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Gig Review and Q&A: Blondes @ Exchange

Alice Loughran reviews the latest Blondes gig at the Exchange and was fortunate enough to get chatting to the band.

By Alice Loughran, Third Year Music

Once upon a rainy Bristol night, up-and-coming UK indie band Blondes give one of the most impressive opening sets I have ever seen. The supporting act is ordinarily used to warm up the audience met with reluctant sways and impatience for the main event. Instead, the band illuminated the Exchange with scorching guitar riffs and electric vocals.

"Are you here to see Blondes or Courting tonight darling?" Asks a polite man at the door as I enter the venue. Of course, I head straight to the bar to grab a pint of lager and find a good spot in the crowd. 'Can I Kick It?' by A Tribe Called Quest blares as the band bundle on the stage armed with beer cans and bright guitars.

They open the set with 'Minimum Wage' which is decorated with lush vocals and embellished by lead singer Will Potter on the keys. The remarkable multi-instrumentalist stands centre stage in a blue and purple windbreaker, enclosed by an orange electric guitar and a small keyboard. Dan Stroud, nicknamed ‘Stroudy’, stands to his left equipped with a bucket hat, rolled-up corduroys and a red electric guitar.

Credit: Alice Loughran

Alex Davison, the virtuosic guitarist dressed in a Breakfast Club T-Shirt, grabs the mic to introduce the band and announce the next song- 'Love In The Afternoon'. It is during this song that I start to notice the sheer talent of their drummer, and newest member, Dave Annis. He means business with his hair tied back in a messy bun behind a clear Remo drum. The ride cymbal pierces the tune, attacked by Annis’ masterful sense of rhythm and chemistry with the band.

Their 2020 hit 'Coming of Age' is introduced by a nostalgic and delicate guitar melody accompanied by Potter’s bright orange guitar which soars across the audience. Tom Herbert, the eccentric bassist, sinks into the chords as the band begins to dance. The audience and I follow suit; there is something seriously infectious about these guys. Hilariously, each song is separated by a swig of beer which sits by their feet.

“One, two, one two three” counts Dave, to kick-start their new song 'Best Friends'. With a descending baseline and sizzling high vocals, the cameraman taps his San Miguel can to the beat. I can’t help but notice how well Davison’s voice blends with Potter’s, at absolutely no cost to their simmering guitar flourishes. This becomes even more apparent in 'The Basement'. Herbert playfully sticks his tongue out at the audience during the bridge alongside quick semiquavers and close harmony.

Before the last song, they thank everyone for coming and invite the audience to say hello at their merchandise stall by the bar. They play my favourite of their songs 'Out The Neighbourhood', the title track from their newest EP, to close the evening, featuring flirtatious backing vocals and rocking hips. Everyone around me is completely enamoured by the band and the intimate finale is ended with fist pumps and air kisses.

Stroud wraps his chord guitar chord around his arm as the instruments and Marshall amps are gradually packed away. Fresh from their set, I am lucky enough to speak to the band. "Are you out tonight in Bristol?" I ask, "we are back in Liverpool tonight, unfortunately" replies Herbert. As I get speaking to the guys, there is something insanely familiar about them. Not only are they gifted musicians, but they are also fantastic people with a unique ability to plaster a smile on any face they meet; these boys are definitely going places.

Credit: Alice Loughran

If all of that wasn’t exciting enough, I got to speak to Will Potter after the gig:

I thoroughly enjoyed the gig! How did you guys meet and form the band?

"We wish it was a more interesting story! One day we'll come up with an elaborate but believable story. But most of us were all studying at the Uni of Nottingham in our first or second year. None of us were studying music but thought it would be a good idea to join the uni band society to just meet people who played instruments and as a way of meeting new people who liked similar music. A Facebook post from our guitar player saying he wanted to form a band got us all interested. I saw the words 'influences are Arctic Monkeys, The Beatles, The Killers..' and was interested straight away. A few weeks later we had our first practice in a little cupboard room on the uni campus. We played a couple of covers and they sounded quite good- so we stuck with it."

You have such a unique name, how did you come up with your band name ‘Blondes’?

"We were at our guitar player Alex's 21st Birthday party and were trying desperately to come up with a name a couple of months after being a band. It may have been Stroud, it may have been somebody else, but the name Blondes was shouted out amongst the noise, and it was one of those instances where we all looked at each other and said, 'That sounds alright you know'. Much better than our previous name, Innocent Sundown."

I hear a lot of different influences in your music, who would you say are your biggest musical icons?

"Between the five of us, we do have many influences. I think the underlying thing is 00s guitar music, particularly from the UK. But we all incorporate a few of our own influences in the music: Tom loves post-punk bands from the 70s and 80s, Alex loves jazz and RnB, Stroud is a Beatles fanatic, and Dave loves pretty much everything!"

What are your favourite songs to perform?

"Definitely Out the Neighbourhood and a new song called 'The Basement."

Between lockdowns and isolation, COVID-19 must’ve been really difficult! How did it affect your music-making and the dynamic within the band?

"We had already decided to move into a student house together in 2020 just before the covid lockdowns. In a way, we benefited a lot from spending so much time together as it focussed our songwriting. At the time, we didn’t have our drummer Dave in the band so writing to drum loops was a creative constraint. However, it became a cool limitation that allowed us to focus a bit more on different songwriting elements such as layering and different structures to keep it interesting from start to finish. So, in a weird way, the Covid lockdowns had their benefits. They were still a bit sh*t though."

What is your creative process like when writing music?

"It ranges every time but it's a lot more collaborative now than before. Now we like to share musical and lyrical ideas together and try to work them out as we're recording demos which is really fun as we can just bounce loads of ideas off each other. We're all a sounding board for each other."

Credit: Alice Loughran

Do you have any stand-out performances or moments?

"Playing Rock City in Nottingham with Sports Team was our favourite for many reasons. The sound was great, and the venue was massive. It was a bit of a homecoming gig for us as Nottingham is where the band formed."

What has been the best and most challenging part about your current tour with the Courting?

"The best thing about this tour has been introducing our songs and our live show to a whole new audience, who may never have heard any of our songs. For us, that method of playing live still remains the most important way to add to your fanbase, which is often overlooked sometimes. There have been very few challenges so far, but the most is probably trying to eat well. The evening is so busy with moving equipment, sound-checking, quickly eating, playing the set, loading stuff in the van and heading home soon after that. Not much green stuff and a lot of McDonald’s and KFC but it's all worth it!"

Featured image: Alice Loughran

Have you seen Blondes perform live?