It’s a dismal, drizzly London night when the UK’s most criminally underrated band, Sparrow and the Workshop, make their return. Unfazed by the weather, the Glasgow-based trio launch into a quite brilliant set, the material taken largely from new album, 'Murderopolis' - a record which should, if there’s any justice in the world, finally propel them into the limelight. There’s no dithering about as they plunge straight into first single, ‘Shock Shock’, with a filthy, grungy riff so catchy you’ll be humming it in your sleep. The next thing to hit us round the face is Chicago-raised Jill O’Sullivan’s voice – a perfectly modulated, cynical wail sitting somewhere between Karen O and Kathleen Hanna that demands attention.
With second song, ‘Valley of Death’, it becomes abundantly clear that this band can write tunes – their diminutive size as a group may give the illusion of simplicity, but really means that there’s never a note wasted, no superfluous indulgences. The lyrics are equally to-the-point, and near-gothic in parts - "So I’ll meet you here, in the valley of death…Will I wish I had loved you when we were alive?" Next track ‘You Don’t Trust Anyone’, from second album, 'Spitting Daggers', is as good as anything on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Gold Lion' but harder. It’s part indie-rock, part speed metal with a ferocious chorus full of spite and bile as O’Sullivan spits out "Let me show you how I’m rich and you are poor."
Sparrow effortlessly plunder and combine influences at will, achieving the seemingly impossible feat of melding grunge, metal, goth, indie rock and Riot Grrrl into something sounding retro and refreshingly original at the same time. The doom-laden opening to ‘Darkness’ wouldn’t be out of place on a Lacuna Coil album while title track ‘Murderopolis’ opens with a strong sense of '60s girl band – severely smacked-out '60s girl band, that is – before seguing into something approaching Fifth Column. It’s dirtily, cheekily wonderful, a collection of seemingly disparate ideas woven together by the energy of Gregor Donaldson’s drumming, Nick Packer’s deceptively simple, driving bass lines and the sweet snarl of O’Sullivan.
They’re not too serious to give us some good banter, either, with O’Sullivan and Donaldson cheerfully taking the piss out of themselves, while Packer remains enigmatically silent. Perhaps the biggest shock of the night, however, is when they decide to play a punk version of “a song written in the '90s” which turns out to be 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ and doesn’t sound shit. Who’d have thunk it. For this alone, Sparrow and the Workshop should be your new favourite band of the year.
Words by Theresa Heath
Photo by Mark Sedge