My first act after arriving at The Fire Station was to indulge myself in a spot of reminiscing. Back in the mid-1990s, we were treated to a great collection of female-fronted rock bands: Elastica with Justine Frischmann, Sleeper with Louise Wener, Echobelly with Sonya Madan – and Republica with Saffron.
Before I get stuck into the meat and potatoes of the review, I would like to start with a question. If you bought a ticket for a football match, would you feel a little aggrieved if the players only played the first half and then called it a day? Keep your answer in mind as it will become relevant later.
As the clock struck 8.55 pm, Tim Dorney, Johnny Male and Conor Lawrence entered from stage left to cheers. As they assumed their positions, Saffron appeared, and the audience gave an even bigger cheer. After addressing the crowd, they flew into their 1995 single, ‘Bloke’. It became clear that Saffron still has the energy and charisma that helped her and the band to success in the 90s. ‘From Rush Hour with Love’ with its snarling guitar and beefy drum rhythm, quickly followed to the joy of the audience.
We were treated to a Techno/Drum and Bass flashback as the band dived into ‘Out of the Darkness’, taken from the band’s first album. Sadly, I hadn’t packed my glowsticks and whistle. Saffron regaled the audience about how she had met her would-be band members in the club scene during the early 90s. Whilst the song is certainly punchy, it isn’t quite 160 bpm.
As soon as the first few notes of ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ spilled from the PA, the audience at The Fire Station started to get their bouncy shoes on. Republica’s biggest chart hit, reaching No.7 back in ’97, has lost none of its appeal. As Saffron delivered the words with a healthy portion of snarl, her bandmates smashed out driving beats and angry guitars making a rather pleasing wall of sound – helped by the superb acoustics at The Fire Station. It really makes a massive difference when musicians play in a purpose-built venue.
‘Roller Skates’, a newish song that hasn’t been released to date, made an appearance and received a warm reception. ‘Picture Me’ a shoegazing techno-style track from their first album, had people swaying along, being careful not to spill their drinks. The cost of a bevvy these days makes every drop vital! There wasn’t much need for people to jostle for floor space to bust out their dance moves as, unfortunately, the venue was only half-full at best. It is a shame as Republica can still cut it on stage and deserved to play to a bigger crowd. Despite this, Saffron never held back and threw herself into her performance in her role as frontwoman. A true professional. This was also borne out in how she dealt with a constantly problematic earpiece. At one point she declared, “As long as you lot can hear me, that’s all that matters”.
We interrupt this review for a short educational announcement – Saffron appears in the video for the Chesney Hawkes classic pop hit ‘The One and Only’.
The tempo kept increasing through ‘New York’ and ‘Hallelujah’. ‘Christiana Obey’, a song released in 2013, was superbly performed. It is an excellent song full of searing synth noises, thudding drums and a beautifully angst-ridden and emotional vocal delivery. It works well as a live song and was, for me, the best of the night.
Last up was a local favourite. If you ever visit the Stadium of Light, home to Sunderland AFC of the EFL Championship, you will hear the song ‘Ready to Go’ blare out at every home game as the players take to the pitch, ready for kick-off. It is as much a part of the match day experience as buying a programme or paying over the odds for a pie and Bovril in the ground. As a result, some see Republica as honorary Mackems (the name given to people hailing from Sunderland). The band played at the stadium back in 1999 (before we all panicked over Y2K and then nowt happened).
As the song reverberated around the venue, there was plenty of singing from those in attendance. Quite a few mobile phones appeared to record the band playing this adopted football anthem. No doubt it will be made into a ringtone for a few phones too. The song ended, the crowd cheered and the band minus Saffron left the stage. The lead singer addressed the crowd, thanking everyone for coming out and how much she enjoyed being back in Sunderland. It appeared sincere as it looked as if she was starting to tear up – I think I saw a slight chin wobble too. It clearly meant something to her.
Saffron left the stage, and it became dark as the lights were dimmed. Everyone did the usual chanting, cheering and thumping of floor and furniture to encourage the band back on stage to deliver more quality music and to keep the night alive. Several minutes passed by and then… nothing. The lights went up in the venue. The crowd looked around. They think it’s all over. Well, it is now. Which leads me back to my opening question. Is ten songs and fifty minutes of stage time enough for the main act at a gig?
There was one support act (a local musician, Cortney Dixon) and then Republica. On arrival at the venue, they were marked down for a 70-minute set, with 25 minutes for the support act. We got 50 minutes. It was all over by 9.45 pm. I would expect an hour and a half as standard for a main act. Some artists will give you longer, even over two hours in some cases. Under an hour? It was match abandoned at half-time. I feel as if I got half a show. I wasn’t the only one. Perhaps those of us left perplexed and disappointed are expecting too much. I’ll leave you to make your own decision.
Whilst they were on stage, Republica sounded great. Saffron’s voice has further improved with time. They can still bang out crowd favourites and get people revved up. If only they would do it for longer. Seems they missed an open goal…
From Rush Hour with Love
Out of the Darkness
Drop Dead Gorgeous
Ready to Go
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