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A fresh start often involves a change of tack. A new direction. In a musical sense that often means dipping toes into new genres, the unknown. An experimental phase which follows, presided over without an inch of flexibility.

That’s also where a lot of people go wrong. Too exploratory, too much. Too much forgetting what you were good at. We’ve all seen it happen. We’ve all seen the detrimental effects it can have – especially when you leave a band as their success is just starting.

Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles at The Rocking Chair proved that they have masterfully avoided this; whilst looking at consummate ease with what they are so early into the project. They know their sound and the direction that’s to follow. That’s huge in any bands development.

In the immediacy that followed Billy Bibby’s departure from Catfish and The Bottlemen, Billy took a step back and worked out the direction. He enlisted the help of Simon Jones from The Verve and following an audition period recruited his band, The Wry Smiles. Doing it his way, highly talented musicians in tow.

The auditions were no doubt stringent. Bibby and Jones knew what they were looking for. It wasn’t so much just talented musicians but producing a melting pot of people on the same wavelength. Keep hold of the talent, the success and add to it through the catalyst.

The Rocking Chair provided a fantastic, intimate backdrop to showcase all of this focus. The band were tight. Unassuming but with big presence. Billy Bibby holds a stage presence not unlike that of Jon McClure, both big guys. It’s what he knows. Intimate venues and lots of them.

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It felt like, as a band, they’ve been doing it for years. That melting pot coming to fruition with a setlist of songs that felt established. Rousing guitar riffs with a nod to rockabilly. The songs build and build. They keep building. These are big guitar songs, no doubt about it. Serious guitar solos.

Strides are hit, momentum kicking. The songs feels anthemic. Substitute the pick of the bunch, the latest release. The bluesy, rockabilly vibe is at the forefront, welcome to bandit town. A real stomping guitar riff with a kick of Motorhead in the break before the chorus.

Are you ready? maintains the sweeping guitar solos whilst the punchy Don’t Fall features a twinkle of the acoustic guitar.

There are always going to be comparisons to Catfish and the Bottlemen, especially when it’s emblazoned on the poster. They don’t need the Catfish fanfare. They’ve carved their own, distinctive sound.

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Of course there’s a natural undercurrent of the Catfish and the Bottlemen sound, Billy was an integral part the first album so it’s only natural. His influence so clear on both. Stick to what you’re good at and build. Build through the melting pot.

However, Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles exist as a band in their own entity. Certainly one to keep an eye on.

DAN BEALE

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