“You can be emotional but still be able to chin people”, half jokes singer, Graham Sayle, in his thick Merseyside accent. Opening up onstage about undergoing therapy and how it’s made him “a better person” – particularly during suicide prevention awareness month – sends a powerful message to this full capacity crowd. His voice breaks with emotion as he hits the “Are we still lucky to be here?” line of ‘Trauma Bonds’ – a song about losing a friend to suicide. It’s a notably poignant moment that he shrugs off in typical self-deprecating style, stating, “I cry at anything”.
To find a band so at ease and confident when revealing their human vulnerability is heartwarmingly pure – especially when you’re observing five blokes on a stage who look like they could blend into any crowd and indeed chin you. One can’t help but feel that if we had this level of discourse years ago, where mental health was not shunned as being a sign of weakness or brushed under the carpet, then many of our favourite musicians and loved ones would arguably still be with us. I have a couple of acquaintances who had to bury their dad and husband due to suicide and there are at least three men in my family who might have survived their loss, divorce and desperation if they had known it’s OK to feel lost, confused or angry and, as Sayle sings on ‘Fever Dream’, “You can take what you like / All that you have to do is ask”.
This is slightly off-topic of course because we’re here to celebrate the second High Vis album, ‘Blending’. It’s not out just yet, but those who were quick enough to snap up tickets for this instore have their precious cargo of vinyl and CDs tucked under their arms as they flood onto the shop floor, cleared of its usual record racks. The band launch into their set with ‘Choose To Lose’, the dominating opening track from their 2019 debut album, ‘No Sense No Feeling’. It’s the kind of song that lesser bands would leave until much later in their set in order to gee up a flagging crowd, but it’s whipped out at the get-go and fans on the front row, with fists raised, yell the chorus line straight back at Sayle when the mic is thrust in their direction.
The pace doesn’t let up as ‘Walking Wires’ is hammered out, giving way to newly released track, ‘0151’ – Liverpool’s telephone area code. “From Canning Town to Birkenhead, the working class is as good as dead… If you won’t give it, then we’ll fuckin’ take it”, roars Sayle. It’s a warning, a rallying cry and a working class middle finger salute to a cold and callous world that values money and power above all else. On record, the guitar break is Manic Street Preachers at their most youthful, brash and euphoric – it’s lost a little in tonight’s live mix, but it’s still in there if you listen hard enough.
If you have a group of old friends who you’ve somewhat lost touch with over the years and rarely see nowadays, but when you do, the conversation follows a tired and all too familiar path of constantly repeating old tales of past glory/debauchery, then chances are you’ll relate to ‘Talk For Hours’. It’s a football terrace anthem for those who shun Neil Diamond and Rob Moss’ bass positively owns the bridge with rumbling efficiency. Once again, there’s an observational darkness to Sayle’s lyrics: “All my friends keep dying through their authenticity / And sadly you’re not as funny as you used to be”.
During ‘Out Cold’, my gig buddy turns to me and jokes that guitarist Rob Hammaren must’ve bought an issue of ‘Guitar World’ where Billy Duffy ran through his set-up, thus enabling keen musicians to imitate his sound. I love The Cult and it’s those unexpected shimmering shards of Cult-esque guitar vibes married to gnarly punk energy that first drew me in when I finally caught High Vis live last summer at London club night, Some Weird Sin. My time management skills are questionable at best and I’m now kicking myself for all the times I missed them: wandering into Camden’s Lock Tavern rammed with enthused bodies as they were striking the last chords of their final song; the time they played a Venn Records night at Waterloo’s House of Vans but I arrived too late; or when they played at The Social as the world was starting to get weird ahead of that first lockdown, but I was too nervous about catching the dreaded lurgy to get the bus into the West End. I’m now one of a growing army of High Vis fans that Sayle teases about not knowing, as the band realise that their music is reaching a larger audience far beyond just their mates.
‘Stabbed’ is introduced as an old song and someone in the crowd heckles, “Dirty Money” – the name of one of their old hardcore bands, who many seemingly remember fondly. The track is an aggressive and abrasive punch to the throat that feels slightly one dimensional when compared to the band’s new material, which stretches the band in more eclectic directions.
The glorious ‘Altitude’ closes the band’s set, with its punching beat and raucous driving riff, which momentarily give way to a punctuated Morse code guitar stutter. Sayle yells, “I rule this wasteland on my own”, before the band soar off into a ridiculously breathtaking panoramic melody as the chorus kicks in. No song about getting fucked up deserves to be this joyous with the kind of sonic beauty that makes a drunk me cry.
For the uninitiated, High Vis weld hardcore punk to the swagger of The Stone Roses, which really doesn’t sound like it should work, but there are nods to beloved old-school Cure records and a doff of the cap to Joy Division. Live, it’s that seemingly simple communion: an exchange of energy between band and audience. They bring a humble and refreshing, no division authenticity to the table: we are the same and more unites us than divides us ethos. This is the band that our rail workers, posties, refuse collectors, undervalued care workers and everyone else who has been driven to take strike action this summer, need in their life. High Vis sound the siren with a call to arms and a reminder to always punch upwards.
Set list: Choose To Lose / Walking Wires / 0151 / Talk For Hours / Fever Dream / Out Cold / Blending / Stabbed / Trauma Bonds / The Bastard Inside / Altitude.
High Vis release their album, ‘Blending’, on 30 September. Pre-orders are available from Rough Trade in the UK, Bandcamp and Dais Records in the US. The band play their album launch party on 4 October at a venue in Soho (to be announced on the day) and support The Chisel at The Underworld, London on 10 November. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook for info.
For anyone struggling with mental health issues, please do reach out and talk to someone. Employers have a duty of care to look after the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff and help can be sought through workplace mental health ‘champions’, HR personnel or external sources such as trade unions and ACAS. Don’t forget, help is available for everyone, 24/7, through the Samaritans and Mind.
Review by Mandy Bang (London After Midnite)
Photos by Mark Dans L’Espace