Pretty Vicious, a strident punk-rock band (accent firmly on the rock) from Merthyr Tydfil with one colossal track to their name, ‘Cave Song’, have become media darlings overnight. Championed by the nation’s music press as the latest, greatest, pretenders to pop music’s mythical throne, these four teenage rebels, three parts Johnny Rotten, one part Sidney (‘you’re a cookie full of arsenic’) Falco, are threatening to tear pop’s playhouse down and claim the spoils for themselves.
‘Cave Song’, a post-austerity howl from the underground, caused a seismic disturbance when it crawled, fully-formed, out of its dank confines and into the suburban sunlight last year. Its reverberations were heard far and wide, and the industry moguls did not miss the trick. The (culture) vultures at Virgin had them signed and sealed after just two gigs! You have to wonder what took the conglomerate leeches so long! Pretty Vicious are Oasis after a major blood transfusion, Jerry Lee Lewis the day after he stopped taking his meds, The Manic Street Preachers when they still had revolutionary zeal in their eyes and fire in their bellies.
Brad Griffiths, their 17 yr old singer, has a voice that makes Liam Gallagher sound like a burnt-out Barry Manilow. A scabrous yelp which can’t help but draw attention to itself, a red-blooded, red-raw rock ‘n’ roll larynx, thickened with insolence and dismay. On ‘Cave Song’, which just happens to be the greatest rock song of the decade so far, he seems to be fast-tracking a trademark sneer amid the swaggering riffs and the kitchen sink lyric. At just over two minutes, the song doesn’t outstay its welcome either, and we are left with the fleeting impression of a star being born.
So, just why are Griffiths and his school age comrades, Thomas McCarthy (guitar), Jarvis Morgan (bass) and Elliott Jones (drums) threatening to take the Principality by storm? The band’s nascent sound is clearly derivative. Even their name, a pallid, unimaginative, sub-Pistol’s moniker, is a smoking-gun clue that signposts the well-trodden path they intend to follow straight to rock ‘n’ roll’s hall of fame. The answer lies, as it has to with any rock band, with the star quality of the singer. Griffiths, with his coruscating, yet disaffected vocal, is a prototype for rock ‘n’ roll rebellion in the year 2015. In that respect, nothing’s changed since 1955. When it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, eight out of ten cool cats will always prefer their music to be sung by cocksure rebels.
It is a method actor’s performance, for sure, but what a performance! The vocal tics and tricks of Sky Saxon and Alex Turner are casually regurgitated on ‘Cave Song’, a raw-boned number with a riff that cuts razor blade deep, while Black Francis’ jittery scream has been carbon traced then spray painted with two coats of Dylanesque hubris, before being let loose on the frenetic ‘POA’. Rock ‘n’ Roll singers are like snake oil salesmen, like desperate cold-callers, haunting stay-at-home housewives – they get one shot at selling you their story. Brad Griffiths has got the patter down, alright. The boy’s a natural. But what is he selling exactly?
Well, the Virgin brand, if we are going to be painfully honest and partly disgusted about it. No one wants to begrudge a bunch of 16 and 17 year old’s their fifteen minutes of fame, but the moment the ink was dry on their contract with a flesh-eating multinational you had to fear for their safety. Along with Virgin Money, Virgin Mobiles, Virgin Trains and Virgin Hotels, they’d become a subsidiary – Virgin Pretty Vicious.
Their time will no longer be their own, the Virgin time and motion man will be forever on their case. Watch your toilet breaks, don’t phone in sick, and don’t form a union! They are cash cows now, passively grazing in the pasture, waiting to have their udders yanked. When they’ve been milked dry they’ll be transported to the slaughterhouse (by Virgin Trains, presumably). Pretty Vicious have signed with Virgin, it’s the first uncool thing they’ve done!
Does it truly matter, though? Which one of us could say, hand on heart, that we wouldn’t have taken the deal? Then, again, they could have taken Lennon’s swansong about betraying your heritage as a timely warning.
There’s room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be.
Merthyr Tydfil is a Welsh black-spot, a market-economy piss-take, a toxic ghost town being force-fed austerity from dusk to dawn. Youth unemployment among 16 to 24 year olds is running at 35.4%. Someone, other than local hero Mike Jenkins and his cabal of Red Poets, needs to man the barricades. Merthyr needs someone to set the clenched-fist politics of Syriza to music and to stand on every street-corner preaching revolution, twenty-four seven. The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, Part 2, playing at the local Vue for a month is just a bloody distraction!
Pretty Vicious played a visceral and uncompromising set at Ebbw Vale’s Literary and Scientific Institute last night, though their efforts were somewhat under unappreciated by a rather lifeless valleys crowd. The two hundred or so curious on-lookers, mostly comprising small clusters of teenage girls and larger groups of thirty something males, made no attempt to secure an encore at the end of a short but sour 35 minute set and indeed were away to the bar before the fledgling superstars even had chance to unplug their guitars.
Playing only their seventh ever gig, the band were tighter than anyone had a right to expect and the rhythm section of Elliott Jones (drums) and Jarvis Morgan (bass) played with an urgency that Brad Griffiths’ wildfire howl, by its very nature, insists on.
The mighty ‘Cave Song’, the penultimate number of the evening, and the stentorian ‘Black Sheep’, were the obvious standouts of an eight song set that suggested Pretty Vicious would be wise not to rush into the recording studio just yet. You never get a second chance at a début album and what these brash boys need most of all is time to fulfill their potential. Whether the bean counters at Virgin see it that way is another matter and they will be holding a brainstorming session, right about now, to determine how to taper off the band’s more abrasive edges (there were more blood-curdling screams at last night’s gig than you’d hear on the director’s cut of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and a day-long seminar on how to encourage Brad to get more in touch with his feminine side is no doubt being hastily arranged by Virgin’s brand management team as a matter of urgency. After last night’s intransigent performance, though, something tells me Pretty Vicious aren’t about to collaborate with the enemy.
Band photo credited to Robert Haines