THE MARCH VIOLETS + THE ROSE OF AVALANCHE – CHALK, BRIGHTON 25.10.23
Wednesday night’s show at Brighton’s Chalk marks the 22nd show I’ve reviewed overall, and I’m bewildered that this is only my second time reviewing at Chalk (my first time being the beloved A Certain Ratio back in May – Review HERE). Nonetheless, I’m delighted that I could spend my second time here catching the wonderful angst-filled powerhouse that is The March Violets! Forming 42 years ago in Leeds and fronted by the enigmatic Rosie Garland, The March Violets were one of gothic rock’s best-kept secrets in the 1980s, channelling the sounds and energies of artists such as Sisters Of Mercy, all while still maintaining an original aura of dark, wistful songwriting, laden with reverberated guitars, mechanical drum machine rhythms and a distinctive stage presence. However, what’s truly remarkable about this band is the fact that in their original six-year tenure between 1981 and 1987, not a single studio album was released! Instead, no more than nine indie singles were given to goths and punks over the town leading to a devoted cult following that remained intact and then some by the time they eventually reunited in 2010 before delivering two self-released albums in 2013 and 2015.
As I waited patiently for the show to start, I watched on as the club-cum-venue that is Chalk began to fill with March Violets fans, all decorated in menageries of black dress, long coats and dark make-up (I will admit, with myself in my usual get up of 90s indie kid flannel and band T-shirt, you can imagine I looked a little out of place!). At 7:25pm, five minutes before scheduled support slot time, came the opening act for the show: The Rose Of Avalanche! A fellow Leeds-originated group, these guys spent a considerable part of their tenure blessing fans with nine studio albums (one for every original single The March Violets put out!), before they, too, disbanded in 1993. A subsequent reunion four years ago saw the band stretch into a new light again, still maintaining a fanbase that finds pride of place supporting The March Violets! The sound of tribal drums swarm the speakers as a background sample of a man detailing rock and roll being sent to us by the Devil himself follows suit. The five band members position themselves, dressed in all manner of misanthropy and 3/5 of them donning dark shades, before heading into the opening number, ‘Dreamland’. Already, there’s a strong interlocking guitar co-operation between guitarists Wolfie and original member Glenn Schultz, with a primal Wire-like energy.
“If you didn’t know, we’re The Rose of Avalanche!”, proclaims lead singer Phil Morris, stanced in his own lyrical world as his recruits flank either side. The following ‘Too Many Castles In The Sky’ holds a similar rhythmic position to the previous cut, maintained superbly by Dave Mattacks lookalike Mark Thompson. Already, this track, and this band in general hold a distinctive and immaculate gothic sound with echo-layered vocals and wonderfully distorted guitar tones. A pre-announced “new song”, ‘The Man’ came next, with a slower pace and fantastic descending guitar patterns that constitute a strong portion of the song. The song ‘Velveteen’ was a personal favourite of the set with its slightly more pop-flavoured chord progression, as well as Phil’s enigmatic stage movements reminiscent of watching Jim Kerr at that A Certain Ratio show I caught in May…! Apologies in advance for a further Wire comparison, but the next track ‘Always There’, a more upbeat and danceable cut, carries a relentless energy that could challenge that of Wire’s ‘Map Ref. 41°N 93°W’!
A quick tuning break interrupts the flow of the set as Philip is set to introduce the next cut, ‘Rise To The Groove’. This track was an absolutely momentous point in the set, gothic 12-bar-blues, are you kidding?! Not to mention Glenn’s slick guitar solo towards the end of the song too! If a track like that wasn’t enough for me, then ‘Goddess’ pushes the boundaries of the band’s sound-play even further, with odd, but jigsaw-completing snare rolls, several half-time switches in tempo and a stellar climax in the song’s bridge! Following the blues-induced and progressive ‘L.A. Rain’, came a track known as ‘‘Arris’; backed by possibly the biggest sing-along from the crowd so far, this track is equipped with elaborate guitar riffs and Phil swaying with the mic stand like there’s no tomorrow. A smooth transition takes us into the closing track, a cover of The Stooges’ ‘Loose’. This was a perfect way to close out as a pillowing guitar riff sits underneath Phil’s devious vocals, before Wolfie and Glenn duel each other with textures in the last leg of the song.
