The Spitfires at The Electric Ballroom, Camden, London 26.2.22
A sad day. This was the end of The Spitfires. After the social media messages that announced the band was finishing after nine years and a recent fifth album there was a question: who wants one last gig to say farewell? There were 1500 of us who were up for that, and we made our way to the Electric Ballroom, Camden. Some familiar faces in the Bucks Head pub up the road, from previous gigs and some familiar Mod labels and retro clothing too.
Out of Camden tube station and turn left and the Electric Ballroom entrance is 20 yards up the High Street. I made the trip with my wife Sally – our fourth and final Spitfires gig. Two at the Holroyd Arms, Guildford, one of these in Lockdown and one just after, and first was supporting The Selecter at the Wedgewood Rooms in 2019. (Link to my last Spitfires blog.)
Although I have been inside the Electric Ballroom a couple of times, I’ve never seen a band there. The other visits have been for club nights – one in the early 80s when new romantic and Boy George buddy Marilyn was hanging around the cloakroom as we arrived and later at some sort of indie/ goth night in the 90s. It looked a familiar layout when I walked in, with the standing partial balcony.
No support – the planned one had to cancel – and this was an early start, early finish gig with the doors opening at 6pm and a 10pm curfew so the Saturday night people could come out.
It was fantastic to see a full medium sized venue for this farewell show – ten times more people than I’ve seen them play to before and therein lies the stated reason for calling it a day. They just couldn’t make ends meet from the band.
It seemed like half of Watford was there – their hometown – and I was struck by the red and yellow lighting in Watford Football Club colours as the band came on – must have been deliberate, surely.
Lead singer and guitarist Billy Sullivan emerged, smart jacket with top pocket hanky looking every bit as Weller as he ever does – in Weller’s crew cut days. “You alright? One.. to the end eh.” Must have been a hard gig for this talented young man and it’s only bassist Sam Long who was with him from early on. They opened with Disciple from the first album Response before a couple from the much-awaited Lockdown album Life’s Worth Living.
There is no dodging the comparisons with The Jam whether it be the raw guitar tracks and Billy’s voice or the later additions of brass. There’s more ska sounds though and I’m sure any Clash fan would love them. Not enough found them in the end for them to keep going. You could see by a Spitfires audience that this is music that grey haired post punk gig goers love….not just them but we are significant.
The set drew more from their earlier albums with just three from Life’s Worth Living and nothing from the final release Play for Today. I guess of these albums we are left with the middle one Year Zero is my pick with the stand out song being New Age. That appeared mid-set.
The original keyboardist joined them halfway into the set with Billy joking that that couldn’t afford him for the whole set and the other additions were the two brass players that have been such an effective addition to so many songs – Tear This Place Right Down for example.
The set is a wonderful selection. I’m sure it was carefully mulled over (Farewell set list). As this memorable keepsake of a gig nears its end, it’s Billy Sullivan doing a bit on his own, something we will now be seeing more of as he announced his first solo performances several weeks later – yes, I didn’t write this one up promptly. Three solo songs – 4am – loved it – Something Worth Fighting For Return to Me.
The crowd were roaring, singing, dancing, drinking. Was that it…The Spitfires gone… not quite and they came back for two final songs as The Spitfires. On My Mind from the 1000 Times, the second album and they finished where they started with one from the first album, I’m Holding On.
The band give a final bow. It’s quite early still – 10pm – but there is an element of alcohol fuelled chaos. That’s it. A few heads in hands; a few tears….even an irrelevant chorus of ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ as the crowd dispersed to the lobby and back out onto the carnival atmosphere that is Camden High Street on every Saturday night. Farewell The Spitfires; hello Billy Sullivan solo.