Think about progressive rock, and there are many permutations. Possibly the most divisive genre, there is often a thin line between rock and Heavy Metal, with many bands straddling the division. Now into their 16th year together, the Welsh quartet Godsticks is certainly a band who can dip into both camps.
The Bunkhouse, Swansea – 9 February 2024
Words And Photography: Paul Hutchings
On record, Godsticks are more reserved, with their music flexing the cerebrum with every release. Last year’s This is What A Winner Looks Like rightly received plaudits, with the band’s progression once more evident. In many ways, it stands as the strongest album in their six releases, although each Godstick record contains gems to cherish.
Live however, they flex some real Metal muscles and tonight, tucked away in a backroom in the darkened alleyways of West Wales, Godsticks demonstrate this with a powerful display.
They draw some deep cuts from earlier albums, focusing on a chunk from 2015’s Emergence as well as a generous selection from the most recent album. Whilst many progressive bands spend entire shows focused on their instruments, such is the quality with Godsticks that they regularly make eye contact, smirking and laughing with each other, and genuinely having a great time.
It rubs off on the audience, a healthy turnout for a miserable early February evening, and there is air drumming, punching the sky, and singing along. Laughter is the dominant reaction despite the astonishing musicianship, and that is down to frontman Darran Charles.
He’s an unlikely-looking leader, but underneath the unassuming persona, he is a driven, steely character. He is also a major wag, berating the crowd at the start by recalling their last show in Swansea, over ten years ago, when six people turned up. “You can all fuck off,” he laughs. “Goodnight.” It’s a brilliant moment, and there are several more as the set unwinds.
Godsticks are mesmerising. Drummer Tom Price is partially hidden at the back of the stage. However, focusing on his style reveals a carefully, precision-driven musician who holds the complex movements and passages together. He ties in neatly with bassist Francis George, whose six-string bass rumbles the walls.
George looks as if he’s been in the band for years, not less than the year he has been since taking on the role after the departure of Dan Nelson. He ends up the butt of another Charles quip, this time about the best-looking member of the band. As Charles opens a poll for this debate, he curtails it after the cheer for himself, causing howls of hilarity around the room.
Humour is a definitive part of a Godsticks show, but don’t let that disguise the fact that they are one incredible band. From the opener, If I Don’t Take It All, the crunching Mayhem, through to the calmer delicate We Are Leaving, and the majestic finale of Exit Stage Right, this is a set that you can immerse yourself in.
Charles is no slouch in the guitar field, sharing solo duties with fellow guitarist Gavin Bushell, who at times switches into screaming lead rock star role as he sears the air with some blistering controlled lead work.
Don’t let the words progressive fool you. This was one heavy gig. Godsticks are quite happy throwing huge riffs out for fun. With George’s thunderous bass adding even more heft, it was a set where ear plugs were essential.
Fun, vibrant, and oh so good, Godsticks remain a band who have much more to bring. Search out their music, and get to a show. Tell me I’m wrong? You won’t.