Then Thickens are a band born out of the demos of Lancashire musician, singer and songwriter, Jon-Lee Martin. Having worked on 23 tracks with “…just a guitar and whatever I could fill them out with,” Martin was encouraged by friend and fellow musician, Jorma Vik of The Bronx, to give them the full band treatment.
Five new bandmates, a recording session, one mixing nightmare and a forthcoming glorious debut album later, and here we are, on this balmy Spring evening, at Wakefield’s The Hop.
The atmosphere feels almost like a mini-festival, albeit with a roof overhead, no tents and a far more intimate environment within which to savour the musical wares. Doors opened early at 6pm for an extensive bill of performers, including The Spills, The Ainsley Band, VerseChorusVerse and, after Then Thickens own set, grunge rockers Nine Black Alps.
As their 8:50pm stage time rolls around, Then Thickens waste no time in setting up and getting down. No sooner are they plugged in than album opener from Death Cap At Anglezarke, “Heaven Won’t Wait”, creeps into the crowd on a wave of synth-wash and strummed guitar. Jon-Lee’s deep-voiced delivery of the opening lyrics begin to build the tension, and the song only grows as Helen Thorpe joins him with her beguiling harmonies. It’s an engaging, captivating, mesmeric delight in the close quarters of The Hop’s upstairs room.
Those who know the song wait in anticipation, and are handsomely rewarded, when it breaks ranks on the rumble of Charlie Hartley’s drums and added ‘sturm und drang’ of Bobby’s bass and Sean’s guitar.
The band then segues directly in to first single, the fuzzy, driving rocker “Restart Your Heart,” a perfect one-two that has the audience warming up now, heads bobbing, feet stamping and giving nods of knowing approval to each other. Here are a band that have really got something.
We’re treated to non-album tracks, too, one containing a striking lyric about vaseline and nipples. For a group of musicians with just one finished album to their name, it’s a seemingly healthy sign of more good things to come, and a reminder that Martin was already sitting on a wealth of quality songs.
A slew of tracks from Anglezarke follow, one after the other, never letting up in emotional push and pull, including “Worms”, second single “Tiny Legs” and the sort-of title track, “Death Cap.” Each is delivered with total and devastating commitment, Jon-Lee in particular becoming more passionate, involved and intense with each and every note.
By the time the end of the set starts to make itself known, guitars are being wrangled like lives depend on it, Hartley is a whirling dervish clattering at his drums and Tom Griffin, up until now a relatively stoic presence behind his keyboards, starts to look like a mad scientist, desperately trying to perfect his sonic formula through the frantic twiddling of knobs, slamming of keys and creation of cataclysmic aural violence.
In a live setting, with each of six musicians at the top of their game and firing on all cylinders, it’s astonishing just how big every one of Then Thickens’ songs sounds. An already expansive album, full of poetry and melody, becomes something of overwhelming power when delivered on stage with such conviction.
The audience at The Hop can have been left in doubt that they’ve just witnessed a matchless set of single-minded and vital rock and roll. If Then Thickens are indie rockers, make that rockers with a capital R.
Read our interview with Then Thickens here, and look out for our album review of Death Cap At Anglezarke, arriving on Skin Back Alley later this week.