Industry rock gods - and goddesses - go head-to-head to find construction's best band
Harvey Canary is in a frenzy. “CREDIT CRUUUUNNCH! “It’s the CREEH - DIT - CRUNCH!” he screams, hurling carrots into the crowd and leaping up and down. He’s got crazy hair, stars on his shirt and fluorescent orange braces – he’s clearly a contractor on the edge.
Not since Elton John’s Candle in the Wind has a song so captured the mood of the nation.
Welcome to construction’s very own Battle of the Bands event, live from The Gymnasium opposite St Pancras station in central London.
As Bauhaus, Village People and Bob the Builder could attest, there is a well-trammelled path between construction and rock and roll. And even if few of the industry’s bands make the big time, there are countless surveyors, construction managers and architects in garages across Britain come Sunday afternoon howling soft-rock covers as if their day jobs didn’t exist.
Tonight, the event, a charity do, is so well subscribed that organiser WSP has had to “re-fire-engineer” the venue to extend the capacity to 350 people, each contributing a tenner to the Chinese Earthquake Appeal and a King's Cross youth charity, The Copenhagen Project.
The event has been masterminded by WSP director Bill Price and BAA’s head of technology Nigel Fraser, but they've marshalled support and expertise from enthusiasts across the industry. Argent have donated the venue, and joint chief executive Roger Madelin is dryly compering proceedings. Paul Nicholson, head of architecture at Lend Lease, has not only arranged and paid for a mighty lighting rig above the stage, but is manning it on the night to great effect. And Peter Ball, Costain's technology manager, is running the stage and strictly enforcing each band's 12-minute timeslot. Punctuality is almost as important as a tight rhythm section this evening, and the judges have been asked to award a prize for the not-very-rock-and-roll achievement of Most Organised Band.
Tonight's acts are drawn from companies across construction - some have been playing together for years, others have only a few hours rehearsal time under their belts. There is a lot of stone-washed denim, black T-shirts galore – comedy slogan optional – and many, many puns. WSP’s own two in-house bands are called Public M&E and Wild Sex Party. Bickerdike Allen Partners have The BAP Band. Two firms went for an AC/DC pun, but Chapman Bathurst’s AC/CB have clearly won the backstage tussle because MDA have renamed themselves “Another Brick”.
Harvey Canary is the mysterious singer of Canary Wharf Contractors’ Canary Wolf. The punk-loving Wolves are also the most desperate to impress our panel of music industry judges – they’ve already been on Chinese television, now they want a contract.
The judges themselves have an intimidating pedigree. Neil Pyzer is a veteran session musician who plays with Geno Washington's Ram Jam Band, Stuart Clarke is in charge of putting new acts in the pages of industry bible Music Week, and Pia Ashcroft and Lou Alchamaa are genuine A&R talent-spotters for record company Sony BMG. They veer between offering encouragement, slightly withering put-downs and genuine bemusement.
There’s much to play for. Not only is there the glimmer of a chance of a brand new music industry career, there is also a very desirable sound system donated by Sound Technology.
But when the judges have watched all the bands and deliberated over their scoresheets, there’s a rather embarrassing conclusion… Wild Sex Party, Price’s own band, are declared the hands-down winner for their blistering covers of The Killers, The Strokes and Talking Heads.
A rather sheepish Price declares that the prize will be shared between all the bands – any of the evening’s performers will be able to use the speakers for forthcoming gigs, they just have to collect them from WSP’s London HQ.
The runners up are Bickerdike Allen’s BAP Band in second place, Arup’s OvaTones are delighted to win the best new band prize for groups formed especially for the event, and S’Argent from – you’ve guessed it – Argent are deemed “most organised” band for workman-like approach to punctuality and a swift and efficient exit from the stage.
But does fame beckon? Read on for biopics of the bands.
The Bands: line-ups, the songs and the verdict
LINE UP: Tony Giddings – singer, Andre Gibbs – guitar, Joanna Facer – drums, Prabha Rathinasabapathy – keyboards, Will Colthorpe - bass
SET LIST: I shot the sheriff, Hey Joe
WHAT THEY SAY: “Jo’s a really good rock ‘n’ roll, indie drummer, our bassist’s more into drum and bass. It’s quite hard to reflect how eclectic we are in a two-song set though. Our song choices were determined by what we could all play. We wanted things that were easy but not too boring.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “The lead guitar and the vocals were good but the backing vocals were a bit weak… You could have looked like you were enjoying it a bit more, especially the bass player.”
Canary Wolf (Canary Wharf Contractors)
LINE UP: Harvey Canary – vocals, Telvis – lead guitar, Ben Skins – drums, Scoot – sax, The Grey Wolf – bass
SET LIST: Credit Crunch, Never drink on an empty Head, Long war home
WHAT THEY SAY: “We invented the “British crunch” sound inspired by the credit crunch. We also have songs about road rage and binge drinking and the Serbian War and we were on Chinese television. We do all our own stuff – we started off doing covers but we couldn’t play them, they were too hard.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “Bags of enthusiasm, bags of energy. It was certainly a spectacle.... Not sure the songs are particularly good though. But we definitely like the moustache.”
