As I sit here listening to their latest release Viva La Arthouse – Live in Melbourne I realise it’s nearly 20 years since I first heard Leatherface, courtesy of a DJ at The Venue, a once great (now crap) music club in London’s grotty suburb of New Cross, and it got me reminiscing a bit. That first introduction was the band’s cover of Message in a Bottle, an epic reworking of the Police classic – bigger, faster, harder, growling vocals. I loved it.
I bought their debut EP and, taking aside the Police cover, listening to Not Superstitious and Trenchfoot proved to be a bit of a punk rock epiphany for me. This band was pretty damn special. A copy of Mush was purchased soon after (now widely regarded by fans of the genre as one of the best punk albums of all time) and this cemented my love for Sunderland’s finest.
So, a fair few years down the line and I have another album to add to the collection. Viva La Arthouse..., the second release on the band’s own Big Ugly Fish label, was recorded during their Stormy Petrel world tour in 2010 at the Arthouse, a small, family run music venue that has played host to many bands of many genres for the last 19 years. Sadly, due to the enforcement of new licensing laws and restrictions, their doors closed in May 2011.
Being on the other side of the planet I never got the chance to visit the ‘Arty’ personally, but from what I’ve read it’s definitely held in fond regard by musicians and patrons alike. Indeed, before launching into Not Superstitious, frontman Frankie Stubbs remarks that ‘I’ve never been to a better venue than this’.
Recorded on the spur of the moment, Viva La Arthouse has that intimate feel you can only attain when a band plays a small venue. From the balls-out opener of Not a Day Goes By you can tell that the band is enjoying being there. The set list touches everything from 1990's Fill Your Boots through to 2010’s Stormy Petrel, although it’s pointless to try and categorise old and new Leatherface material in such a way; a new track like My World’s End wouldn't have sounded out of place on 1989’s Cherry Knowle.
The bass and drums are tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm and it’s great to have original guitarist Dickie Hammond back in the line up. There’s something special about the Stubbs/Hammond partnership, something about the song writing and guitar harmonising. Very few punk tunes make my hairs stand on end (or give a ‘reet neck mohican’ as Stubbs once put it in an old NME interview) but Springtime has always had that effect on me, as does the recent track Never Say Goodbye.
A great set continues, the crowd’s call for Springtime is answered, a rowdy rendition of Wat Tyler’s classic Hops and Barley follows, and they finish with an impromptu karaoke style cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, which, whilst being one of those ‘maybe you had to be there’ moments, has an undeniable charm and poignancy given the fate of the venue.
In short, the new stuff sounds great alongside the old, the band are on top form, and if this album follows the tradition of being as hard to find as all the other ‘live’ Leatherface albums, you’d better hurry up and get a copy.