On their bandcamp page, Radiator Hospital pleasingly describe their music as consisting of “soul guitars, love songs and loud drums”. Their singer, Sam Cook-Parrott, informed me post-gig that this catchy little epithet was actually culled from a review sticker on the front of an obscure LP that he once bought. Oddly enough, it also fits Durham-based pop band Martha like a snug pair of socks, so it was a match made in touring heaven when the bands announced their October / November jaunt across the length and breadth of the UK, which marks Radiator Hospital’s first full-band appearance in the UK. Their Exeter date coincides with the recent release by Specialist Subject Records of a split EP featuring both bands, presumably assembled and planned roughly 20 feet above the Cavern in the label’s office.
Support came from two local bands, “dreamo” duo Honey Pot and punks Selfish Son, who feature Lande Hekt of Muncie Girls on vocals. Honey Pot aren’t quite as sweet as they sound; their brand of acoustic melancholia hits hard, but is underscored by tight musicianship and carefully constructed textures that owe a debt to shoegaze. Selfish Son, who played second, delivered a set of grunge-tinged alternative rock that packed quite a punch, although it was smiles all round on stage. Part of the fertile Exeter alternative scene, they were confident and energetic, and are sure to play the Cavern plenty more times this year (it helps that two members work there).
Next up was Radiator Hospital, and before I proceed, I’ve got a confession to make. Studying abroad last year in the USA, I went to see the band at a house show in Richmond, Virginia. Unfortunately, I can’t quite claim to have seen them at all – before the show, my friends and I were a bit liberal with the Mango-flavoured vodka, and I wasn’t even aware that Radiator Hospital were playing until their set was nearly finished, having been massively engrossed in petting the house’s pet golden retriever. I resolved, in shame, to try and see the band again, and this Exeter date seemed the golden opportunity.
quietly be determined and punk in the best sense
From the moment Radiator Hospital kicked off their set with “Bedtime Story”, I was smiling, prompted not by a dog but by their charged, sentimental music, which owes as much to punk as it does the soppy lyricism of pop ballads. Genre-wise, they’re to place – they should be a pop-punk band, but there’s something about their music that seems a bit more introspective, a bit more mature. Most songs feature warm, encouraging guitars, straightforward drums and Sam’s semi-yelled high pitched vocals, which unfortunately got lost a bit in the mix; there isn’t, in all honesty, a huge amount of diversity, but that didn’t seem to matter. That’s not to criticise the songwriting; songs like “Cut Your Bangs” and finisher “Just May Be The One” are almost infuriatingly catchy, and inspired smiles – drunken or not – across the room.
Martha followed up with a set of charming, well-written, and political pop rock, not to mention their gorgeous Durham accents. Tunes like “Present Tense” and “Chekhov’s Hangnail” translated well in the Cavern, inspiring scattered dancing and near universal head-nodding. Like Gnarwolves and Moose Blood, Martha are the kind of band that have the potential for crossover success, enjoyed by Radio 1 listeners and respected by grizzled punks alike.
It’s worth mentioning that Martha’s political themes are at the forefront of their music; avowedly vegan, Martha are also deeply concerned with LGBT rights, animal rights and localism (we should “Move To Durham and Never Leave”, they say). They could never be called “preachy”, but are instead quietly determined and punk in the best sense. In the spirit of collaboration that marks this tour out, Martha brought on Sam to sing the first verse of “Bubble In My Bloodstream”, but there was nothing rockstar about it. Indeed, the show was devoid of any egos whatsoever, and, in the Cavern, on a rainy Thursday night, that seemed like the way it should be.