The Wagon & Horses is Digbeth’s WH Smith – it’s always there. It’s omnipotent in its gloomy glory. You never notice it, really. Until the day it goes and then you’ll realise you’re fucked when it comes to stationery…or, in this case, getting fucked.
Getting fucked is high on the agenda of Ian Curtis Rides a Rollercoaster, the inaugural showcase of some of Birmingham’s brightest bands. You step in to a pub that’s about the same size as a student’s pantry, where gap-toothed ‘characters’ are sighing over half-empty pints (looking at their expressions, they’d definitely see them as half-empty) and realise this isn’t much of a party. Wrong room.
The stairs are rickety and black, leading up to a bathroom with no lights. You step in and immediately are accosted by a lax security guard who looks like he only wants to search you to see if he can share some ket. You’re completely potless, anyway (literally). You walk in and instead of a stamp you stand for what feels an eternity while a red penis is carefully daubed over your fist. It feels like a lot of effort for a penis. It’s bulbous and hairy, natch, but looks more like a dying snake. The girls, to offer sexual symmetry, have vaginas as their entry stamps, but some are crude and coy – like fleshy cones or the heads of mice propped up against corned beef.
You spend a lot of time in the bathroom and all of a sudden the lights come on. The security guard bops his head in and, realising you’re actually urinating, forlornly leaves. A group of people you know walk in but this isn’t a ‘duty call’ – they each take a line and as you drive a car and you’re a nice guy, you offer them your key. It might make the drive home more fun, anyway; there’s only ever been sugar in the gas tank before.
Onstage, Coventry’s FEET aren’t cold, even if the singer’s eyes are. He’s spent a lot of time observing Ian Curtis – the weird gesticulations, the angular and wiry movements of a man trapped in a tiny fridge, the shirt being pulled and grabbed by his own frenzied hands. He looks like he’s been on a rollercoaster when a severed head has come flying into his grasping hands and now he’s having to live with this floating head forever. Sorry Grace do a few covers but this is their first gig and anyone who conjures King Krule is more than good enough. They say monarchy should be ended but what would happen to Messrs Krule and Gizzard? Royalty never dies.
Yung Jimmy isn’t in it for the money but his performance has the jam-flecked flash of a millionaire. There’s no rehearsals needed when it comes to big ideas; they don’t occur over time, they don’t formulate, they occur in a spasm of creative genius. Onstage, it’s happening before your eyes and Jimmy and his motley crew seem to chime with the hedonism. Starwheel are melodic and chill, like a bleary sun trying to rob you of your vision after a night sat scoring in a band’s spare lock-up.
You step out into the delightful dinginess of Digbeth and think this could be a regular pre-cursor. But more than that you’re wondering how you ended up shivering, stoned and staring intently at a throbbing red penis.