Black-garbed garage rock
The Black Belles - Live At The Railway Hotel, Southend

After missing the Brixton gig the previous night, Clash took to the road with Third Man Records’ Black Belles for a low key performance at Southend-on-Sea’s Railway Hotel. Sun shining the Belles returned to the coastal retreat after a storming set supporting The Horrors the previous week, ready to entertain those they so recently converted. Despite its close proximity to the smog, Southend marks a breath of fresh air, the town's gothic and music loving element all crowded round The Railway’s many doorways eagerly awaiting tonight’s headliners. The arrival of these beauties from Nashville is big news.

As venues go the ageing Victorian exterior makes a nice marriage to the girls brand of black-garbed garage rock. Packed from front to back and spilling from the sides all present are eager to make the most of this Sunday night and impatiently await the set as the light begins to fade. Trademark hats on and it's time to rock, single ‘Wishing Well’ getting things off to a blistering start. Any criticism of the band simply being an aesthetically pleasing creation of Jack White’s fevered mind are thrown out the window as front woman Olivia Jean shreds her guitar with assured grace and a good dash of rock ‘n’ roll swagger. Bassist Ruby brings some ‘60s groove to proceedings while drummer Shelby, despite the small stature, beats the living crap out of her kit – the girl is a machine.

Highlights of their small back catalogue are whizzed through and it’s a testament to the Belles’ growing cult popularity that numbers such as ‘Lies’ and ‘What Can I Do?’ are greeted with cheers of approval. With a subpar PA setup annoyingly diminishing some of the bands more subtle moments, the intimate surroundings and tour-hardened band make sure the atmosphere still stays an energetic one. The stage is minuscule and the audience stand at times just inches away, bobbing with happy grins, grateful that they’re allowed such access. Album cut ‘The Tease’ gets even older attendees members of the crowd nodding in approval at this slice of retro indebted noise. Set over in a flash the band mingle with the locals for longer, happily posing for seemingly endless photos, signing every thing shoved under their noses with a smile.

As the crowd get rowdier The Belles make their escape, heading back to London in order to rest for their trip to Paris the next day and then soon the dizzy climbs of Wakefield. It has been a good first UK tour, every gig rammed and their highly stylized vinyl has been selling nicely to boot. With an admirable D.I.Y attitude and bunch of great songs under there belts lets hope its not too long before The Belles and those hats return to for another round.

Words Sam Walker-Smart
Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

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