By Lucy Brown

It was a rare night out for me; my first time at The Piper, and my first experience seeing live music in St Leonards. 

There was nothing to worry about – Covid 19 aside – on 4th November, the eve of Lockdown The Sequel, as I arrived to see Hastings bands, Hotwax, and The Mystic Shed. The venue was busy, warm and welcoming – not chaotic as I’d feared. Socially distanced tables of six, contactless ordering from your seat – it was running smoothly.

The Mystic Shed
PICTURE: Sara-Louise Bowrey

Hotwax was my reason for going out that night. I’m new to the area but not new to music, and from a listen to latest single, Stay Cool, I had no doubts about their sound.

What I wasn’t expecting was how polished the performances were. The Mystic Shed, up first, were deeply confident on stage and rightly so. Their musical ability is crazy; they were mesmerising as they thrashed out track after track. Frenetic and highly skilled, the two take you on an exhilarating ride; close to chaos but with more than enough technical skill to fly close to the wind, swerve in and out of manic solos then expertly land with a show-off skid. They are in absolute control of their wild innovative sound, and their onstage verbal riffing and meanderings only confirm they are born to perform.

Hotwax were a lesson in cool. Composed, slightly aloof; they complete the checklist for dark, sultry glamour. Moody vocals and deep instrumental weavings through psych rock to funk, they know their stuff and delivered it with a strong effortless presence.

PICTURE: Sara-Louise Bowrey

I had a chat with Hotwax – Tallulah, Lola and Honor – about their journey from mentoring with Eggtooth, via their four-piece first band, The Kiffs, to here.

Why Hotwax?
Tallulah: “Well our singer left in March, and we started to listen to more music, so our music tastes widened. When we were The Kiffs it was more revolved around singing, now it’s more about the instruments.” 
Lola: “We hadn’t just lost a singer, we’d lost a guitar as well, so the bass became more like a lead instrument, and also Tallulah was playing lead as well so it was quite interesting. We did a gig and it was a completely different sound so we decided to change name too.”

Did you think that might have been the end for the band?
Lola: “Yes, we were quite disheartened, if it wasn’t for Tallulah, me and Honor would definitely have quit.”
Honor: “I don’t think I would have! I really wanted to continue!” 
Lola: “But we were trying to sing all together,” 
Tallulah: “And it sounded really bad!” 
Lola: Yes! But Tallulah had been writing songs in her room and at rehearsal she said, ‘Can I play this?’, and we thought, ‘oh actually this sounds quite good’, and Tallulah became the front person.” 

New song Stay Cool was recorded at Savage Sound, and the girls describe it as a “a straight fast punk sing along song … something a bit tongue in cheek.” It works – languorous, ironic vocals over tight, face-punch riffs. 

They’ve come a long way from 2017 when they formed via Eggtooth and supported Rat Boy. According to Lola: “We didn’t think we’d be a band after that one gig on the pier, but after rehearsals we were like, ‘oh, actually we work really well together’.”

Now they are focussed on recording more songs and will do a session for Audiotrope in December. From there, a tour, more recognition, and a wider demographic of fans. Fiercely independent, they have no manager or contract: “We do everything ourselves but that’s better than doing something with a label, as we’re in control.”

Tallulah from Hotwax
PICTURE: Sara-Louise Bowrey

As for their audiences, Lola explains, “We aren’t that mainstream, so we tend to get older fans who like the music and grew up watching live music.” “Yes,” Tallulah says, “at school being in a band was seen as weird, not cool.” 

Being under 18 creates its own problems with venues too, though the girls agree they are well supported in Hastings and St Leonards. Fat Tuesday is one of their highlights; they were lucky to get a good slot last time and look forward to this coming February. Just as with everyone else, lockdown has taken its toll: the girls are keen to get out there again. 

Live After Lockdown

Adapting to Lockdown 2 wasn’t easy for the Piper, but owner Chris Barnett has his eyes on a sunnier future. “The Hotwax /Mystic Shed gig was both magical and quite emotional,” he says. “Two of my favourite local bands, both very talented and going places! Just grateful that through the generosity of the Arts Council we were able to host this awesome double bill as well as the other six shows we hosted across the seven nights we were open. We moved this show forward and hurriedly booked in other bands to play on the Monday and Tuesday, when originally, we neither planned to have bands on, or on Monday be open. But we smashed it with more sold-out shows and Blabbermouth, Buddha Triangle, Al Mitchell & Harrison Davies (Somnians) were incredible! Just gutted we couldn’t host Indie alternative rock gods, The Horrors, who were due to a monstrous eight-hour Halloween DJ set that weekend, nor The Shadracks on the Friday. 

“That said, equally we were just grateful and lucky that after weeks and months of work, renovation and planning, we were able to host the events we did. For that one week, The Piper really did come back to life, the place looked great, the energy was amazing and hopefully we brought back a much-needed bit of positivity to our funky little town.”

Chris feels it is crucial to showcase young bands. “The raison d’etre behind The Piper is to bring great underground, up and coming talent to the town from all corners of the globe, which is what we’ve done ever since we opened. We are here to welcome obscure Japanese avant garde metal bands, Scottish psyche folk bands, Californian underground rock stars. Equally though, we are here to provide a platform for local talent to cut their teeth on the same stage as renowned national and international acts, before they too get the chance to flex their art and play further afield.”

Post-lockdown the Piper plans to once again put on a diverse range of music and art events from gigs, to club nights, comedy evenings, cabaret, to streaming events, dance classes, meditation classes and yoga, whilst also providing a platform for local bands to potentially practise upstairs in the gig room in downtime.

“As for the bar, well, once we’re allowed to reopen, we’ll be looking to return back to doing what we do best: welcoming back all our locals, regulars and guests with some warm, welcoming, Piper vibey cheer.”

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