St. Barnabas has been meticulously transformed into what looks like the inner workings of Spring Offensive’s collective subconscious and artistic aesthetic; piles of books have been arranged on the ground forming lines that people automatically follow as they make their way to the stage that precedes the alter. Strip lights with lyrics sprayed upon them creates a sense of unease amongst the glorious surroundings. Literate and intelligent but always with that hint of the ominous about them, Spring Offensive are already here welcoming people and fretting around in their role as tonight’s organisers while Oxfork are dishing out delicious virgin cocktails and pizza to happy customers. Spring Offensive have never been a band of half-measures, and thank Christ for that (is that blasphemy? At least it’s out of the way early on, if so). As, who I can only presume was the local vicar, entered the church he looked slightly bewildered but mostly eager as the young and the old, trendy and decidedly untrendy began to fill out their beautiful surroundings.
All We Are were invited to open by Spring Offensive and have trekked all the way from Liverpool to be here. As they’re about to go on, Lucas from Spring Offensive informs me that the guitarist is Brazillian, their bassist is Norwegian (her accent had a tinge of Scouse, which proves to be an interesting mixture) and their singer and percussionist is Irish. Never have I seen a band that is so instantly likeable and I feel as if I have instantly fallen head over heels with three charming and talented musical misfits. Their music combines delicately arranged vocal harmonies, beautifully picked guitar lines and Wild Beasts-esque dampened, floor tom heavy and repetitive drum figures. The best word to describe it is definitely ‘hypnotic’. ‘Go’ is an uplifting and wonderfully constructed song that ends a really excellent set. The only issue with their set is that the quality of the night only continues to improve.
Having been inspired to explore his South African heritage and upbringing, Stornoway’s Ollie Steadman has extended his love for all things Zulu into a fully functioning musical act known as Count Drachma. The four-piece also features Stornoway’s percussionist Rob Steadman, as well as some wonderfully understated violin and bass parts. Touching upon themes relating to childhood, ‘Mantshontsh’ Emsamo’ stands out as an enjoyable adaptation of a lullaby concerning the Imbulu – a shape-shifting lizard who is particularly fond of stealing milk. Ollie’s explanations before each song are interesting and humorous, without feeling like a lecture, which is always a bonus. Although his versatility as a multi-instrumentalist has been long evident in Stornoway, his excellent use of looping guitar lines, saxophone trills and the odd trumpet blast, occasionally in quick succession, is not only impressive and great to watch but it is also an effective way of successfully melding repetitive African rhythms with melodic and percussive folk guitar lines. With just Rob on his trusty cajon and shakers tied to his feet you might think that the percussion will struggle to bolster everything else. Fortunately this could not be further from the truth as Rob teases out more expression from his cajon alone than the average drummer can from an entire kit.
A short break and another huge line for the toilet shortly follows Count Drachma as everyone begins to ready themselves for the main event. Having been nervously flitting around all evening, they look comfortable and confident for the first time this evening as they launch into the opener ‘Drowning, Not Waving’. Where Lucas Whitworth would previously use his imposing physical presence as a sign of awkwardness and vulnerability, spitting and yelling about choking on the contents of one’s wallet or the recurrent themes of drowning, right now he is brimming with confidence: towering above his bandmates and commanding the stage, he is a powerful and emotive juggernaut. Grinning broadly and cracking wise, he is a ringleader who manages to hold the gaze of the now packed church. Measuring his pauses and more assured than ever, his curt enunciations add a sharp sense of bitterness as he thematically embodies the twenty-something cynic who is plagued by the uncertainties of a stagnant relationship and the prospect of unfulfilling employment. The showman in Whitworth this evening is entirely justified in that this is perhaps the best vocal performance I have ever witnessed from the frontman.
There’s a wonderful moment when the more timid members of the audience who are huddled towards the back become the front row as the five-piece march into the centre of the crowd and, with minimal instrumental accompaniment, perform a lovely version of ‘Carrier’. Spring Offensive have always been tight as a vocal unit and this stripped back version really showcases what I have always believed has been a major part of their brilliance – the way they make professionalism look so easy.
After an encore of ‘A Stutter and a Start’, followed by ‘The Well’, rather than waiting around to chat I instinctively feel as though I have to leave immediately: words fail me as I march through the pouring rain and I know straight away that it’s pointless to try and speak to the Spring Offensive lads without sounding like a babbling and overwhelmed fanboy. Spring Offensive always dangle the carrot before us but snatch it away just as we feel we are about to be indulged and this is truly to be commended; we run towards the edge of the cliff open armed waiting for the hook to break our fall, but it never comes and we are tumbling towards the ocean desperate to climb back up and do it all again. Although 52 Miles claims that “home is wherever my rent goes”, it’s nights like this that prove how Spring Offensive belong here in a way that goes beyond simply living here.