Posters hang above the bar at the Fleece music venue in Bristol. Tucked down an unnoticeable side-street away from the city, this venue has become an unlikely and unmissable tour stop for both established cult band and new group on the cusp of big things. It serves both as unofficial capital of the toilet circuit and as a platform for those lucky few who manage to break through to brighter things and bigger audiences.
A quick glance at these very posters pinned above the bar inside and it soon becomes clear that while the gloomy outside of the Fleece had you believe that it looked like some sort of Victorian prison, in fact it would be better to liken its stony and grey exterior to that of a high-security bank. For over the years, the Fleece has acted like a vault which for one night only has contained artists who have gone on to become musical national treasures. Housing on many occasions those legendary ‘I was there’ kind of gigs. Be it word of mouth, sell-out, best kept secret or just sheer luck. There have been over-night successes, The Strokes played here in June 2001 before their debut Is This It went stratospheric just 3 months later. Likewise Oasis played here before everyone went ‘mad fer it!’ in 1994. Then there were the grafters, those who did the toilet circuit for years before their labour really paid off. Pulp in 1993 2 years before A Different Class, Radiohead in the same year, 2 years before The Bends fame. Amy Winehouse in 2004, 2 years before Back to Black and her first long gulp of fame’s poison chalice. Top marks however go to Muse (1998) and Biffy Clyro (2003) years and years before they would become two of the biggest rock groups on the planet. These are just a selection of the iconic gig posters which decorate the bar of The Fleece which intermittently held my gaze before Leeds’ Pulled Apart By Horses took to the stage. In the course of the evening The Fleece has symbolically transformed in my mind from Prison to Bank to Museum; The posters draped above the bar like a pop-music Bayeux tapestry.
Beyond the bar there are other features of the Fleece which leave a less than conventional impression of the venue on my mind. Thin structural support pillars from the ground to the ceiling offer circular perches for drinks, and a miniature stage for Alex Kershaw of The Computers. The frontman, who in his regular crowd invasion during his band’s final song climbs on to one of the ledges. From there he fiercely strums his Rickenbacker guitar, screaming in to a microphone balanced by the hands of a helpful crowd member who simultaneously dodges gobs of spits launched from Kershaw, in between his yells. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the first support act, their attendance at this concert appears to be non-existent on the internet, and their lame gimmicky fake stage fight during the breakdown of their last song out-lives the music in my memory. The Computers play an admirable gig and temporarily look the part as tough guy types. By the end of the set their slick backed hair transforms into floppy fringes attached to heads bouncing like a handful of sweat drenched Churchill dogs. If that fight that started earlier however was real, it’d be Pulled Apart by Horses who’d finish it.
The Leeds four-piece have been touring extensively and honing their craft since they released their self-titled debut album back in 2010 and tonight it shows. They play an exhilarating set which plays a hefty share from that very album as well as showcasing new songs from 2012’s Tough Love. The drops punch harder than The Computer’s take on hard-core, similarly the crowd is treated to catchier melodies and riffs which manage to conjure up classic rock and Black Sabbath. Likewise, the crowd tonight is in a gift-giving mood. Down at the front, guitarist James Brown is handed a special, fan-made pack of ‘Pulled Apart By Horses’ cigarettes. While Frontman Tom Hudson takes a large swig from a gig-goer’s hipflask, later cringing when he realises that it’s neat gin. An early highlight in the set is an energetic performance of the band’s current single ‘V.E.N.O.M’. You might have heard it make its rounds on the radio one playlist late last year, possibly attributing to tonight’s sold out show. Maybe in years to come the poster of this unique band will hang above the Fleece’s bar. Whether this band makes it big in years to come is uncertain. Yet tonight’s crowd at the Fleece in Bristol will certainly remember that they were there when Pulled Apart By Horses played in 2012.