Carry On Beaming: Extreme Noise Terror @ New Cross Inn, March 2019

A bracing evening in South East London was the backdrop to the latest outing for The Insolvency Practitioner, The Lawyer and the Head Of Residential Research (a rejected Westside Connection B-side, there).

We convened in New Cross House, supping random on-brand ales and looking out on to the neglected New Cross Road, a street unchastened by time. The pub, halfway between New Cross’s handy but frankly unnecessary two railway stations, instinctively feels quite upmarket: tastefully lit, stylish lounge d├ęcor, a youngish clientele (albeit dressing old - the Head Of Research explains that these are the slacks and sports jacket crowd of nearby Goldsmiths’ College), if surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night.

We chat about life, love and recent gigs: the Insolvency Practitioner just spent a small fortune to watch Massive Attack play in a Filton aircraft hangar, but on balance he reckons it was worth it. The Head Of Research ventured to see New Model Army, who we'd seen on Top Of The Pops as kids: he was impressed by the music, if bemused by the band's ever-fervent acolytes. The Lawyer offers recent outings to the Declining Winter, BMX Bandits and Comet Gain. He is met by polite but confused silence.

So we talk about Svalbard, Full Of Hell, Wormrot and the latest of Shane Embury’s seemingly annual side projects. We moan about the unreasonable refusal of young kids to enjoy extreme metal. We embark on an extensive retro discussion about Snub TV. We lament the infelicities of goal difference in the lower leagues. Hell, it's a Saturday night.

Bubbles rise, froth subsides, glasses are downed and before we know it, it’s half past nine. The Insolvency Practitioner suggests that we head for the New Cross Inn pronto: he is keen to get there before 10, when Extreme Noise Terror – that phenomenal British band who we who haven’t had cause to rave about since their last LP three years ago – are scheduled to take the stage. Ever empirical, The Lawyer (used to an hourly rate) suggests there’s no hurry: the Inn is literally across the street, and we can see into it from where we’re sitting. Plus, when was the last time a band ever came on early? However, the IP’s formidable negotiation techniques prevail and we’re soon dodging startled traffic to hop over the New Cross Road.

Once inside, the contrast between here and where we’ve come from is striking: there are no cravat-clad dilettantes or smartly dressed young rakes in sight. Instead, the Inn is a bawdy sawdust room, teeming with crustheads, Conflict patches and Crass regalia. The venue boasts a cramped stage on one side, raised only a foot from the floor; nests of picnic tables on the other side, worn down by the imprint of a thousand plastic pint glasses; in the middle, the moshpit ballroom. Above the stage, a quote from Dean Martin: “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” As we’ve got time, it seems only fair to head for the bar.

In New Cross House, we felt a little slovenly and out of place: but in the New Cross Inn, we might as well be wearing our weekday suits and ties. It’s not just the old punks in tonight, though; there are plenty of youthful faces – more than we might have imagined - awaiting the arrival of surely Ipswich’s finest musical export. As we slouch barward, the Head Of Research bags a “Phonophobia” T-shirt for a bargain crumpled tenner (apparently Massive Attack were charging £35 for their T-shirts), and pulls it proudly over his head. We are ready.

In fairness to the IP, the current, five-piece ENT do ascend the stage at around 10, although there’s a good ten minutes of soundchecking, banter and posing for selfies with smiling punters before the set begins. And, from the first minute of it, they are exceptional: the drums, bass and guitar are *ruthlessly* taut, re-imagining the band’s blistering, Route One hardcore about 10-15% faster than the recorded versions. But the songs are really made by ENT’s legendary dual vocal attack, with Ben Crow now joining Dean Jones at the front, both ducking and diving as their gruff voices dovetail to spit out the incendiary, ever-direct lyrics which helped put the band on the map long ago, back when your writer was contemplating the approach of GCSEs rather than the impending onset of middle age.

Instantly, in front of us, the room transforms into a blur of knees, elbows, happy heads and pogoing bodies. The space right by the stage is not yet thick with punters, which means that the mosh fraternity aren’t merely jostling, shoulder-barging or bouncing off one another, but are able to enjoy the luxury of taking a full run-up before clattering and colliding: they’re mostly doing so joyfully, but alcohol is involved, and at the start there’s a distinct edge to the throng, with a few fists flying (although there’s security on the door, there’s none at all inside the venue). There are gestures and grimaces, and one flustered man pushes past us as he ushers his frightened companion outside. However, as the Inn fills once more, the stagediving begins (again, unhindered by any evidence of venue staff or security), and the moshpit souls start to regain their bearings after the initial excitement. The atmosphere improves and we can focus on what we came here for: the music. That said, it’s rare even in all our years of grindcore gigs to be immersed an atmosphere this feral, this *alive*.

For this boy, the icing on the cake - as I survey the thunder on and off stage, driven by incessant grindcore rhythms - is the set list, which unfailingly cherrypicks hits and favourites from a long if sporadic discography, the many iterations of a group beset by line-up changes who Wikipedia tells us have had 30 members since 1985. “Religion Is Fear”, the standout track from their “Law Of Retaliation” set (“for the paedophiles of the Catholic Church”) is the first that really hits the spot, but not the last.

There’s the ever-topical, ‘now more than ever’ barrage of “Bullshit Propaganda”. There’s the trenchant, plaintive “Just Think About It”, another reminder that this band were singing about ecology and environmental catastrophe long before it registered on the radar of today’s MOR do-gooders: and a track from that Vinyl Japan LP, “Phonophobia” – yes, a reminder of the days when ENT were labelmates with BMX Bandits and St. Christopher. Likewise, there’s “Raping The Earth”, which Ben dedicates to his predecessor, the late Phil Vane, and we we all raise our plastic pint glasses to his memory. There’s “Short Fuse”, originally on their Driller Killer split, as furious and as discombobulating as it was back then. There’s the signature staccato-punk rush of the still-urgent “Carry On Screaming” (“alcohol and DTs have fucked up me, now a sober life I cannot lead”, as Dean Martin might also have said). There are bankers from their “Retro-bution” LP, including “Human Error” and a stirring “Work For Never”. There’s a shout-out intro to the vegans and animal lovers before another stone cold classic, “Murder”, the song that’s normally the highlight for us. But tonight, our heart is warmed the most by the short but delectable salvo of another Peel session favourite, “False Profit”, which plays merry havoc with our heart strings. Marvellous stuff.

ENT, like the Wedding Present, don’t do encores ("we're not Motley Crue", Ben acknowledges). So the set ends sharply, and perhaps incongruously, with a cover of Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout”. That song - rustic even by the standards of early Sham - provides a clue as to where ENT’s punk spirit came from, but also acts as a reminder that the band before us tonight took things so much further and faster than their forebears, as they helped to create a genre that mixed politics, positivity, energy, anger and noise. They might not have gone on to trouble the Top Ten like Mr Pursey did, but they’ve still planted the imprint of their Doc Martens on UK culture, via late-night Peel, their crossover in to the music papers, and that classic night at the Brit Awards. Yet it’s a legacy they wear lightly: tonight, in an old fashioned way, you sensed they didn’t care about much more than sending an attentive, appreciative, and at times over-eager audience home happy. And so said audience - not entirely sober, but still smiling, visibly enthralled, and ears ringing - shuffles out and heads for one or other of New Cross’s railway stations.

As we leave, the Head Of Residential Property nods across to the stuffed shirts and smart blouses still in New Cross House. They look happy enough, but I promise you this: they don’t know what they missed by not following us across the road tonight.

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