Once upon a time there was a girl called Louise. Louise lived in a town in Yorkshire and she was extremely passionate about her music. She practiced playing the guitar every hour of the day.
One day, when Louise was a teenager, her mother decided to teach her a lesson about the world; how harsh it could be, and how Louise needed to find something more constructive to do with her life. She took Louise’s guitar and, raising it above her head, smashed it into a million pieces.
Louise’s mother did teach her daughter a lesson that day, but little did she know that it wasn’t the one that she had intended…
Fast forward to the present day, and here is Louise Distras in all her zealous ectasy, standing tall in front of the 2,000 strong assembled throng at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire. A feint and nervous introduction is not for her; as she steps toward the mic, she lets rip with a scream worthy of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” era Roger Daltrey, and soon all eyes are on the stage.
The blood, sweat and tears, born of years of graft and sheer determination, erupt as Distras throws herself full-force into “Stand Strong Together”, the opening track from her debut album Dreams From The Factory Floor. “They put us down in every way, it only makes us stronger every single day… Born original loyal and true, waging war on the chosen few.” On this form, the chosen few had better watch out, because it’s not a war that they are about to win.
As the song draws to a close, any thoughts that the audience may have had of talking or drinking through Distras’ set (some little 1970’s NYC band called Television appear to be the main draw of the night!) are vanquished, and a moment of stunned silence is followed very quickly with heartfelt and appreciative applause.
The raging fire of “No Mercy” follows, and you can almost feel Distras’ throat tearing itself apart as she screams “No mercy! Forgive me! Pray for me! Forgive me!” during the song’s coda. This time around the applause is noticeably louder, but Louise is only just warming up.
Next up is “Love Me The Way I Am.” The song’s message is one of self-care and self-belief; of coming to terms with yourself and who you are, and hoping that others will do the same. The lyric has an intimate and personal focus, as it tells the story of a friend of Distras’ who had attempted suicide before coming out. Fortunately the friend pulled through the darkest of times, and the song is just one powerful result of their survival.
Perhaps a surprise for some then comes sharply in to focus, as Louise recites the title track from her album, a prose poem that examines the power of dreams, and explores in detail an extraordinary and hard lesson learned. Already a moving moment on record, it resonantes beautifully at the Empire when, as Distras recites the line “They say that dreams never come true,” she lifts her eyes skyward, spreads her arms wide and motions to the room around her. The briefest of pauses to let it sink in, and then here’s the knockout punch: “Well I say that they do.”
It’s an impassioned and spiky blast through “People of The Abyss” and “Story Is Over”, before Louise is recalling in person that moment of wanton destruction on the part of her mum. Intended to stamp out the musical fire in Distras’ belly, as Louise stands strong and rightly proud on stage in London, it’s plain that it had quite the opposite effect. “I’ll show you. One day, I’ll show you.” And tonight, and on many other nights just like it, she has.
Another nod to a colourful past comes in “Shades Of Hate”, with it’s tales of Distras’ hometown of Wakefield and its infamous Westgate run, where “…the girls are in their Friday best and the men are wearing anger.” It has sections of the audience chanting the traditional refrain of God’s own county: “Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!” It’s not quite as poetic as Louise’s song, but it’ll do nicely, thank you very much.
Eventually, as they generally must, all good things come to an end; but what an end. Before her final song, Distras points in to the crowd and says “This song is for you. And you. And you.” With each “…you” Louise singles out the individual women in the audience, fixing them with her own eyes and an empowering sense of solidarity. “I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of being told how I should feel about myself; about my body. All so big corporations can sell us products to try and make us feel better about ourselves.” And then comes the vivid imagery of “The Hand You Hold.”
“Advertising man hammers nails into my head, crucifies these children before they’re born and bred.” Well bugger me if Distras isn’t helping to give every single one of them a fighting chance.
I’m telling you now folks, in these times of turmoil – of increasing social and civil unrest – the questing power of punk is alive and well, and its name is Louise Distras.
Louise Distras played:
“Stand Strong Together”
“Love Me the Way I Am”
“Dreams From The Factory Floor”
“People of The Abyss”
“Story Is Over”
“Shades of Hate”
“Black and Blue”
“The Hand You Hold”
Dreams From The Factory Floor is out now and you can buy it from Louise’s official merch store, Amazon and Google Play.
You can read Skin Back Alley’s 5/5 review of Dreams From The Factory Floor here.