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Knuckle – 'Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside'

Powerhouse trio from Yorkshire playing Deluxe Garage Blues, or so the social media strapline says, catching my attention once more as I read my phone for the 132nd time in the day.

As I sit and write here in my Yorkshire home, surrounded by records and cassette tapes. My phone beeping with news of local Yorkshire gigs and numerous Facebook posts of Yorkshire record shops showcasing new LPs from various Yorkshire bands all vying for my attention, it was inevitable that I would be the optimum target in this unopposed campaign for Huddersfield tykes, Knuckle. And their debut LP, Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside.

Now, I’ve got no idea how social media targeting works, but I know, just like in the good old days when you saw an advert, read a review, or your mate played you a song of the band, you’d know if you’d like them or not. Knuckle didn’t half get me reaching for that like button. Their attempted gig at the Fulford Arms in York was a clear indication that the social media operation surrounding the band wasn’t created by some kid in Los Angeles, it was a conscious effort to speak directly to their home county. And good on ‘em too.

The more observant of you will notice I wrote ‘attempted gig’ at Fulford Arms in York. The gig went ahead as planned but as the support bands played, Rob, their bassist who was on merch stall duties told me that, Jonny, their singer, was on a train up from London and it was looking unlikely he’d make it on time for their 10pm slot. By 9pm I wandered outside to the beer garden. Ben, Knuckle’s drummer, came straight up to tell me that Jonny wouldn’t make it after all. The gig was to be cancelled and they’d rearrange a future York date.

“Look”, I said cheerfully, “these things happen.” Both Ben and Rob and presumably travel stricken Jonny, were really upset they couldn’t play. And I was gutted I couldn’t see them as I’d been playing the record all week in preparation. Walking home it occurred to me I’ve not seen many bands, Yorkshire based or otherwise, whose bassist has been trying to shift merch and their drummer was holding genuine conversations with their audience, albeit under embarrassing circumstances. Walking down my street I had an image of that little red button by the train door being repeatedly smashed for it to open. Before the gig’s absentee, Jonny, was seen legging it across York’s station concourse. “The Fulford Arms and step on it!”

Life Is Hard When You’re Soft Inside bristles with an energy of all the best ramshackle indie bands who play with a pint in one hand and a B chord held in the other. Recorded at Leeds’ Greenmount studios and released on Wakefield label, Philophobia, this their debut LP is something to be proud of. Prior to this release they’ve had a couple of mini albums out, get hold of those if you can, just for their sound progression. It perhaps would’ve been nice to hear the playful, My Girlfriend’s a Werewolf, on there but maybe that’s over egging the pudding just a bit? As, now I don’t say this very often but, their 10 song tracklist is just the right number of tracks. The genres this record journeys through are desirable to any band. That’s exactly why they can create this deadly deadpan, sharp as a tack kind of record. This album places you in the Rock N’ Roll tower block lift, each song you arrive at is like a whole new floor to visit. Take the first three tracks for instance. The variation from Spilt Milk, an anti-Brexit tune that’s all piss and vinegar with a frenzied guitar solo, to Cardboard Cutout. Which rolls around like a bouncy and baggy indie era anthem. And onto Cash and Carry that cleverly profiles the band at their most humorous, facile and playful. The other seven follow suit in their mischievousness.

For each wild AF guitar riff there’s a heartfelt chorus about a vulnerable character. For each big melody and a slight nod and wink to their idols, they also create this garage sound, that’s been well-crafted and hard to ignore. Many purposeful juxtapositions to heroes such as John Lennon and Alex Turner combined. Slaves, Fat White Family and Idles have hammered home that idea of the modern world being hard for men to survive in, Knuckle provide strength in numbers, giving it backbone and can deliver it all with a punch to the arm and a ruffle of hair. Rather quite sweet in its own way.

For me, I can hear The Flaming Lips moving into Grandaddy (Rewind the Feeling) and some doses of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (Jarhead), it really does reach far and wide into all those murky crevices where the crumbs of alternative music live, like a charity shop CD shelf. It’s got a ‘best of’ vibe about it and I mean that in the nicest possible way. The musicianship holds so much dynamism, it might not be ground-breaking, but it holds its weight and fits in where the big boys left off. Staying grounded seems to be where it’s at for these boys and if they can continue to be boisterous, they might end up bringing Yorkshire garage straight to your doorstep.

That summary came to me after I had my own Knuckle gig in my house by playing the record. It reminded me, as so many things do, of that episode in The Simpsons when Homer, Bart, Flanders and co. go to the Superbowl. All the lads singing songs on board Otto’s school bus. Reverend Lovejoy getting pelted with beer cans. They somehow don’t have tickets but end up inside the stadium and then inside Rupert Murdoch’s executive box. By the end of the episode a sports reporter guy mentions that not one ball has been seen being kicked, in an episode all about the Superbowl.

That was my feeling about the series of events with Knuckle. My entry stamp cost me five pound, my night about fifteen but two thirds of this Yorkshire Powerhouse trio valued me making the effort. Their generous spirit meant that I had an altogether different gig experience. A gig in which I never saw a chord being played but left without feeling cheated.