‘From the Back Room' EP by The Caroline Bomb

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‘From the Back Room' EP by The Caroline Bomb

Review

Sometimes what can variously be described as either serendipity or random good luck drives a first review of an artist for me.

I was vaguely aware of the name of The Caroline Bomb via advertised gigs & they seemed to be sharing stages with other bands which I rate & have covered. That they kindly followed "Hot Music Live Presents" and this magazine on social media definitely gained them gratitude, especially the "likes" etc.

However I had little or nothing to go on in regards of any article until, reciprocating their social media follows, I spotted that their debut ‘From the Back Room' EP had come out in the last few days & out of courtesy, the least I could do was give it a listen. 

All the tracks (they bear the titles "Cardboard Soldierbox", "Plants, "Dead Eyed Nation" "Green ‘n' Knobbly" and "Caroline") are called demos and possibly, if it's as much a work in progress as a calling card, that may account for its "pay what you can" price on Bandcamp.

Recorded in the Back Room (which they describe as an "undisclosed location in Coventry City Centre") by members vocalist Barney Court, guitarist Joe McAvoy-Boss, bass player Eddie West and drummer Luke Oosterbaan, the songs cannot be described other than as punk (they self-describe as "indie-punk") and what particularly struck a chord with me were the fresh hat tips to first wave punk.

Obviously that period ended pretty sharpish just as soon as  a horde of very lesser talented bandwagon jumpers decided to ignore the original premise of diversity and individuality for an all purpose musical and image template.

Therefore those returning to the well need to fight back to first principles through nearly fifty years' worth of homogeneity & maybe it was inevitable that it would take this long for the spark of wit & humour (which were other aspects ditched pretty quickly) to return as well as taking on the issues of 2024.

Many of these are sadly exactly what they were in 1976/7 (Rock Against Racism opened a lot of ears but not all of them) but it's interesting how they have evolved in prominence.

For example, issues around identity were raised by several brave artists at the time (and violence was too often their reward) such as Tom Robinson, Poly Styrene, Jayne County etc, but by 2024 this area of consideration for songwriters has moved on a long long way (the options for gender identity have thankfully vastly expanded) and that alone means that this is not simply retro music: the agendas have developed.

Shorn of much of the baggage of mere revivalism, perhaps it's no wonder that I'm writing more & more about the vibrant local punk scene: Septic and the Tanks being a spectacular example of a new band with the enthusiasm, charm and strength of character to swiftly build a broad following: but I could date the first beginnings (locally) back to the emergence of Rewards & Revenge in Leamington a dozen years ago & point to the presence of tracks by the likes of Stegosaurus Sex Party, Grail Guard and Louis B Scheuer on recent editions of "Hot Music Live Presents" alongside bands of a similar inclination from back in the day and others, while less obviously "pure punk" like The Caroline Bomb, clearly tend in that direction: or maybe not so clearly. Certainly TwoManTing may sound roots reggae but acknowledge punk roots & cover The Clash and Alys Rain channels her punk instincts via Creaking Twitch.

And so from context to specifics.

The latest generation of punk bands catches the eye with their imaginative titles before you even hear the songs. What Horace Panter memorably mourned as the proliferation of bands "playing songs with two & a half chords and ‘boredom' in the title" has given way to such gems as "Dog's Birthday Party" as so I zeroed in on "Green ‘n' Knobbly" first of all. I wasn't disappointed. With the sort of compelling bassline which drew you into Talking Heads songs, once drawn into this one you were definitely in a British rather than American song with the dissonances, angular Wiresque guitars and the highly idiosyncratic vocals: the sort of courage to be different yet speak truly which so many unpunk singers lack. As to its meaning, possibilities are endless: which is to its credit in contrast to the tediously obvious sort of stuff which dominates the charts.

If the venue for recording & the lyrics of "Green ‘n' Knobbly" remain enigmatic, they both cede to the mystery which surrounds both the band's name & the song "Caroline" and as far as they are concerned, that's going to remain the case "exactly what "Caroline" really is, and where, remains a closely guarded secret known only to us". The mind boggles a bit (or at least mine did) and again, the chart toppers don't do that for me.

Said track sees another compelling bassline partially buried under a wall of guitars & drums: all the mixes are a bit weird (fine by me) and presumably intentionally that way. It begs the question of whether, these being demos, more polished versions will later come out. I'm not sure the exercise would be necessary to be honest.

The Caroline Bomb are noisy and energising yet melodies lurk in every track: as does much musicianship. The songs are carefully constructed with more internal variations than you might initially expect & plenty of variety between songs: I strongly doubt that some of the subtleties would be very apparent in the excitement of a gig, but the EP gives fans to explore them.

At this point, having just credited them with careful song construction, I'd better share with you what they tell me of their working methods: "we meet up every week in a central location in Coventry and play fast and hard songs. We tend to work quickly, writing things in the moment, and improvise as we go. Sometimes that means gluing two partially-finished songs together and finding they fit as one."

I think that I can (maybe) reconcile my perceptions with their reality through the medium of instinct: I think they know roughly what they are doing & happily welcome in the spontaneous & the "happy accident" and then are confident enough to go with the results when they work: presumably tweaking different sections to fit musically. This sounds far more commendable as artistic expression than those cynically manufactured commercial songs which appear to "require" six or seven professional songwriters to turn into product which presses all the right demographic buttons.

"Dead Eyed Nation" stood out for me on several levels: including being able to hear most of the words clearly & make a reasonable stab & what they might mean. It's also the track with the most realised musical complexity: it might be the track which gets selected for airplay if the EP is picked up by discerning ears. "Cardboard Soldierbox" which also impressed me probably isn't going to hit the radio though with its current combative lyrics. I can't imagine that the band are greatly concerned though.

At this point, armed with a few facts & the songs but never having seen them In action, I consulted Joe Wilson (Deathsex Bloodbath, Year Without a Summer, Concrete Fun House, Duck Thieves and others) who has praised them online & not only could add an informed perspective to add to mine but as a novelist could express it better than my own rambling thoughts.

"I first saw The Caroline Bomb in February, a late replacement for another band. They seemed fully-formed: I was amazed, talking to them afterwards, that they'd played less than half a dozen gigs. The band is a classic formula: a magnetic singer in front of a hot band. It's certainly true that the band's acumen as musicians give them their backbone. Their intangible quality, though, is how spontaneous it all seems: there's nothing expected about Barney's frantic movements and expressions, about the band's sudden gear shifts, how what seems like a dramatic pause can turn into a different song entirely. The Caroline Bomb's EP is good but their live show is must-see." Thank you Joe.

I'll leave the penultimate word to the band themselves "…we're a full-blown, 100mph punk rocket machine. We write about the things we care about, but in ways that make us laugh…"  which is fine by me

For such a recently formed band, The Caroline Bomb seem to be going places gratifyingly quickly: they are headlining the Sunflower Lounge on June 29th and on 4th July they are at the Tin with Trust Club among other bands to celebrate Election Night. Given the praise Joe affords them for their live show (he's particularly taken with Barney's unusual penchant for singing sans her shoes ("she's usually leaping around on the floor in her socks")), I keenly anticipate seeing them perform myself.

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