Review : Elessar – Cavern, Exeter

When you first sign up for the opportunity to shoot and write about gigs with Devils Gate Media you have a glamorous image of being in the pit at Wembley, or at Download, or even at an O2 Academy, within touching distance of one of your heroes. When you first set out as a musician, in a band, the dream is to be on stage at those same venues. Or playing to a crowd of thousands of adoring fans, with your name in lights, and the ability to demand monogrammed smarties, or exotic fruits to be laid out in your dressing room. The reality for most of us is very different. That sort of success needs to be worked at. The hard graft needs to be done. Your name needs to get out there, and you need to build a following, playing small venues to a handful of people before driving your own ageing white van to a cheap hotel or sleeping amongst the amps. We don’t get a lot of live music down here in the far South West of the UK. We haven’t got a Wembley or an O2. We don’t have festivals like Download, and even a lot of our smaller clubs are closing down to make way for modern bus stations or posh restaurants. What we do have is the sort of venue that those starting out need to have on their first tours, and the Cavern, in Exeter, was where I headed with my camera to catch Elessar on their first full scale tour.

Things are different in a venue of this size. Firstly, when I arrived, there was no guest list with my name on it, or fancy pass allowing me to bypass the stern faced security. A quick call brought one of the band from their van, which was parked outside. A friendly arm went round my waist, and he walked me past the ticket hatch with a cheery, “He’s with us, love”. The venue is dark. It’s small. There are no visible security. To be honest, there didn’t appear to be any actual punters, so that isn’t much of an issue!

There are five bands on the bill, but at 8 o’clock, it is clear that some of them haven’t actually made it to the gig, and the first band come on stage.

Chay Snowdon and his band seem to have brought a few supporters (or family), and the crowd is pretty enthusiastic about his edgy rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not heavy, but it is good, honest, guitar-based music, and the songs are well written and enjoyable. Chay himself provides vocals and guitars, and is joined on stage by three more than capable musicians, Kyran Bignell (Drums), Liam Roberts (Lead Guitar) and George Roach (Bass). They play a pretty long set for a first band up, and seem to be having a great time. Chay is an engaging front man, and has started to get quite a name for himself locally, playing something that has its roots in the past, but somehow feels modern and fresh.

Now things get complicated. Last on stage was another of the acts further down the bill, The Pretty Fragile. I will be honest and say that I struggled a little to really get into their set. Using a drum machine and sequencer rather than live musicians, in a room with (by this time) literally a handful of people watching, made it feel more like watching two guys practicing in their garage. The music was industrial metal with an electronic edge, but many of the songs blurred into each other in a wall of sound and I found it hard to enjoy. The band are fronted (and the songs are written by) Paul Abrey, but it was hard to find out much about the songs played or the other person on stage as audience interaction was minimal.

Sandwiched between these acts were the headliners, Elessar.  They hit the stage early to make the most of the limited crowd, and put on a great show. The foursome from Gloucestershire are a relatively new band, but have played in various outfits for a few years, before coming together to form Elessar. Their music is a mid point between alternative rock and modern punk. It’s accessible and catchy; short songs and simple harmonies, driven forward by twin guitars. The vocals and guitars are split between Ricky Powell and Alex Evans. Ricky takes the lion’s share of the front man duties with Alex providing support from the sides. Flanking them are bassist Jack Gambling, and in the shadows, at the back of the stage, the drums of Dan James. I really enjoyed their set. They sandwiched the bulk of the performance with what were for me, their strongest songs. “Finding Home” opened the set with a flourish and the closers of “Goodwill” and “Arrogance” are signs that they could be a band with a very bright future indeed. Well worth adding to a play list and soon finding their way onto favourites.

After they came off stage, Ricky wandered over and thanked me for coming out on a Sunday and for supporting the band, which was a lovely touch. We chatted about the tour and the venues they have played, the fact that it was the longest they had been on the road and that the audience was so small in Exeter (yet the guys still gave it their all, and were positive about the experience afterwards).

As I left for home, I couldn’t help comparing that dream of covering a gig at a major venue with the evening I had just experienced. A new band, working their collective asses off to try to make a name for themselves before a small crowd in a provincial venue. For me, this is what music is about. Not everyone will make it big. Not everyone will have monogrammed smarties. Bands like Elessar, putting in the hard yards may get their big break, or may never quite make it, but it was fun to share their dream for an evening and I wish them the very best of luck.

Review and Images: Rob Wilkins

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