Live : Red or Dead19.05.2017 : The Bluebell, Conwy
By just after 10pm the crowd in The Bluebell (Conwy), scene of a recently witnessed Red or Dead live performance, had taken the definite form of Hogarth's 'An Election Entertainment' - with the only modern, jarring element manifest when Rob Murray asked the crowd to name their local Labour candidate for the imminent General Election, a question met by a lone response of 'Whitney Houston'.
Describing their limited, dual aims as "a fluid line up of musicians coming together to make great music, and overthrow the fascist government while we're at it", Red or Dead formed spontaneously outside a UKIP conference in Llandudno in 2016, with an impromptu protest performance making the first item of that evening's BBC six o'clock news. It is worth noting, only twelve months later, UKIP are now seemingly electoral French toast.
Live Red or Dead presented a set made up of their fiery original songs and a smattering of judicious covers - two of which particularly standout: a straight, rolling reading of The Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues, with harmonica replacing the fiddle part, had the crowd in sudden rapture; and The Cranberries Zombie offered a singalong anthem with all the intended emotional intensity of the original caught by Gala Elvira's powerful vocal - it's not often you have the hairs on the back of your neck prickling listening to music in a pub.
Before those mainstream highlights they opened with a song with the refrain 'Why don't you just Fuck Off' - demonstrating the punk side of Red or Dead is delivered in their uncompromising lyrics, politics and energy. For all that Rob Murray (vocals and acoustic guitar) is a traditionally engaging and charismatic front man, holding everything together on the compact Bluebell stage in his black Corbynista T-shirt. In a bigger venue the spotlight would have to be equally shared - Gala Elvira's vocals, lead or backing, add hugely to the songs, whilst the rhythm section of Emma and Dave Sunerton-Burl, on cajon and bass respectively, drive the music forward with the momentum of a runaway snow plough. As far as I can tell the on-stage band are two couples, just like Abba, but with perhaps a lower chance of an eventual musical film featuring Meryl Streep. On this occasion sometime fifth member Ian McAdam's percussive talent underpinned an early evening support set of covers performed with Rob.
Whatever else Red or Dead played, tracks from their debut EP formed the spine of an hour long show - punchy, primeaval, political songs; No One is Innocent rasped angrily and effectively by Gala and Fall Down given a quite magnificent melodic reading by Rob and Gala together. From the same release three cord manifesto Never Again closed the set - aggressive and fast, with a blurring Wat Tyler name check and, as noted before, an ever potent chorus of 'Never again will I bow down to a false idea or a faded crown, never forgive, never forget, never yield and never relent'.
I really didn't expect to like Red or Dead on first listen, but I do. Hugely. Live they are especially energised, but their recorded output has something equally vital and immediate in its spirited acoustic punk sound. And you would like them too, it is futile to resist.
RED OR DEAD I No One is Innocent EP