In one corner we have the residents of Ipswich – one of Britain’s oldest and most historic towns – who number about 117,986. Their town is built beside an estuary in the East of Britain and is known for its fish, football and ale but definitely not the quality of its music.
And in the other corner we have the disaffected youth of Ipswich, totalling 14 tattooed people. There should be at least one more but the promoter has skipped the country and left some of the disaffected 14 in charge of matters. We’re sitting in the attic bar of a garishly decorated pub where downstairs, every Saturday night, badly dressed men probably drink too much Stella and girls fall over in their high heels after too many alcopops. Aside from the 14 black-clad metal kids, there is also hardcore punk band Gavin Portland and their one-man entourage, but they don’t count as they’re from Iceland.
The battle is set as the landlady, a woman who looks like she sees enough misbehaviour during the weekend to make her clamp down on any inappropriate activity fairly quickly at other times, tells the stand-in promoter to turn the sound down or she’ll throw them out. A swagger of youthful rebellion sweeps the room and then, when everyone has thought about how bad it would be if Gavin Portland were sent on their way before playing a note, a moment of hesitation; the volume is reduced slightly. Round one to the Ipswich majority.
The first band raise themselves from their seats and wander to the front of the room without encountering any crowd trouble on the way. They sound a little like an unpolished version of Gavin Portland and half way through the singer announces: “I would tell you our name but as this is embarrassing so I won’t…this is probably our last ever gig anyway.” Two nil to the Ipswich masses and one less ‘bleeding racket’ for them to worry about.
A similar band follows, albeit one with a bit more confidence about their future plans, before Gavin Portland stand up and walk the two metres from their plastic table to the stage. There are now only nine people in the venue, five left after the first band, to absorb Kolli’s ear-busting screams, Sindri’s Jurassic drumming and the blasts of punk that emanate from the strings of Addi and Þórir’s guitars. All nine crowd members give it their all from the first cry of blue murder to the final flourish of drums – they set several records for the smallest mosh pit, the smallest crowd surf and for the fact that you hardly ever say that 100% of the audience, myself included, really enjoyed their performance.
Their short songs, in true hardcore style, were harder and faster than the other bands, who were really just filling the time before Gavin Portland came on, and the instrumentation was tighter than a duck’s backside in a full-scale flood. Thankfully, the landlady found something better to do downstairs and the volume did creep up to a level that just about did the band justice, but without it being impressively loud.
This gig was the penultimate in Gavin Portland’s UK tour, which has seen them play some of the most well respected new music venues in the land under the Kerrang magazine tour banner. Luckily, the rest of the tour was more of a success than their Ipswich date, as Addi confirms when we escape the pub for a windy beer garden before their set: “It’s actually been pretty good until tonight! We’ve done seven dates with Hell Is For Heroes, those weren’t shows we’d normally play – we’re a punk band, we normally play places like this – but some of the shows were really good, Birmingham and London…” To which Sindri adds, “That venue (Birmingham) was probably five times bigger than the biggest venue we’ve ever played before.” So, with a well-received overseas tour on their CV and a recent four-out-of-five review in Kerrang, is this the big break they’ve all been hoping for?
Addi’s answer isn’t as straightforward as it might be with a more commercially conscious band: “We’re just a punk band, we like to do things independently. I’d rather play ten gigs for 50 people each than one gig for 500 people. When we tour we’re a no-name Icelandic punk band but everyone is there for the punk show. When we play with Hell Is For Heroes in-front of 200 people not a single one is there to see a punk band. But we’re very grateful for the opportunity, we did it because we thought it’d be interesting playing to different people – it was fun. The guys from Hell Is For Heroes are really great, they lent us loads of their equipment too.”
Playing second fiddle to Hell Is For Heroes clearly isn’t something Gavin Portland relish – their punk sensibilities seem slightly at odds with playing support on a magazine-sponsored national tour – but all four members clearly love the experience and process of playing a gig, much more than the adulation or praise they might receive from others for doing so. The reason for this rather unique viewpoint? “We’re very confident in what we do, maybe we’re a bit arrogant. We take what we do very seriously and we’re very serious about creating something that matters to us. We don’t use the amount of people who came to a concert as a measure of how good the band is. If we’re satisfied with what we’re creating, then that’s what matters.” If Gavin Portland had measured the success of their Ipswich gig purely on attendance, then it would have been a catastrophe. But, as they packed up their own equipment and set off for Newport in Wales, you can be certain that the other 117,986 people in Ipswich were the real losers and the nine people in that attic room had the time of their lives, as did the four hardcore kids from Iceland.