All aboard The Thekla! On Tuesday, March 15th The Woodentops played in the depths of this former cargo ship moored in Bristol to do in full their 1988 album Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway with it’s very distinctive cover by Panni (Charrington) Bahrti, who was responsible for all their record covers.
Three original members remain in this stripped-down version of The Woodentops. There’s Rolo McGinty (vocals, guitar), who previously had involvement in the Liverpool music explosion which found him in The Wild Swans and mixing with the likes of Ian Brodie, The Bunnymen and Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes. Simon Mawby on (guitar), who also had a spell with The House of Love, and finally Frank DeFreitas (bass guitar) and brother of the greatly missed Pete DeFretias drummer with Echo and the Bunnymen. The group are touring with phenomenal drummer Vesa Haapanen.
Unfortunately, it was a fairly small audience which greets the band, it is a real shame as the band gave a great show, giving all despite the low numbers.
The band took to the stage casually without the need for a big fanfare, and played Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway album in order, but the songs were stretched with lots of space allowing time for the band to experiment whilst playing live.
No more so was this evident than when McGinty, who was moving between guitar and keyboards, decided to multitask playing guitar but playing the keyboard/sequencer with the head of the guitar for “Heaven”. The song also saw the frontman croon into every single mic he could find on the stage for special effect and even on hands and knees managed to sing into the kick drum mic.
The true essence of The Woodentops is that they are primarily a live band; an indie band that encourages you to dance. The sound was hypnotic and “Stop This Car” rumbled along with Haapanen leading the way, backed by DeFretias driving bass.
There are exceptions, dreamy blissful love songs like “You Make Me Feel”, which came over even more elegant and beautiful live, and you get to appreciate what a great varied back catalogue The Woodentops produced. “Wheels Turning” was a grinding primitive sound and allowed Mawby to stretch himself up and down the fretboard screaming notes out.
There were tracks from their 1986 debut album Giant, including “Good Thing” and the wonderful “Everything Breaks”. A ground-breaking album with all songs on the album as good as the last.
In 2014 the band returned with a new album Granular Tales, and “Stay Out of the Light” stood up amongst older songs and is well received. They also ventured back to the early days with “Plenty” from 1984 and a debut single on Food Records.
The Woodentops found unlikely success with the clubs in Ibiza when DJs started playing one of their songs “Why Why Why”, which saw everyone dancing away to it high tempo, hypnotic sound and great harmonies. McGinty took to wandering in around the floor with the audience as the song built and bult to a driving finale.
It’s been a tough time for bands, with them unable to play live, but McGinty acknowledged the night has been fun & worth the wait, and how he had always wanted to play The Thekla.
As the band looked to depart there was one final request from someone in the audience for “Love Train” from Giant, which was a blistering almost rockabilly freak-out, but minus McGinty’s guitar, which by that point had malfunctioned with broken strings such had been the frenetic energy and experience of seeing The Woodentops live.