Well, well, well. The rarest of rare things, a gig by an emerging rock band in Telford. To the uninitiated, a name like The Darker My Horizon may suggest that the music may lean towards the dark side of the force, Luke, with vocals straight out of the Breakfast Cereal Packet. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Darker My Horizon
Albert’s Shed, Telford – 18 February 2023
Words and Photography: Sophie James
They describe themselves as “offering an incredible and upbeat stage show, mixing rock, Metal, pop and a softer side – full of melody.” In Paul Stead, they have a singer who would not be out of place in Toto or their ilk. Combine that with highly accomplished songwriting and the sheer weight of melodic crunching riffs, and then you have all the ingredients for an eagerly anticipated gig and not just because of its location.
Kicking off with the motoring Functional Dysfunctional, “Call the Cops and the Fire Brigade, she’s kicking off like a hand grenade,” is typical of the many standout lines from this firmly tongue-in-cheek romp.
As any Military Strategist will tell you, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and the printed setlist was the first casualty with Closure, Propaganda Pt 1 and Waste Of Oxygen omitted due to a combination of the late start and keeping the mood buoyant.
The momentum was maintained with Paradise. I loved the tip of the hat to a prog classic contained therein. To the discerning listener, subtle little ‘Rifflets’ appeared throughout, each paying tribute to their influences but never detracting from the song’s originality.
The bangers keep on a comin’ with Perfect and No Superhero Part One. Sleaze is another one of those irresistible rockers that inevitably cause the head to nod and the feet to tap.
Carpe Diem was introduced as a song about “getting back out there.” We can all identify with those sentiments after the multiple Lockdowns. A jubilant gallop through the hook-laden Spit, a true hard rock hoedown with a groove that harked back to early Skid Row. Lyrically, being used never felt so good.
As Paul stated, “If you are going to do a cover, then make it your own.” That’s exactly what they did with Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. I would go so far as to say that it sounded more vital than a certain other famous take on it. Continuing on acoustic guitar, Paul strummed the instantly recognisable intro into Timing (Is Everything). What an earworm the line “Happy Mother, Unhappy Wife” is.
Heartbeat is such a well-crafted slice of AOR that deserves to be all over the radio. After the emotive crushing groove of Afraid, “Let’s speed thinks up and have fun,” was the message as they launched into OK.
Dear Olivia preceded the perfect set closing party song Still Alive. This has the same feel and spirit as Nickelback’s Burn It To The Ground. How many of us ol’ timers can identify with the line, “pour me another drink and then we’ll hit the dancefloor, show these kids what we’ve got and then we’ll drink a little bit more.” A rousing anthem to growing old disgracefully.
With the aforementioned vocals, Mark Stephenson’s fluid guitar playing and the tight, energetic cadence of Paul Hamilton on bass and Russ Barnett on drums, The Darker My Horizon possesses a musicality which blends the best of the old guard with the contemporary edge of the new breed and delivers a powerfully melodic, enjoyable and infectious set.
Before they took to the stage, I had been informed that this evening’s openers were ‘a bit different’ and not that particular observer’s cup of tea. A remark which immediately piqued my interest.
Describing themselves as an “ambitious, genre-defying, alternative rock band’, Birmingham’s passive.fix certainly lived up to those descriptions suitably reinforced by their entrance, whereby each member emerged wearing eye-catching hoodies of differing colours.
The harmonious melodic intro of Sun Is Dead led into the sonic ferocity of Strangers. Guitarist Alex Collett Sinfield (abbreviated as ACS) riffed away like a man possessed, empathising with a melodic verse, chorus, and then rap segment from captivating frontman Alex McCarthy.
Acknowledging that they had “got the wild one out of the way”, things calmed down with the mellow and jazzy Don’t Dream Of This, complete with Alex providing the first saxophone break of the evening.
Each member donned shades for the funky Disconnect. Enquiring, “what’s better than One Sax but Two Saxes,” as ACS donned the second. An unusual instrument combination to be seen at a rock event but with reverberating support from Sam Stringer and David Kirkham on bass and drums, respectively, it worked magnificently. The term ‘Saxgasmic’ might be sailing a bit close to the wind, but I can think of no better term to describe what I had just experienced.
Spicing things up with another angry one in The Fix, “when the fix runs through her veins, someone else enjoys the pain,” and “broken hearts don’t heal the same,” providing biting social commentary.
Time for another ‘happy song’ in the latest single, Better, which had a glorious summery feel to it and, of course, a soaring sax break. Comparative new song Red Lights, saw the guitar and sax change operators with Alex now on the six-string and ACS in sole charge of the brass, unleashing a breakneck solo that matched his riffing. This number was akin to a seriously riffed-up Madness.
Stained Glass was memorable for its infectious “one step forward, 10 years back” refrain before Daydreaming closed their entertaining set.
Most definitely a Marmite Band, but I do love their stuff. Their compositions are totally adrenalised when performed live and almost unrecognisable compared to their recorded versions.
As rock ‘n’ roll is evolutionary, not revolutionary, passive.fix are to be commended for fusing so many musically disparate styles and creating something so electrifying and enthralling.
A final note about the venue, what a wonderful facility towards the western extremity of the Midlands this is, and one that deserves far more utilisation.
It was time to depart as the ‘Kids Disco’ gathered momentum. Approaching the exit to the strains of Madonna’s Into The Groove, the line “music can be such a revelation, dancing around, you feel the sweet sensation” struck me as a perfectly apt way to withdraw gracefully.