The return of Iron Monkey to recorded format was something that was never particularly expected after the tragic early death of original howler Johnny Morrow in 2002. Many detractors were not at all happy about any form of reformation without him but like it or not resulting album 9-13 shut a lot of indignation down in flames and original members Steve Watson and Jim Rushby, along with drummer Ze Big certainly delivered the goods as far as I’m concerned. Obviously shows were something destined to follow and although seemingly reticent at first the band finally return to the stage for a small series of UK shows but not without a certain amount of drama on the way, which I shall get to later.

Firstly though it is the turn of supports for those that can tear themselves away from The Black Heart over the road and it’s down to Iron Duke from London, a band completely new to me to open things up down here. They pretty much bludgeon their way onto the stage and immediately strike as abrasive, shouty and very chunky. They look young, they kind of have a random generated name that gives you a good idea just what they are gonna sound like but we won’t hold that against them. They unfortunately quickly lose their lead guitarist to technical gremlins but battle on without him and create a good old burly sound in the face of adversity. The band might not be quite up there with the Ruktion crew but sound like they are definitely on their way and songs like ‘Chaos Theory’ show plenty of promise. As the band themselves state, everyone is here for one thing and they know it ain’t them but what you going to do? Play hard and fast and that’s exactly what they did tonight.

It would have been great to have unearthed a band called Iron Chicken to go with the Dukes and Monkey’s and no doubt there is one out there somewhere but even if lacking in metal by name we were well aware that Sigiriya were not going to drop a clanger here tonight. It has to be said there is a massive leap in quality as they touch down with plenty of maturity bringing their brand of stonerfied harmonic bliss to proceedings. Fragrant, bluesy and hazy there is little in the way of the nastiness of the previous band and what we know is to come here, the quartet who include three ex Acrimony players, 1 ex Monkey and 1 ex Duke (of Nothing not Iron) hit a groove straight off with ‘The Mountain Goat.’ Coasting along they pick up the pace and invoke bodies down towards the front of the stage to shuffle along and bow down to their beat. Less sober fans in the audience yell their appreciation and the drummer begins to smash things out and gradually the band ratchet things up to near fever pitch. There’s heart and soul in the performance and songs like ‘Return To Earth’ definitely win them some new friends here. At one point it seemed like the Underworld had turned into a desert oasis but by the time they kicked ‘Sleeping With The Dogs’ out their musical kennel the whole joint was rocking. I seem to have scrawled down “what a banger” on my notepad and it certainly was. Now how’s about a new album please?

So that drama, not only are Iron Monkey back and frankly not giving a flying fuck about what you think of the matter but they are also without singer Jim Rushby due to ‘neurological illness.’ Drafted in at the last second to fill his boots is ex Hard To Swallow / Raging Speedhorn vocalist Bloody Kev. Perhaps surprisingly when this announcement was made it was met by support rather than any negativity and so it should have been, as we were all well aware that Kev was going to do songs old and new proud and indeed it became quickly evident as the band open with ‘Bad Year’ and beer goes flying that the band were more than ready to bring their legacy to fruition. It’s a pit full of ugly down the front, no room for weakeners and not much for photo gatherers either. Being a veteran of around 10 previous Monkey shows and being accidentally punched out by Johnny in the midst of one particularly memorable one at The Red Eye (he was in the zone and came and found me to apologise after) I knew just what to expect. However boundaries are respected here and band and audience keep to their respective places on and off stage. Some may say that this took a sense of danger out of the performance but the songs more than made up for it and the volatile nature of new numbers such as OmegaMangler kept us well and truly on our toes and fitted in perfectly with the older stuff. I have never seen so many ligging on the small balcony overlooking the stage as there were tonight and enjoying the show from a relatively safe vantage point and there is plenty of space for those wanting to kick sevens shades out of each other in the pit down the front.

Chaotic cunty filthy sludge that is going to take more than a ‘Black Aspirin’ to wipe away in the morning bristles out the speakers as the front-man howls away. It’s pure monkey business through and through and causes people to go nuts many witnessing songs like this live for the very first time. Funnily enough I found myself really enjoying the new songs as much as the old, the windy grindy 9:13 itself being a particularly groovy hatelight. Those who actually witnessed songs like ‘Web Of Piss’ the first time around should not have felt those memories flushed away here either, excuse the puns but those wanting failure here only had their own hopes going straight down the shitter. It’s not often that I find myself pressed at the front witnessing a whole show these days, a kindly delivered cider did help it has to be said but I was still weathering big gnarly slow-downs and bruising numbness here right to the very end when the band culminated with the near legendary ‘666 Pack.’ If you missed it, well tough as who knows whether if the band are going to be back after these few dates. Time will tell but they have nothing left to particularly prove so only they can truly make that decision. I think it’s fair to say the fans have spoken though and there’s plenty of room for more from them

Review and Photos Pete Woods