The Rose Of Avalanche:
Phil Morris – vocals
“Wolfie” Woolfenden – guitar
Alan Davis – bass
Mark Thompson – drums
Glenn Schultz – guitar
The Rose Of Avalanche setlist:
‘Too Many Castles In The Sky’
‘Rise To The Groove’
‘Loose’ (The Stooges cover)
It’s fair to say that The Rose Of Avalanche was quite the surprise I didn’t know I was looking for in the show, however, The March Violets were set to take the stage…! Backed with very little information of the band beforehand, I was taken aback by the lack of drum kit on the stage… where can the night go from here?! The almighty trio approach the crowd: the loose-haired and slick guitarist Tom Ashton, the sharp Max Headroom lookalike bassist William Faith and the beautifully ghoulish lead singer Rosie Garland. With a calm and sultry “Hello darlings!”, The March Violets kick into gear on ‘Crow Baby’. Stylistically, everything you need to know about the group is present on this track – hyperactive drum machine patterns, a classic post-punk bass tone, thin and gritty electric guitar distortions and a majestic aura brought to you by Rosie. Before heading into the next song, Rosie herself proclaims her amazement at the dynamic personality of the crowd: “Aren’t you fabulous? It’s Wednesday and look at you! You are glorious!”
That being said, that brings us to ‘Made Glorious’, possibly my favourite song of the set with its incredibly catchy hook sitting within a brighter tone compared to ‘Crow Baby’. Put simply, this track feels like a bubblegum candy hidden under a bed of cobwebs…! A treat for the fans now, as the trio enter ‘Radiant Boys’, their first single from 1981. This track comes back to the dark and heavy gothic tone the band were known for, complete with mutilated distorted guitar passages and repeated yelling of the chorus lyric! Again, not knowing the band’s songs that well prior to the show, the announcement of the song ‘1 2 I Love You’ led me to expect a sweet, bubbly pop song… how wrong was I? This had the gnarliest guitar intro of the set so far, with a dark industrial aura surrounding the song, topped off by William’s near-howling vocal performances.
“Not only is it fabulous to play the old songs, but we’re always writing new ones”, Rosie states before leading us into the weighty bass introduction of ‘Crocodile Teeth’. Here, I’m completely in awe of her hauntingly beautiful voice; it places itself into your psyche like a goth guardian angel. A shift into floods of green lights brings us, quite fittingly, into ‘Grooving In Green’, a song that feels completely fresh considering it dates back to 1982, with its minimal drum machine texture and krautrock-esque bassline that moves the song in motion. A quick celebration of guitarist Tom Ashton’s birthday two days prior (he’s 35, according to Rosie, hmm…!), and we arrive at ‘Dress 4 U’. Kicking off with quite a dissonant introduction, the rhythmic backbone contains textures that sound like something straight off a LinnDrum, while Rosie displays her glistening purple broach on her lapel.
The pace turns up a notch on ‘Mortality’ as dynamic changes between its verses create great space for Rosie to weave her lyrical themes of death and seizing the moment. A life-affirming moment took place shortly after this track: Rosie proclaimed her love and appreciation for the “strange, weird people” and that the world needs them… this made me feel right at home. The penultimate song of the set, ‘Heading For The Fire’, features a display of harmonic guitar riffs and multi-textured drum machine patterns, complete with handclaps and tambourines. Throughout the night, several March Violets fans had been requesting one particular song… the time was finally right; cue ‘Walk Into The Sun’! This is a certified post-punk jam with the strongest performance of the entire show, plus a slick descending guitar riff to boot.
A hearty bow from the three-piece concludes their main set as moments later, to the cheer and rapture, they return for a quick two-song stint to treat us all. While the first of which, ‘Strangehead’ features pummelling snare drums and jagged hi-hats against Rosie’s near-operatic chorus vocals, the latter ‘Snake Dance’ proves to be the biggest favourite of the audience! Here, the drum machines feel lively and organic (almost like something Stephen Morris could perform), and the closing chants of “Snake Dance!” fill the room with joy and devotion. It’s truly heartwarming to see a band like The March Violets maintain such an immaculate cult following that has lasted for such a long time, a following that they’ll be continuing to cater for as they approach the Tomorrow’s Ghosts Festival in Whitby to close out their UK tour for the year. Goodbye, darlings!
The March Violets:
Rosie Garland – vocals
Tom Ashton – guitar
William Faith – bass/vocals
The March Violets setlist:
‘Radiant Boy’ (not on written setlist)
‘1 2 I Love You’
‘Grooving In Green’
‘Dress 4 U’
‘Heading For The Fire’
‘Walk Into The Sun’
‘Children On Stun’ (on written setlist but not played)