By Beau Goodwin
“The next Arctic Monkeys...the next The Fall; you never know where they’re gonna be. They might be in your local venue so please keep supporting them.”
So says Lily Fontaine, lead singer of the band English Teacher, before their final song, Albert Road.
English Teacher are the 2024 ambassadors for Independent Venue Week and as part of the tour, they stopped by Where Else? in Margate – a record store/bar/gig venue in the revitalised The Centre.
With a sold-out crowd of 150 people, the show is as intimate as you’ll get for the increasingly popular four-piece from Leeds.
With their debut album This Could Be Texas recently announced for an April 12 release date and a headline tour selling out fast, the group are hotly tipped. And the levels of excitement which surround them are apparent in the performance itself.
Which makes the opportunity to see them in such a bijou setting a treat. Stood in the second or third row I, and the rest of the audience, are a mere step away from standing on the stage and joining them.
It is, of course, exactly what Independent Venue Week hopes to highlight.
An annual event, it sees bands travel around the country performing intimate shows in local, independent venues. Following the closure of Moles in Bath a few months ago, this initiative is even more vital. Last year was a bruising one for the sector – which saw many casualties as venues shut their doors for the final time.
Lily’s speech is pivotal for understanding why smaller shows matter.
It is these grassroots venues which provide the fertile ground for emerging acts to hone their stagecraft and build that all important following.
From the Rolling Stones to U2, everyone starts off small at first. Independent Venue Week is all about ensuring that first rung of the ladder continues to survive and, hopefully, thrive. After all, it was less than a year ago that current darlings of the music press, The Last Dinner Party, were playing at Ramsgate Music Hall. Their upcoming tour will see them sell out the likes of the Hammersmith Apollo.
It is a treat seeing any band in such close proximity but even more so when the band have an arsenal of truly fantastic songs ready to play.
Opening the show with their groundbreaking anthem The World's Biggest Paving Slab, English Teacher quickly follow with many songs that are unreleased and likely to be on the upcoming LP – such as I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying and You Blister My Paint - as well as some fan favourites like R&B and Song About Love.
The setlist is a clear demonstration of why they are one of the most exciting bands of 2024.
Singer Lily has refined her stage presence – becoming a magnetic force. Behind her, she’s ably supported by bassist Nicholas Eden, guitarist Lewis Whiting and drummer Douglas Frost who, for songs like Mastermind Specialism, leaves his sticks to one side to take on keyboard duties.
Lily plays to the crowd – engaging in lots of eye contact – while her emotive voice effortlessly rides the rollercoaster of emotions and notes the songs take her on.
When they’re not playing some of the best basslines I have had the pleasure of hearing or singing with such raw emotion, which pushes already excellent tracks to new heights, they’re making friends with the crowd.
Thanking the audience for their warm welcome, they proceed to compliment the town – highlighting the delights of Peter’s Fish Factory – a perennially popular chippy close to the Turner Contemporary.
As the crowd erupts into a mixture of laughing and cheering, the band quips about the whereabouts of Peter – calling out in the hope he’s in the crowd.
Again, it’s another benefit of the intimacy of such shows – the band’s easy conversation endearing them to the audience.
English Teacher’s show in Margate is not just a good indication of the band’s rising popularity, but a positive sign about the state of independent venues.
It’s hard to imagine such an exchange taking place on the stage of the O2 Arena.
But that is just one of the many benefits of supporting your local live music venue. It feeds the whole music eco-system – allowing bands such as English Teacher to grow and giving fans who take the risk on emerging talent to perhaps, just perhaps, watch tomorrow’s stadium-filling superstars in a room where the performers are within touching distance.
If you were one of the lucky 150 people that saw this gig, remember it fondly. I suspect before too long it will be one of those shows you can boast about attending as English Teacher headline the nation’s biggest venues.