When Augustines play live you witness not so much a rock show as a rock revival. Like indie-Narnian-lions, the band breathe life into the the stone-cold Camden Roundhouse, converting a freezing December audience into the hippest looking bunch of Southern Baptists you will ever see.
Lead vocalist William McCarthy wears his heart on his sleeve. His troubled background can explain why he sings with such release. He was born to a mother with drug problems. He spent his formative years in a number of foster homes. His mother fatally overdosed when he was 19. His brother suffered from mental health issues but was jailed, and took his own life in 2009.
But if you think this translates into a gloomy show, then think again….
McCarthy sang of his life in We Are Augustines’ debut album, “Rise Ye Sunken Ships”. After a series of live performances that enhanced the band’s reputation word spread and the venues grew bigger. A follow up LP released in January this year dropped the “We Are” and was simply entitled “Augustines”.
Having endured such sadness in his life, it is clear that McCarthy, alongside fellow band members Eric Sanderson, and drummer (and Londoner) Rob Allen has chosen not to wallow in the pain but to seek release from it. It is the same approach to that of an evangelical preacher and this is why Augustines’ music is cathartic and joyful instead of being gloomy and inward-looking. Reach out and touch faith…
But faith is not always enough. This is the last show of the year and of the tour. Although the first thing that strikes the listener is the quality and power of McCarthy’s voice, he confesses to having had “a needle up my ass” to get him through the show. “I don’t care if I lose my voice in London” he says, “it’s a good place to leave it…”
That’s a great line, isn’t it?
The set (which is being recorded for a film) begins with “Headlong into the Abyss” and builds slowly. “Waiting on the Stairs”, from McCarthy and Sanderson’s previous band Pela makes an appearance. But Augustines have made their name from making the most of a venue and aren’t content to stay onstage. Sanderson jumps into the front rows of the crowd, then the band assemble at the back of the Roundhouse’s balcony to play “The Avenue”, followed by a thumping “Book of James” back onstage which almost winds the first three rows with its power.
The highlight of the set however is when the band play in the centre of the Roundhouse, surely a venue made like no other for such a thing, with acoustic guitars in hand, and a glass of whisky in McCarthy’s. “Weary Eyes” kicks off a few numbers played with the band surrounded by the faithful. A cover of Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop” gets the crowd dancing. “New Drink For The Old Drunk” gets us singing.
Yet despite a tour that has sent audiences across the world into rapture, McCarthy remains insecure and vulnerable. “I always think someone’s going to take it away” he confesses, visibly welling up onstage as the audience applaud, “it’s just me, I know…it’s just….we’ve worked so hard…”
Augustines are a band that bring joy onstage with them each night. McCarthy is a fascinating character. Part showman, part rock n roll Pagliacci. You don’t often see such raw emotion onstage. I hope he can take it, because he’s one of a kind, and Augustines are a band you’ll want to see again and again…
I don’t normally do this, but here’s a video clip of the band in the middle of the Camden Roundhouse crowd, singing along with their acoustic guitars. If you couldn’t make the gig tonight – if you were stuck in Leeds or the USA or wherever, then here’s a clip of what it was like….
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