“Mike’s on daytime radio, and John played Reading + Leeds, and I’m still playing the Purple Turtle on New Year’s Eve”. So goes the lyric on Deaf Havana’s folk-tinged lament ‘The Past Six Years’, referencing friends in Lower Than Atlantis and Young Guns. Penned at a time when the band was struggling for direction and for their future, tonight sees them return to Cardiff having infiltrated the Radio 1 playlist and stormed Reading + Leeds twice.
South Wales act The People The Poet kick off the evening playing impassioned rock songs with a twist; all the songs on their debut album are developed from life stories sent in to the band by their fanbase. They have a knack for a melody, and even weave in an intelligent interpolation of Deaf Havana’s ‘Boston Square’ into one of their songs.
From the outset it’s obvious that The Maine are no timid openers. This is a seasoned touring outfit with a repertoire of fine songs to match their command of the stage, each member thrashing and moving about the stage without missing a note. With a loose sense of humour and propulsive songs, the band start their set with quite a few fans, and end it with considerably more.
Deaf Havana arrive on stage to their name lit up in huge letters behind them, busting into a rousing rendition of new song ‘Lights’, with brothers James and Matthew Veck-Gilodi in fine voice. Songs from last year’s ‘Old Souls’ comprise the first chunk of the set tonight, with Tom Ogden providing a master class on the drums, half Dave Grohl, half Animal from The Muppets.
The band take advantage of their alternative ‘Fools and Worthless Liars’ reissue, allowing for greater variety in the set list. The transformation of ‘Anemophobia’ is a real highlight, beginning chillingly with the bare bones of piano and vocals of the alternate version, James’ vocals filling the room. This gives way to Ogden’s powerhouse drumming and the band kick into the more familiar original composition. It’s an inventive move that shows off Deaf Havana’s versatility compared to some of their immediate peers.
Some magical moments are created during more sedate songs, notably a gorgeous ‘Night Drives’. It’s shame, though, that certain portions of tonight’s audience can’t bear to stop chatting for a few minutes to appreciate it.
The transition of ‘Saved’, a sombre campfire tune about a close friend’s life choices, into the yearning radio hit ‘Mildred’ is an inspired way to end the set, and negated any need for an encore. On the latter, Matthew Veck-Gilodi takes centre stage with his songwriting debut, tearing through the guitar riff and taking lead vocals on the verses.
‘Nicotine and Alcohol Saved My Life’, a new take on an old song (written with screamer Ryan Mellor, performed here without him) is a nice nostalgia trip for diehard fans, but it ultimately serves to show how far the band have come since then. Preceding track ‘The World or Nothing’ whips the crowd into a frenzy, and screams of more refined songwriting and musicianship than early releases.
‘Caro Padre’ is a fantastically performed closer, rising from a soulful vocal to a maelstrom of squalling guitars at its climax, but perhaps it suffers from being Deaf Havana’s least relatable song, describing the Veck-Gilodis’ relationship with their absent father. With a slice of luck Deaf Havana could become massive, but regardless of what’s next it’s great to see them firmly on their feet and enjoying the fruits of their hard work.