For the alt. rock outfit known as the Belishas, the past four years have culminated in a surge of new music & live dates across Bristol. Situated somewhere between the heights of mid-90s brit-pop & Bristol’s current punk-influenced indie scene, they have emerged at the end of this year with two new singles & a growing audience. Tonight, they’re part of an 8-band full-frontal assault on The Mother’s Ruin, including local punk talents, Sapphire Blues.
The Ruin’s brightly coloured bar is packed as audiences from up and downstairs merge in between sets when there’s just enough of a gap to get another pint in. There’s such a tight schedule tonight that the moment a band finishes their set, the venue seems to turn into an exercise in inner-city mass transit. Amidst the layered chatter & spurts of mic feedback enter the Belishas, with frontman Ferguson yelling the band’s name in an affected wail at the crowd. Chatter continues as Garbutt & Green lay down a suspenseful, rising strum & Ferguson begins a sombre vocal referencing living in “the land of the free” & “killing the natives for fun”. His vocals explode into a yell and McCaughan’s drums match pace, rolling into the first of many crash cymbal-adorned crescendos. Green’s bass gives the ensemble an anthemic presence, allowing the crowd to immediately relax into headbanging and hopping in time to the high-octane intro.
This bittersweet groove gives way to Chinese Whispers, a playful piece of brit-pop goodness drenched in more crash cymbal & drumrolls. The track’s energy is sustained as Ferguson’s vocal style veers towards the Stone Roses – alternating between harmonising with the upbeat guitar melody & yelling just a notch louder than the rest of the band. The distortion on the lead guitar is very safe by all means – not overblown at all, however, the vocals are drowned out by its volume at points. When he is audible, Ferguson manages to tell the tale of a socially alienated generation strained to breaking point, “sleeping through the day” and “trying to make things right”.
The Belishas don’t hang around, dedicating the next one (entitled Money, Money) to all the “money-grabbing c***s in Canary Wharf” – segueing into a Blur-esque riff that sustains a great tension between the meandering bassline & the (once again) crash-filled drums. Although I start to notice a pattern emerging in the drumming that’s growing a little stale with each passing track, I must admit that it gives the band a very consistent and instantly recognisable sound. The chorus surprises, with an infectious 60s-styled vocal harmony between Ferguson and Garbutt echoing the Beatles’ debut. Below you can watch a live performance of Money, Money at Moles in Bath.
My concerns about stagnation are briefly kept at bay as the group drop the gates on a two-minute banger named Parasite, featuring a stripped-back bass-heavy drumbeat & an antisocial, atonal drawl from Ferguson. The band’s velocity & cohesion are on point here and watching the mass of windbreakers & floral prints writhe to the beat seems to prove that.
Though I had hopes that the Belishas would sustain this brutal tone and the dark outlook on society that the lyrics purvey, after a quick rumination about renaming the band “The Blue Cheese” the band get stuck back into a saccharine rut of brit-pop for the remainder of the gig. They rumble through Chlorine Maureen & Sheffield Elvis, with Ferguson affecting a punkish, but tame shout to help paint two character portraits of people getting through the mundanity of life in British city centres. It’s at this point that the tracks start to blend into one another, with little variation in texture, tonality, or vocal style, and although the band are clearly going at full throttle, I can’t help but mistake each track for a summary of the Belishas’ influences, rather than an evolution.
Though the band may lack their own identity yet, they’re still doing a great job of carving out a spot for themselves on the Bristol scene. And rightfully so – they translate the highs and lows of modern politics and the zeitgeist into a cohesive, high-energy indie package. With a little more experimentation & catharsis, they’re likely to turn into a formidable beast indeed. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears ready for the Belishas in 2020, folks.