A heated debate as old as time, permeating through sixth form common rooms, bus journeys and pub tables- a juvenile, somewhat over-masculine conversation: who is the greatest singer/guitarist/drummer of all time? Invariably the answers while stem from two places- early 1970s hard rock or 1980s heavy metal, while punk, new wave and post-punk often get lost at the wayside in these games of hypothetical one-upsmanship. By leaving out these genres, the conversation leaves out one man particular*- Clem Burke. The drummer for new wave icons Blondie was and is the band’s secret weapon, able to churn out all manner of slick, danceable beats, from punk through to disco, reggae and swing jazz. He has even achieved an honorary doctorate from the University Of Gloucestershire for his contributions to the Clem Burke Drumming Project- a ten year scientific work concerning the effects of drumming on brain health, development and behaviour. This alone surely puts him in the contention of one of the greatest of all time. That, and the beat in Heart Of Glass, of course. Seeing him alongside California pop legends The Tearaways in an intimate setting such as this is something quite special.
Field Manual have a sound that belies their Macclesfield roots- good-natured heartland rock, raw Americana with infectious hooks and freewheeling tumbling melodies as they reach into their back catalogue, namely 2017’s Someday Streets, to charm Night & Day with their easygoing but powerful song craft. Parallels with The E Street Band are easy to make thanks to the Clarence Clemons-esque saxophone that soars out and above the ringing chords and hopeful inspiring tone, a sound seemingly made for a car stereo during a road trip across the Great Plains (in fact, it’s pretty easy to imagine Field Manual playing at the Pawnee Harvest Festival), a snapshot of late-20th century small-town America- an idealised romanticised place dreamt up by a group of musicians holed up in north-west England, a snapshot so realistic you would have assumed that Field Manual had been flown in from Nebraska or Ohio, especially on the bright, jangling Tom Petty guitar in ‘Home’. ‘Closer’, with its sax-led riffing not dissimilar to Stay Positive-era Hold Steady shows a level of subtle restraint, never overpowering- the music is worth more than the sum of its parts, while ‘Fire’ extends out into sweeping, glorious 70mm- a triumphant panoramic soundscape of guitar, wind and keys all pulled together into a resolute Springsteenian rhythm.
Bedecked in matching black suits, the transatlantic blues rockers Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts have already amassed a large following with many t-shirts spotted in the crowd. Cut from the same musical cloth as Field Manual albeit slightly harder-hitting, as Fort Worth native Ryan Hamilton leads the UK-born Harlequin Ghosts through his rowdy roadhouse blues, a back-to-basics approach with the band dripping with raw charisma. New album This Is The Sound (“So I got told by the UK crowds that the album has the acronym TITS. We didn’t see that at the time, so thanks for that.”) is full of swaggering barroom blues with slide guitar and Ryan- formerly of Smile Smile and People On Vacation- howls, snarls and yelps like a reincarnated Jagger. The TITS material (sorry, couldn’t resist) comes with a huge positive response from the audience with sing-alongs aplenty, new single ‘Mamacita’ a Stones-y stomper, and ode to growing up and getting clean ‘Smarter’ both showcases of Ryan’s down-to-earth lyrics, while ‘Bottom’s Up (Here’s To Goodbye)’ almost veers into SoCal punk territory as the tempo shifts up and guitars distort further.
Undisputed highlight is ‘Oh My God’ (“Right now I want to transport the room to Fort Worth, Texas”), a soulful piece of southern boogie indebted in equal parts to Dwight Yoakam and The Allman Brothers, but mostly to blues rock legend Stevie Ray Vaughn, with a lengthy story explaining a ritual that involves nakedly embracing a statue of the late guitarist in order to receive magical blues guitar abilities- abilities that David Henry Winkler possesses in spades, with a solo as fiery as a glass of Texas-style ginger ale. The band finish up with TITS title track that contains another lengthy jam which as expected gets an uproarious response from the crowd.
The Tearaways’ sparkling West Coast pop feels like the culmination of the American westward expansion, condensed into music- after the Midwest and the southern deserts, we reach the California coast- Santa Barbara, to be exact. With smiles as wide as the stage, the foursome throw themselves straight into ‘I’ll See You Again’, their feel-good throwback sound built on close harmonies, the natural evolution of those early Beatles records, and beyond that The Byrds, Big Star and eventually Teenage Fanclub- if anything, The Tearaways feel closest to Big Star, with their catchy melodies, tight harmonies and deliberately retro styling: ‘Manchester Girl’ from new LP We Grew Up On AM Radio would feel kitschy and corny in lesser hands, but the straight-laced irony-free way the band appear makes it genuinely wonderful. The Tearaways in many ways feel like an oldies jukebox brought to life- their original material occasionally giving way as snippets of 60s pop hits appear and disappear- tribute song ‘The Wrecking Crew’, about the famous Phil Spector session players, crosses into ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Da Do Run Run’ while ‘Sweet Sounds’ gives way to The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’. There’s a clear love from the band with what they do and this shines out.
All this without mentioning the good doctor sat at the back. Clem Burke augments The Tearaways with his trademark drumming- powerful yet flexible with fills on top of fills, breaking any silence between songs with miniature solos. He gets a well-deserved moment in the spotlight during ‘Burke’s Law’, a surf rock breakdown on par with The Surfaris’ famous hit before deftly warping into an animated cover of The Rivieras’ ‘Califonia Sun’. His time with Blondie shows through here especially during the encore entirely composed of covers, 60s mod classics turned into new wave- The Small Faces, The Who and The Beatles given punky makeovers and with enough originality in interpretation while still retaining the pop sensibilities and most important the reverence The Tearaways hold these artists. A genuine pleasure.
*- see also, Steven Morris of Joy Division/New Order, and Don Johnson of A Certain Ratio- two genuinely incredible drummers coming to prominence at the same time from the same place yet diametrically opposed in output. The former gifted with near-robotic precision, the latter a master of funk.
The Tearaways performed at Night & Day Café on Thursday 29th August 2019. Words and photos by Liam Moody.