The Spitfires live at The Holroyd Arms 1.10.20

I’ve been looking forward to this gig immensely, ever since rapidly hitting the ‘buy now’ button back when we thought we were emerging from Covid clampdown.

When the first of these two nights were announced, the Friday night Covid limited 100 capacity gig sold out within a couple of minutes and I was relieved to acquire some for tonight – Thursday 1 October – when that was added promptly later.

A Covid dodging gig

Even then as Covid controls relaxed a bit, it was a bold effort by those at The Holroyd Arms and the band to make this happen in the face of the Covid fear factory. It must have presented a few headaches over recent weeks. The shifting sands of Covid rules threatened to engulf the initiative shown – but it was all legal and the recent introduction of ‘the rule of 6’ in pubs was dealt with by moving the event out to a marquee behind The Holroyd.

Ticket holders were updated and reassured a few times but I was still looking at my phones in the days before the gig, and even getting in the car, to check that The Spitfires were still ready to scramble and take off as planned.

The usual Holroyd Arms gig room

The usual gig room at the Holroyd Arms, which puts events on under the personally appealing ‘Sound of the Suburbs’ banner, wouldn’t have been able to seat many in new pods of six. The shift outside to a large closed tent was a good move and I really hope it paid off and continues to pay off for them. For most a gig has been put in the ‘too difficult box’. As the nation kicks its gig bookings down the calendar it’s heartening to see someone getting on with it and squaring up to the various requirements (latest ones here). Gigs have not actually been prohibited, like many trading activities have over the Lockdown months, but it has been a case of Covid ‘safe’ (safer) requirements making it really quite difficult to get something on.

What does the Covid resilient Holroyd Arms marquee gig look like, beyond the big tent itself?

Table service – local Hogs Back ale

Frankly I think a lot of us who made it here would be happy to be sat in small cages in the rain just as long as we get to see the band play….but the adjustments needed are fine and much more hospitable.

Pub garden tables are arranged with maximum six at each table. Most lined up parallel to the stage so you’re not even facing others on the table as everyone’s eyes are looking forward to the stage.

Table service accessed by the QR coded pub app. Ticket holders details are already recorded through the booking process.

As advised by the reassuring emails, the gig start time is brought forward to allow the place to be cleared by the new 10pm pub curfew. Doors, well tent flaps, open at 5.30pm, the band on at 7pm and no support, so limiting the stage and preparation time mixing.

Hand sanitiser, space, a bit of mutual respect, sufficient security arrangements, visors for serving staff and a crowd of very grateful punters seems to go a long way.

What a bloody relief to get here and in anyway. On a personal note I’ve also buggered my knee up and have been driven here, with a crutch out of the shed, by wife Sally. Touch and go this one all round.

Yes there’s even the good old merch stand. I recommend the live in Hamburg double clear vinyl EP with New Age on and despite my bulging t-shirt drawers I convinced myself I needed to mark this occasion with one of the new album LIFE WORTH LIVING t-shirts in sky blue.

I recommend the Live EP
I love a merch stand

My rock ‘n’ roll Guildford

Despite the proximity of Guildford to my suburban London youth, it’s not somewhere I’ve been much at all. Even this evening we managed to avoid the centre completely as the venue is on a main road about a mile out of town. There are rooms at The Holroyd and aside from the Travel Lodge a mile away the other options are quite a hike if you were thinking of staying over.

Guildford was though the first place I ever saw a live band. Penetration at Guildford Civic Hall on 10 May 1979 – a mere 41 years ago. A Stiff Little Fingers (The Wall supporting) gig followed at the same venue and a few trips to Guildfest and that’s it.

I am a big Stranglers fan and as this was their original stomping ground I was all set to see them here at G-Live a few tours ago but another limb ailment prevented me from making the trip. I have a ticket for their ‘last tour’ here which will now be next year and a memorial to Dave Greenfield who we sadly lost in Lockdown….to Covid-19.

It’s not that bad a trip so a place with a few venues to keep an eye on, especially if they’re up for it like The Holroyd Arms/ Sound of the Suburbs.

The Spitfires

The Spitfires‘ sound was one of those instant likes when I first heard them, around the time when their third album Year Zero was released in 2018. There’s a Jam thing going on, even a young Weller thing with front man Billy Sullivan and the inclusion of ska beats and reggae sounds easily draws references to The Clash, The Ruts and Two Tone. I’m also reminded of The Rifles who I like a lot.

With Billy Sullivan on lead vocals and guitar, are Matt Johnson drums and Sam Long on bass and backing vocals.

The band, from Watford, is essentially a three piece but previously they had a permanent keyboardist. Brass is more evident on the latest album and tonight there is a two man brass section – trumpet and trombone – a valuable addition.

As Billy reminds us in the set, it’s eight years since they started out. Life Worth Living is the their fourth album and, as he said, it was released during the middle of a global pandemic which is hardly ideal, but there is no stopping their enthusiasm. The album is a move on from the last and very much not just another album. I love it, as I do the last one, Year Zero.

We have seen them before, just once, last year in Southsea at The Wedgewood Rooms where they were particularly special guests for The Selecter. A top night.

Grabbing a selfie with Billy Sullivan at The Wedgewood Rooms last year

The Gig…at last eh

The Spitfires at The Holroyd marquee

The sound is good. Everyone’s happy. This is a treat: an oasis in the live music desert. Bar an enjoyable Lockdown live stream this is the first Spitfires gig of 2020. They’re off.

The brass does add polish to the sound and brings variety to the crashing guitar and rhythms.

New Age from the last album was delivered early. A favourite (YouTube listen)

Billy Sullivan – Holroyd Arms

From the new Life Worth Living album my picks were Start All Over Again and Kings and Queens which starts with that unmistakable melodica sound – I’m sure it was a melodica that appeared (my sisters used to play them). It Can’t Be Done was another notable one performed from the new album.

Bassist and backing vocalist
Sam Long at The Holroyd marquee

I do wander about a bit to take a few photos usually so being rooted to my table brought some limitation on my ability to catch bass and drums with my trusty pocket zoom.

Matt Johnson busy in his kit
Sam Long – Holroyd Arms, Guildford

Over and Over Again from the last album was another cracker appearing later on. I tapped a few reminders on my phone notes but didn’t get anywhere near a full set list – should have snapped a pic. I wonder if same set for Friday?

Billy Sullivan – Holroyd Arms
The Spitfires – acoustic and brass

Some older tunes come out to play before the 75 minute set comes to an end: singles Stand Down (2015) and On My Mind (2016). A great mix of material to draw on now and it was good to have that variety to weave new album tracks into.

Wandering off to the car to go home at 8.20pm seems odd yes but we are in the midst of a global pandemic. I’m grateful… to the band and the venue. Rock on.

Published by ivaninblack

Still wild about live music - bands - gigs - festivals - after 42 years at it. All photos have been snapped by me or I will point out otherwise - I'll even own up to any blurry mobile phone ones. If gigaholic is a phrase then in recent years I think I've become one.

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