Sheffield outfit Reverend and the Makers roll back the years to deliver welcome upbeat indie at Islington Assembly Hall – and even take to the streets to do so.
“This is the quickest selling London gig we’ve ever had. It sold out in no time,” announced The Reverend, aka John McClure, a frisson of pride and accomplishment glancing across his face. The sense of satisfaction was understandable to anyone with even the scantest knowledge of the band. Despite being an ongoing concern for almost two decades, Reverend and the Makers would concede they’ve struggled to match the commercial heights of their impetuous 2007 debut, The State of Things.
It hasn’t been for want of trying. Four albums in the intervening years have each exuded charm and tunes yet largely failed to connect beyond their fiercely loyal fanbase. Nevertheless, as McClure will later admit from the stage, he has never had a reaction to new material such as that greeting the choice cuts from the upcoming album Heatwave in the Cold North.
The title track turned up on radio and social media last summer with the sort of frequency they thought was a thing of the past; so too did their most recent single ‘Problems’. And, with that in mind, the mood in camp Makers is understandably buoyant.
Emerging to the theme from Rocky (Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’), pumping out of the PA, the signs were ominous that this would not just be a thrilling affair but entirely no-nonsense too. The title track from their debut (‘The State of Things’) launched matters like it was a mission statement hurled from the late noughties to the present without one iota of dilution.
With wife, keyboardist and trumpeter Laura McClure, and his long-standing friend and guitarist Ed Cosens on one side and his new bassist Antonia Pooles on the other, The Reverend stalked the stage like Ian Brown’s gobby twin, delivering a slew of colloquial couplets packed with epithets and wry social observation.
The Makers’ musical engine was his equal. A deceptively robust beast, they imbued the songs with the sort of Sturm und Drang that could snap a catatonic patient out of their stupor. The likes of ‘Open Your Window’ and the Howard Marks-quoting ‘MDMAzing’ fizzed and popped, while ‘Shine a Light’ sounded like prime, Screamadelica-era Primal Scream.
“Who’s feeling sweaty?” asked McClure to the heaving, bouncing mass before him, showcasing his deft knack for connecting with an audience and making things seem personal. Cosens took the spotlight for the soulful swing of ‘Auld Reekie Blues’, while ‘Bassline’ pulsed like a club banger.
Reverend and the makers (@Reverend_Makers)
Just everythin abar them, is absolutely boss, time after time of seein them, whether that's the carnage of the big hits, lookin after people in the audience, or the mini gig outside, everythin abar is class
— Joe (@j0emcelr0y) February 7, 2023
The jaunty ska of ‘Miss Brown’ was dedicated to The Specials’ late Terry Hall, and the group blazed through the irresistible charge of ‘He Said He Loved Me’ with the urgency of a pub queue after the bell for last orders is rung.
As deafening screams reverberated like a fired-up pinball, it was time for The Reverend to deliver his parting shot: “Would you like some more?” came the rhetorical enquiry. “Me and you: outside”. And so, the 41-year-old donned an acoustic guitar and cut through the crowd onto the London streets.
Atop a set of stairs leading to Islington’s council building, he resurrected the timeless melody of Dandy Livingstone’s ‘Rudy a Message to You’. It was like witnessing a modern-day folk hero greeting his public, an act met by wanton crowd participation and a sea of smiles.
The Sheffield group’s boisterous indie is ripe for happy hour and happy times. And, contrary to the chorus of their biggest hit, ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’, in the live setting, the band continue to prove that they are, in fact, contenders. Write them off at your peril.