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Three Songs No Flash

Greggs & Loathing (& Van Halen): On The Road With Hey Colossus
Toby Cook , October 9th, 2015 11:11

Recently Toby Cook hit the rock trail in search of the new 'serious' Hey Colossus. What he found was pastry based snacks and loud rock music. Photo gallery by Katja Ogrin

All photography by Katja Ogrin

"It's all well and good when we bang on about Hey Colossus being the nearest thing the UK has to inheritors of the crown of the Butthole Surfers, yet if their festival opening set on Friday in the Warehouse stage proved anything, it's that if they'd stop fucking around they could easily be the most vital noise rock outfit in the county; seriously, they could be headlining a festival like this. No doubt they'd tell me to fuck off were I to put it to them that if they'd just put down the bong… they could achieve a greater deal of relative success, and in fairness they probably should – why should I stifle their creativity by insisting they do something as mundane as to take it a bit more seriously?"

I wrote the above back in 2012 as part of tQ’s coverage of that years Supersonic festival in Birmingham, on the eve of the release of Hey Colossus’ then most accomplished record, the bizarrely titled Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo, and just after group had played to what was at the time, by their own admission, most likely their largest ever audience. It’s a statement that’s running through my brain repeatedly as I take an early morning bus ride across South London to meet three-fifths of the sextet at the home of drummer Rhys Llewellyn, before squeezing into a car with them to make the long-ish journey west to first Cardiff and then Bristol.

It’s a thought that again tramples through my caffeine-addled grey matter when Vocalist Paul Sykes starts rolling a joint before our caravan has even made it to Watford to pick up guitarist and founder member Robert ‘Bob’ Davis. But it’s not just because it becomes immediately clear that despite some appearances to the contrary Hey Colossus have never really been ‘that’ sort of band. As the conversation moves from the dubious merits of Van Halen’s 1984 (Sorry Rhys, I’m sure the drumming is pretty incredible, but ‘Hot For Teacher’ still makes me want to pour dirt and piss into my ears) to the undeniable brilliance of R. Dean Taylors ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’, it becomes apparent that the very concept of ‘taking it seriously or not’ is simply not in the Hey Colossus lexicon. And it's not in any obvious way but by following their own path, their whims and their own rules, the group have found themselves, 12 years and nine full-length albums after first forming in South London, at their artistic, critical and (hopefully) commercial zenith. Only a few day’s previously their new album Radio Static High was premiered in full via a stream on The Guardian’s website, and in fact the whole reason for band allowing a bedraggled, undernourished hanger-on such as myself to join them on the day's jaunt is that they have been invited to officially launch this record, ahead of a performance later that evening at The Exchange, Bristol, by performing in-store at the county’s (or the world's depending on who you talk to) oldest record shop, Spillers.

From the moment we arrive in a sun-drenched Cardiff it’s apparent we’ve picked a good day for it. Rugby fever has brought more than a few people to town and those least reclusive of middle-class, middle-British animals – the retail junkies – are out in force. But are any of them here to see HC? Will anyone actually show up at all? Will launching into ‘Hot Grave’ in the middle of the afternoon whilst men in Cotton Trader shirts and Women clutching Next bags sip low-fat-raspberry-extra-foam lattes get the whole thing shut down? And where can Bob find a Greggs?!

Occupying a small corner of an immaculately maintained Victorian shopping arcade in central Cardiff, the compact but impressively stocked Spillers hardly looks big enough to contain all six band members at once let alone their instruments and amps too. And while the glass front looks suspiciously prone to shattering, should the group decide to indulge in any of the heavier entries from their oeuvre. As 3pm rolls around it’s a small and curious assortment of onlookers that have arrived – but as the opening strains of the new record’s title track billow out into the alleys and avenues the small crowd slowly balloons into something more resembling a bustling throng of bodies.

All of them are curious to see who’s responsible for the alien cacophony emanating from the small store, from the immediate converts (one young woman standing nearby dashes in with the hope of purchasing a vinyl of Radio Static High within about 28 seconds of finding out the name of the band enrapturing her), to the skateboard wielding teens drawn more by the noise and the promise of something disturbing than anything else, to the one gentleman who makes a laughable pantomime of buying an Iron Maiden record, clearly displeased that this posse of ‘London-y hipster-types’ are besmirching the serenity of his Saturday record shopping activities.

Having erred on the side of caution, indulging in more accessible and less abrasive numbers, by the time the band launch into closer ‘Hey, Dead Eyes, Up!’ it seems as though half of the Saturday shopping crowd have become completely enraptured by their pulsating racket. Not least the group of pre-teens who dart through a forest of legs just to get a look at… Well, god knows what they think they are seeing and hearing, but if just one of them goes on to form a band… I think you know the rest. Marks are being made. The mackintosh-sporting proprietors of the Liam Gallagher owned Pretty Green clothing store complain about the noise; James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers pops in and buys a folk album. He doesn't stay. And to a man the Colossus crew leave Cardiff several vinyl copies of their album lighter.

That night in Bristol sees Hey Colossus doing what they do best. They are clearly revelling in the deserved buzz that is currently surrounding them (weirdly, even Earth’s Dylan Carlson has turned up). They may be tired, some of them may have had a little sleep back stage, some of them may be more concerned by the blood gushing from the head of glass playing noise maker Justice Yeldham, but by the time they take the stage, and the likes of ‘Hot Grave’, ‘March Of The Headaches’ and ‘Oktave Doctor’ come tumbling out of the venues deafeningly loud PA, blistering the paint from the wall and the pints from hands, it once again becomes radiantly clear that seriousness or lack thereof has never, really been an issue.

From spending time with them it eventually dawns on me that the six members of the group are more concerned with forging their paths in life, not simply music alone – whether that life path involves teaching their sons Slayer riffs and contemplating the circle of life that causes the male youth to instinctively gravitate towards the Big Four or unashamedly appreciating the virtues of Trouble Funk and the first UB40 album.

As Paul puts it to me earlier in the evening over a cigarette in the smoking pen outside The Exchange: “We feel a bit out of place on some of the bills we’re put on these days. Desertfest was a weird one for us. But we’re not really interested in fitting in either; that’s not what we’re about. We don’t have any set goals for this band. We’ve been around, but what are serious goals, really? We don’t think of playing Wembley Arena or anything, that’d be fucking stupid. I’m in a band, playing music with my best mates, having a great time. What else is there?”

A three and a bit hour drive back to London, accompanied by Endtroducing and as little Van Halen as possible, Paul.