula.
The past two years, or so, have been exciting times for the band as they have worked with renowned producers, Jim Spencer – who has previously recorded with legendary Manchester artists such as New Order, Johnny Marr and Liam Gallagher – and Mike Bennett – who has iconic bands/artists such as Sham 69, The Specials and Ian Brown among his collaborators. They continue to release new singles, and I, for one, am hopeful of a debut album, soon, but, as the set fast approaches its close, the band go back to the vault and rattle out another pumping rock relic from Stu’s S10R past. Today Somehow, which was one of two of Armstrong’s songs to appear on an early version of the Pro Evolution Soccer computer game, is a raw ejection of frenetic guitar shredding, punctuated by a winding electric riff in the middle, before being sandwiched between another slice of rapid-fire guitar energy so manic, you think the strings will suddenly combust into flames. It’s my favourite track, possibly because it was the first I heard.
The band lay down their weapons of musical pleasure-giving following the final track that is among the most abundant in its instrumentation, there’s a hint of The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun and I am left elated and stunned at the musical strides the band has made. This is their first UK tour since returning from a monumentally successful US tour at the back-end of 2016. There are plans for another trip stateside and after tonight’s performance, you can see why new audiences are yearning for their sound. This is the kind of band that can steal back the airwaves from the plastic music generation of marketability over substance and rock soul. I am wishing them every success in the future, by God they deserve it.
— Daniel Adshead —
Listen to Partisan here: https://soundcloud.com/partisan77