Cast your mind back to the year 2000 and you'll recall it was a particularly bleak time for music. Back then, alternative music mainly consisted of soulless leftovers from Britpop or American rap-rock crossover acts later dubbed nu metal, where bands like Embrace and Travis brought banal to the indie disco and Limp Bizkit became the biggest band in the world. Coldplay were just about to break and Gay Dad were on the front cover of every magazine. It was a grim time where anyone with an ounce of originality or creativity found themselves marginalised.
One band that were pushing boundaries at the time were Nottingham's Six By Seven. Having formed in the early nineties before eventually releasing their first single in 1997, they were completely out of kilter with the sounds and fashions of the day. Influenced by anything and everything from krautrock and shoegaze to industrial noise and metal, they were the antithesis of all things Britpop. An anomaly in a production line of bland copyists that didn't just stand out like a sore thumb, but probably also broke a few fingers along the way.
Signed to leading independent Beggars Banquet at a time when development deals meant exactly that, they should have been nurtured in a similar way to bands like The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev yet for whatever reason things didn't quite go to plan. Despite having critical acclaim heaped on them from the start and even a couple of brief dalliances with the official UK charts, the weight of expectation placed on their shoulders proved to be a burden and the predicted commercial success never quite materialised.
Nevertheless, the legacy they left behind - particularly in their native city - is one to be proud of and flicking through Six By Seven's extensive back catalogue reveals some of the most intriguingly timeless music anyone's created over the past two decades. Essentially the brainchild of singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Olley, the Six By Seven story reads like a who's who of Nottingham's finest musicians not to mention being an ever revolving door where band members have come and gone at regular intervals.
To many, the original line up - Olley, Sam Hempton on guitar, Paul Douglas on bass, James Flower on keys and Chris Davis on drums - remains their best, having been responsible for creating the band's first two records in 1998's debut The Things We Make and its flawless follow-up The Closer You Get two years later. While various incarnations of Six By Seven have existed since and indeed released some astounding records in the process - 2013's Love And Peace And Sympathy being up there with Olley's most outstanding bodies of work - it's their aforementioned second LP that stands out as their defining moment, an album of fractured beauty that defies categorisation. Recorded at Nottingham's Square Centre Studios with Ric Peet and John Leckie, the sessions were fraught and intense culminating in guitarist Hempton eventually leaving the band just a few months after its release.
Nevertheless, it has stood the test of time and with Beggars putting out a long overdue vinyl reissue and 'Best Of...' compilation last month, any past resentments were put to one side as the rumours were true. Messrs Olley, Hempton, Douglas, Flowers, and Davis would indeed be sharing a stage once more. Having played an in-store at the city's Rough Trade shop ten days earlier that seemed more like a case of unfinished business than an exercise in self-promotion, tonight would leave little to the imagination.
Opting to play the intimate confines of The Maze when they could have easily filled a room three times the size, this two-and-a-bit hours long extravaganza was not to be missed at any cost; they played two sets this evening, the first consisting of ten songs culled from 1997-2002, the second being The Closer You Got in its chronological entirety. Widescreen opener 'A Beautiful Shape' sets the scene impeccably while the cathartic noise rock of 'Something Wild' clears the cobwebs before 'European Me''s opulent beauty. While some of these songs may be twenty years old they haven't dated one bit, each sounding as relevant and vibrant as when released all those years ago.
Staying with The Things We Make, 'Oh! Dear' and 'Brilliantly Cute' resonate with an intensity that many bands strive for but often fall short, while the buoyant 'Candlelight' provides an all too brief reminder of why it was heralded as one of the finest 45s of 1998 upon its original release. 'So Close' and 'I.O.U. Love' off third record The Way I Feel Today display a more refined variance to the band's sound while also highlighting said record as arguably Six By Seven's great lost gem. Closing the first set with an airing for two of the band's most memorable b-sides, namely 'Get A Real Tattoo' and 'Always Waiting For', there's no better introduction to what serves as the main event.
As the visceral buzzsaw riff that cuts through 'Eat Junk Become Junk' opens the second set, it feels more like a private party than an actual gig. One guy stood behind me is openly crying, tears streaming down his cheeks. 'Sawn Off Metallica T-Shirt' quickly leads into 'Ten Places To Die' while sweat drips from the ceiling. For the next thirty-five minutes the entire room is transfixed in a mesmeric haze. Each song a passing reminder of a band that meant so much to every single person in the room.
"Give me something to believe in!" sings Chris Olley on the resounding 'New Year', while 'One Easy Ship Away' and 'My Life Is An Accident' reveal a more plaintive side to both his and the band's demeanour. A brutal rendition of 'Don't Wanna Stop' segues into 'Slab Square''s ferocious veneer before 'England A Broken Radio' takes proceedings back to basics for the next five-and-a-half minutes.
With the final third of the set underway, 'Another Love Song' and 'Overnight Success' take Six By Seven's now familiar slow building mantra to unattainable new heights before '100 & Something Foxhall Road' brings the show to a tumultuous end. Never ones to wallow in nostalgia, tonight was more a joyous celebration of arguably the finest band this city has ever produced. Who knows, it may even lead to a permanent reunion. However, for now, this really was as good it gets.
Photo by Steve Robertson