LIVE: Burn The Fleet @ Southampton Joiners [23/11/2013]

By Rob Barbour

On 6 June 2009, Southampton’s legendary Joiners Arms held an all-day festival. The event was headlined by a new local band, Burn the Fleet, who despite having been in existence for about 12 months and with about five songs to their name played to a sold-out room – most of whom knew every word to every song. The band’s potential felt like a grenade and we were the lucky few who were present to witness the pin being removed. The main support that night was provided by a little-known Bedford band by the name of Don Broco.

The EP Burn the Fleet recorded in 2010 went on to become the single biggest seller Walnut Tree Records (RIP) ever released and everyone who saw the band perform came away feeling they’d been admitted to an exclusive club; the crowd sing-alongs to EP closer Handfuls of Sand were legendary.

By the time the band’s début (and only) album The Modern Shape emerged in 2012 there was an inescapable inertia around them. Immaculately produced by Neil Kennedy and fusing their trademark melodies and riffs with a more complex and progressive direction, the album should have taken that grenade and launched it so far into the sky it gave God shrapnel wounds.

Unable to regenerate that momentum, Burn the Fleet bowed out with a mediocre mid-afternoon set at the 2013 Takedown Festival. Marred by appalling sound and the fact that they were playing in a ‘venue’ better suited to facilitating the consumption of Jagerbombs by Oceanography students than to provide a fitting eulogy for one of the best British bands of the last five years, this wasn’t a closing chapter fitting of the band’s quality; it was a hastily written finale in desperate need of an epilogue.

So here we are, six months later, back in a sold-out Joiners to watch the band’s formal farewell. While peers such as the aforementioned Don Broco (three quarters of whom are present this evening) have gone on to major label deals and even Top 40 singles, this is where the tale ends for Burn the Fleet. With the Joiners so full that the soundman is constantly being shoved around by people trying in vain to get closer to the stage, we finally get that postscript.

Opening with a curtailed version of ‘In This Hole Lives the Wicked King’, frontman Andrew Convey and guitarist James Swabey slinging their instruments over their backs mid-song to pound drums, it’s an unusual and atmospheric start to a set by a band who always took their music far more seriously than they took themselves. Rather than a harbinger of things to come, though, this proves to be the
calm before the storm – as fan favourite ‘Nautilus’ rouses the entire venue, fists held high, into its mantra of ‘Prepare the sails’, the band play out of their skins – not only does Andrew Convey possess one of the strongest and most distinctive voices in UK music today but drummer Dan Northover is clearly a cyborg designed by Skynet and sent back through time with the sole purpose of hitting things incredibly hard.

Part of Burn the Fleet’s live appeal was always Convey’s effortless showmanship and command of the crowd. Tonight hit new peaks as he split the crowd during ‘Fictional Children’, instructed the two sides of the room to turn back to back and single-handedly invented the ‘Twerk of Death’. On a more serious note, though, his introduction of “the very first song we ever wrote”, ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, only serves to remind us of just how accomplished this band were and how immediately they hit a stride it takes most bands years to achieve. The guitar interplay between Jack Spurway and James Swabey still sounds beautiful half a decade later and watching such masterfully crafted songs being played for the very last time lends the evening a bittersweet edge.

“We aren’t doing an encore or any of that shit”, Convey announces – and everyone knows what’s coming next. To describe the near-religious experience of watching ‘Handfuls of Sand’ played live would leave me at the risk of sounding like a Jehovah’s witness but by the end of the song the stage there’s about 20 people on the stage, continuing the song’s closing refrains of “I beat my hands against my chest and sing, I’m alive” until Convey finally grabs the microphone for one last time:

“Burn the Fleet is dead.”

Rest In Peace.