LIVE: Wonk Unit / A Fish Called Bastard / The Crash Mats / Aerial Salad @ Retro Bar, Manchester

By Ashley Partridge

In support of their new album, ‘Mr Splashy’, Wonk Unit spread their blend of organised chaos across Europe, the USA and finished in dear old Blighty. Supporting them on the bill of their Manchester gig was a trio of local bands.

Aerial Salad kicked things off with a bouncing throwback to the heyday of pop-punk but with an angrier, more serious head on their shoulders. Across their set of three-minute songs they blended elements of skate, ska and 90s revival. Lyrically, they sat more towards Bad Religion than Blink 182 and pointed fingers at the powers that be. All in all, a good opening set from a band still in their infancy.

The Crash Mats, a ska-influenced trio from Oldham, kicked up the energy levels with short songs about wrestling, chip shops and how terrible their home town is. There was a swagger about them that can only come from somebody who’s half-cut but they kept the music incredibly tight. At times, it was madcap fun fast-paced punk and the ‘Royal Rumble’ was an absolute tune. It revelled in nostalgia for early 90s WWF and the stabbing guitar solos were brilliant. Definitely worth checking out if they’re around your way.

A Fish Called Bastard’s set was something of a celebration for the release of their debut record, ‘One Beat Behind’, which they admitted had taken a long time to complete. The nine-piece ska collective just about squeezed onto the stage but left Jen and Cait, their vocalists, to roam the floor.  Anyone who knows the history of UK ska will be aware of the likes of King Prawn, Capdown and Sonic Boom Six. AFCB slot somewhere between them but the trio of horns makes the sound that much bigger. There were points where some of the songs dragged but it was a pretty solid set.

Wonk Unit know how to please and throw a curveball. Most bands open with a barnstormer to get the blood pumping. Nope, say Wonk. Perennial favourite ‘Horses’ had people gently swaying to the plight of being a pony in a cold field but that was just the warm-up. ‘Mr Splashy’ got a good airing with ‘Awful Jeans’, ‘Silly Voices’ and ‘We Are The England’ proving that catchy choruses will always be winners.

The band’s singer, Alex, is one of UK punk’s (and punk in general) greatest frontmen. His onstage banter and honesty is second to none. At times he simply says lyrics straight, channeling the spirit of William Shatner and, at others, he indulges us with observations and tales. He’s consistently hilarious and it’s helped by his endearing Southern swagger. He is a shepherd to the Wonk flock.

Over the course of nearly 20 songs, including an “oh, shit” moment when they realise they’ve left ‘Go Easy’ off the setlist, all the classics are ticked off: ‘I Love My Nagging Wife’, ‘Guts’, ‘Lewisham’, ‘Rambo’ and ‘Kings Road Sporting Heroes’.

Wonk Unit are one of the best British live bands for sheer fun and crowd involvement. Find them and see them.