Public M&E (WSP Group)
LINE UP: Simon Leonard – guitar, Pierre Klemas – bass, Temisan Hawkes-Jones – singing, Margarita Redondo – keyboards, John Wardle – drums, Adam Lane – guitar
SET LIST: Long train running – The Doobie Brothers, Times like these – Foo Fighters
WHAT THEY SAY: “You can’t sum our sound up in words. We’re going to play a ten-minute non-stop musical feast. We are playing songs but they’re just the sandwiches in the feast… We have played a few gigs. I say a gig, actually it was one of Simon’s kid’s primary school fair.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “Foo Fighters with a girl singing – cool. Strong choices, although it fell apart a little bit on the second number. Great sound, vocals were a bit low level though.”
The Instigators (HLM/Scott Brownrigg)
LINE UP: Chris Liddle – lead guitar, vocals, Graham Harvey-Browne – bass, Mike Warren - rhythm guitar & vocals, Roger Matthews – rhythm guitar, vocals and harmonica, Justin “The Stick” – drums
SET LIST: Echo Beach – Martha and the Muffins, Suffragette City - David Bowie
WHAT THEY SAY: “We’re fast. We have very few slow numbers. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we played a slow song.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “If I had an after party or a wedding, I’d probably want you to play it. They were the best song choices so far, what everyone wanted to hear. The harmonica playing was incredible. It felt like you meant it.”
AC/CB (Chapman Bathurst)
LINE UP: David Fox – lead guitar, Lisa Cahalan – backing vocals, Holly Hassan – backing vocals, Catriona Myles – backing vocals, Andy Salt – bass, Chris Demwell – lead vocals, Mark Holliday – drums
SET LIST: Tainted Love – Soft Cell, You really got me – The Kinks, Smells like teen spirit - Nirvana
WHAT THEY SAY: “Our sound is a different take on established bands. It’s our version of things you already know. It’s kind of on the rock-y side. How hard do we rock? Very! It’s very noisy and out of control.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “A lot of energy and enthusiasm, but you did play a little bit too long. It was a bit sloppy though and I don’t really think you can cover Nirvana to be honest. That tambourine shaking was top class and the backing singers were great.”
Ova Tones (Arup)
LINE UP: Phil Nedin, drums, Ben Richardson – keyboards, Bill Groise – guitar, Matt Harrison – bass, Karen Patey – singer, Mike Quint – sax, James Davison – guitar + vocals
SET LIST: Valerie – Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse version, Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival
WHAT THEY SAY: “We’re kind of soul meets funk meets cheese... we’re R’N’B when it used to meet rhythm & blues. We just want people stamping their feet. Karen almost had a recording contract you know. But we only formed two months ago and we’ve probably had ten hours of practice.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “That was the first time you performed together? Great performance, good choice of songs. You got the crowd dancing, we really felt the energy.”
Another Brick (Monk Dunstone Associates)
LINE UP: Peter Broadhead – drums “and the odd backing vocal”, Matt Harding – bass and backing vocals “if I dare”, David Helm – guitar, Rob Kennedy – guitar and singing
SET LIST: Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gimme all your loving – ZZ Top
WHAT THEY SAY: “We’ve never played before together as a band. We’ve had one practice in my front living room and one in Rob’s kitchen and two more. Our sound is probably sort of Southern rock – southern America, yes. Although it’s probably more rock to be honest – we’re from the Midlands and that’s where rock was invented of course.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “It was a good solid performance. We really liked the drumming. But we did get a bit bored towards the end.”
The BAP Band (Bickerdike Allen Partners)
LINE UP: Ed Weston – drums, Laura Jellicoe – Alto sax, Lesley Turner – alto sax, Arthur Lewis-Nunes – trumpet, John Miller – bass, Peter Henson – keyboards, Roger Kelly – vocals, Theo Niaounakis – lead guitar
SET LIST: Knock on wood – Eddie Floyd, Will you be my teddy bear? – Elvis Presley
WHAT THEY SAY: “We’re going to be bigger than Same Difference. Or North South – no, we’re going to be bigger than that boyband called Orange something. But maybe not as big as Take That.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “Probably the best performance of the night musically. Tight, great arrangement.”
Wild Sex Party (WSP Group)
LINE UP: Nick Hubbard - Lead vocal, Jonathan Walter – Guitar, Dave Maundrill – Drums, Peter Townsend (not that one) - Keys and backing vocal, Bill Price – Bass
SET LIST: All these things that I’ve done – The Killers, Last Night – the Strokes, Psychokiller – Talking Heads
WHAT THEY SAY: “We’re kind of like Gordon Lightfoot on steroids. We’re sponsored by Mr Kipling. Well, we always have cakes when we rehearse in Bill’s shed anyway and generally it’s Mr Kipling. Last year we did a world tour – we got as far as Hammersmith, East Sheen and Leatherhead.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “You were the one band I wanted to keep playing. Excellent choice of songs. All I have to say is ‘encore’”
HIghlights of Battle of the Bands
Video: Credit Crunch by Canary Wolf
If you'd like to buy a DVD of the event, please email Bill Price at Bill.Price@WSPGroup.com. All proceeds will go to the event's charities, the Chinese Earthquake Appeal and The Copenhagen Project.