Department S – @ The O2 Academy

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by Mimi at

Entering the O2 Academy, Islington isn’t far removed from a scene in ‘Midnight Express’. A security guy removes my friend’s bottle of water from his bag and bizarrely pours the contents over the floor but my deadly packet of mints go undetected while the other security guard adjusts her scrunchie.

Once through passport control, we make our way to the stage where Department S opens with ‘Clap Now’, a track originally produced for them by Mott’s Dale Griffin and Pete Watts. They had to go on stage 30 minutes earlier than scheduled due to Riders of The Night being cancelled at short notice, but already the floor is bouncing as people make their way from the bar.

Eddie Roxy on lead vocals strides across the stage like a designer-clad black panther. He never takes long to warm up a crowd. Former Back to Zero member, Sam Burnett, is on guitar and plays with eloquence and direction, though you could be forgiven for thinking he has a Crystal Maze to get through. Mark Taylor plays throbbing bass with a natural cool-mannered delivery while providing backing vocals with Burnett.

The Mighty Stuart Mizon already breaks out a sweat as he mercilessly attacks the drums, he’s more than the heartbeat of the band; he’s the cardiac arrest and completely unstoppable.

Mike Herbage (‘Bage’) on lead guitar is a joy to watch, his focus and pure pleasure in the music he produces is obvious to all. Anyone who has seen him live will be familiar with his hard-driving, layered guitar playing while maintaining a distinctive sound of his own. His fingers fly around the fretboard in the midst of technically dazzling slide guitar. He’s not afraid to take risks while making it all look so easy.

Moving through crowd-pleasers such as ‘Monte Carlo or Bust’ and ‘Age Concern’, we are treated to a new version of Syd Barrett’s ‘Lucifer Sam’. The unmistakeable opening chords flow beautifully into fast, assertive rhythms which dart deep beneath Roxy’s commanding vocals as he drapes his arm around Taylor’s shoulders, reminding me of a vintage Bowie and Ronno moment. The chemistry on stage between all band members is reminiscent of The Faces, when musicians really connected with each other.

Department S give each song its own twist, and even their old material has been re-worked without hurting the originals such as the poignant ‘Ode to Koln’, while new songs are equally enjoyed as the upbeat ‘Wonderful Day’ demonstrate. ‘Slave’ is introduced as ‘one for the ladies’. We’re teased with a gentle guitar intro and rich Lou Reed vocals, then assaulted with punked-out, demonic sounds. They don’t seem such well-behaved boys now.

All too soon, we near the finale and their rousing version of ‘Is Vic There?’ is met with a huge cheer on each cartwheeling chorus. Moving swiftly into the classic, bass-driven ‘I Want’, Roxy strides off-stage after wishing us all a happy Christmas and thanks everyone for a great year.

The rest of the band play out and are completely in sync as Bage leads the way; they create a moment of rock and roll clarity which is palpable.

Appearing in countless gigs in 2010 including festivals such as Blackpool’s ‘Rebellion’ and Belgium’s ‘Sinners Day’, Department S have proved they are the most uniquely exciting band to have reunited with their own colours and characters, and have musically collaborated with the likes of Glen Matlock and Marco Pironni. Wheels are set in motion for an album release early 2011. The late, great Vaughn Toulouse can rest easy, the boys did good.

I would have reviewed From the Jam but I only stayed for three songs and was so drenched in beer and gob from the nice balcony people, I decided that even Bruce Foxton’s half-hearted scissor jumps couldn’t entice me to stay any longer. Foxton knew he’d get a tough time from the Riders’ fans and issued a warning after their first number, but he later stormed off stage leaving the rest of the bemused band doomed for another soaking.

Will I go and see From the Jam again? Nah.

Will I go and see Department S again? Hell, yeah!

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