Sunday, 13 April 2014

Heard Seen Done Been: Speedy Live At The Leadmill 2014

I don't think I'd ever been looking forward to a gig quite as much as this one but before I say why, just in case you're not familiar with it already, we need to fill in a bit of the back story...

Speedy in 1996
Speedy were an archetypal 90s pop band (remember that back then pop acts often used to actually play instruments and not just be 'producers').  Rising from the ashes of previous incarnation Blammo! (who toured Europe supporting The Beautiful South at one point) they sparked something of a bidding war between labels before finally signing for Boilerhouse. Coming from Sheffield at the height of Britpop they combined lyrical storytelling about Northern life with bouncy, driving pop music, not unlike their more illustrious colleagues Pulp.  A series of excellent singles didn't quite do as well as expected and even their biggest almost-hit Boy Wonder only managed to get to number 56 in the charts, despite being a Radio 1 single of the week and numerous appearances on Saturday morning TV.  Still with an enthusiastic live following, the album recorded and songs for the next one already being written, they were a band with more to give.

Then came 1997 and the great Britpop cull.  As quickly as guitar bands had been signed, they were dropped and Speedy were one of many victims.  They found day jobs and that was the end of their musical careers.

Speedy in 2014
Fast forward a decade and more, one enterprising former fan (renowned crime writer Nick Quantrill) managed to get hold of the audio files to Speedy's long lost album News From Nowhere. He passed them on to some bloggers and started a chain of events that lead firstly to singer Philip appearing on what was only our second ever radio show back in January 2013 and more importantly, to my standing in Sheffield's famous Leadmill venue in April 2014, waiting for Speedy to take to the stage.

You can read our original blog post about how we first came to hear of Speedy here: A Speedy Recovery

You can listen to our full length interview with Philip which will give you more of their history.

At the end of that interview I ask Philip if there is ever any chance of seeing a Speedy gig and he replies; "Who knows, if someone wants to put the album out who knows? We just might do a one-off show, maybe I could get the gang back together for one last show."

From that point onwards Liam from 1palbumclub and Jack from the award-winning Alcopop Records set about trying to make this happen.  Between them they formed the imprint Lost Music Club and their first release? Speedy - News From Nowhere and as part of the deal the band would re-form to play two gigs to promote the album, one in London and one back in their native Sheffield at The Leadmill venue which was not only their musical home but also at one point their former employer - they even physically built parts of it!

And so I find myself stood in The Leadmill a couple of hours before the gig, watching the band soundcheck.  It sounds good to me but they're clearly still a bit short of match fitness, learning how to play as a unit again.  It's not surprising as not only have they not played together for 17 years, some of them haven't performed at all for 17 years!

Bass player Moony has stayed active in the music industry but for journalist Rich, architect Philip and, most rock 'n' roll of all, antique shop owner Bronwyn, this is a journey into not so much the unknown as the forgotten. Fortunately for Bronwyn her daughter has just started playing the drums and so for the first time in years there is a kit for her to practice on; "She's just passed her Grade 1, which means she's better than I am now" she explains, to which Moony deadpans "Unfortunately she wasn't available".

Despite only having had a couple of rehearsals, the gig in London the previous night had gone well and they seem ready for what is both their homecoming and their last ever gig. How are things different now, I ask. More relaxed, their enjoying their time on stage, getting along better than they did 17 years ago. "Philip was a bit of a prima donna" explains Bronwyn, "but he even made the tea today and that's never happened before". However as the doors open and the crowd starts to gather, the palpable anticipation and expectation downstairs is matched by growing nerves in the Speedy dressing room and Philip becomes increasingly quiet and pale.  I wish them luck and head down to the gig.

The Leadmill is the sort of traditional medium size venue that music lovers will be all too familiar with. It's good to see somewhere that comes steeped in history (if you're a Sheffield band you'll have been on this stage) and yet has kept its independence - seems like everything is an O2 Academy these days. So who would actually turn out for a band that had no proper hits and were last seen 17 years ago? It turns out the answer is hundreds of people, many of whom are wearing Speedy T-shirts.  There is no merch stand so the remarkable thing is not that the T-shirts have lasted so long, or indeed that people can still fit into them, but that this band meant so much to them that they kept the T-shirt for 17 years, never dreaming that they would wear it to a Speedy gig again. Although not a sell out the place is full and when the lights dim and the looped platform announcement to Nowhere that opens the album starts, the crowd roars and starts the first of many 'Speedy' chants.

The band take their places and Philip stands centre-stage, arms behind his back, dressed in what can only be described as a 90s T-shirt (perhaps it too is an original, kept for just such an occasion) and a questionable jacket. He looks like a rabbit in the headlights. The band kick into opener Anytime, Anyplace, Nowhere, the crowd bounce, Philip flicks his hips left then right and in an instance is transformed back into the pop star that he was clearly meant to be. 

The song fades and the band look momentarily fazed by the enthusiastic reaction they receive but by now they have found their stride and any doubts from the soundcheck are already behind them. "That was one side of a double A side that didn't do anything when we released it, and this is the other side" announces Philip as they launch into Heard Seen Done Been and sound like they've spent the last 17 years gigging together. Moony stands impassive at the mic, pumping out the bass whilst Phil prowls his corner of the stage, belying the fact that he'd only recently had to re-learn his own songs, Bronwyn diminutive behind her kit, never misses a beat.

Philip is all action at the front of the stage, cajoling the crowd through the songs, unable to stand still for more than a few seconds at a time he bounces, kicks and arms outstretched demands our attention. Mild-mannered architect off-stage maybe but very much still a prima donna on it!

After just a couple of songs I decide to stop watching from the middle and get down the front where the sweating, bouncing, singing people are as the band rattle through the hits that never were. There will be no obscure B-sides or missing 2nd album material tonight, the band don't know them.  They've played through their debut album and done it, the crowd and themselves proud. They leave the stage with the crowd ringing in their ears and return with a confession "We don't actually know any more songs, so which ones do you want to hear again?" asks Philip. We already know the answer, Time For You and Boy Wonder of course. At this point I take myself off to the back of the hall as I want to record the encore for our radio show.  However also from back here I can see the whole spectacle. A band playing the last 2 songs that they know they'll ever play, giving it their all and a crowd who know that they are in the middle of something special - arms outstretched, singing with gusto, going for it every bit as much as the guys on the stage.

And then it was over.

It was a special night for everyone concerned but especially for Speedy who have managed to take a career that fizzled out and choose their own ending, with the release of an excellent album and a gig that they would later admit was one of the best they've ever played. For our show to have had even the smallest part in the story of bringing Speedy back to life is something that I am very proud of but quite aside from that, it was simply a fantastic gig. After the show as the crowd filed away I interviewed a few of them and everyone was going home happy.

So I shall leave the final word of this piece to a lady who'd been dragged along by her boyfriend, "First time I've ever heard of Speedy, first time I've heard them. Absolutely fantastic, I'm just blown away".

Speedy - News From Nowhere is out now on Lost Music Club Records, also on Spotify and iTunes.

Our show on 9th April included an interview and the live encore, listen from 01:40:00

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