Portsmouth indie heroes B of The Bang reunite for Team Sexton benefit gig
Southsea Fest, September 20, 2014, at The Kings Theatre – Pompey indie heroes The B of The Bang are taking their bows at the end of an emotional set, knowing that this is their last ever gig.
They were a popular live draw, but after seven years and two critically acclaimed albums, they decided to pull the plug.
Fast forward to early 2020 and they discover that close friend of the band, Jody Sexton has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and given 18 months to live.
His wife Elle became his full-time carer while he had treatment for the Grade 4 glioblastoma – but this left them without an income. Friends and family rallied through a Justgiving fundraising page to help them
Without hesitation, the group agreed to get back together for a one-off benefit gig, originally booked in for that March. After being rescheduled several times due to the pandemic, the gig is now due to take place on Saturday, July 24 at The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea.
Bang frontman Chris ‘Wit’ Whitear says: ‘I've known Jody half of my life – we're both from Fareham originally. He's a little older than me – he was in my brother's year at school, and I always kind of knew him. He's a big personality, big hair usually, and just a big character.
‘The music was what really bonded us – the bands I was in at the time, playing in pubs in Fareham, he'd always come along and always be the one up and dancing when no one else was.
‘We've always been mates, and been to countless gigs and festivals together.
‘This awful news he had at the beginning of last year, it was completely unexpected and floored him.’
With the band going out on a high, Wit had been keen not to sully the memories by reuniting.
‘We had a really good last year, we always said we didn't want to let it peter out. It was very B of The Bang – it was the best year we'd ever had and... we split up.
‘We'd done Bestival, Blissfields and Victorious, we did a little UK jaunt, we were gearing up ready to do whatever we did next, but it felt it would have been a dip back down and going back to coalface of doing the same gigs we'd been doing for a lot of years.
‘We split the band up, and I wanted to stay friends with everyone and not organising everyone's lives. In your 20s it's easier, but then you get into your 30s, people have got kids and responsibilities…
‘There was no falling out or anything, it felt right, so we split the band up. I said I'd never do it again because it was of its time and we enjoyed it.’
While there had been some suggestions to reunite before for various reasons, Wit says: ‘I always said no, there's no reason for it. There’s no need for that band to exist any more.
‘But then with Jody, he had been a big advocate for B of The Bang – he'd been to most of our gigs.
‘It's a tiny thing we can do. We're all still around this area, and a couple of them I've still been playing in bands with.
‘We've all stayed in touch and are still friends.
‘I WhatsApped everyone and they all immediately said yes. They all felt the same about him, we're all friends with him.
‘We all said it makes sense – now there's a reason to do it.’
One thing they all agreed on was that this had to be a positive event.
‘It had to be something Jody would enjoy. But the first dates we had (back in spring 2020), we didn’t know if he could actually come because he was going through treatment – chemo and radiotherapy which did knock him for six.
‘But as it's gone on, he's responded really well to treatment. If anyone can beat it, Jody's the person to beat it because of his outlook on life and because of the positive person he is.
‘In a way, the fact that it's been put so far down the line looks like he'll be able to come. And now we'll be one of the first events back post-lockdown, so we want it to be this really joyous, celebratory event.’
Indeed, the prognosis for the father of three (he has two older children, Alfie and Finley from a previous marriage, as well as Indio with Elle), has been better than expected.
As Elle says: ‘The official line from Jody’s oncology team is that the tumour is currently stable – so the combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemo appear to have done what they’re supposed to do.
‘He can’t really feel his right foot, and he has some cognitive issues, but all things taken into account I’d say he’s doing really well.
‘Last weekend to celebrate his 45th birthday he rode a bike 45 miles around the South Downs with some friends, organised by our pal Sam, which was really fantastic and not something we’d expected him to be able to do 18 months ago.’
With B of The Bang operating as a loose collective of up to 15 musicians during its lifetime, Wit is hoping as many of them as possible will be able to join them on the night.
And with restrictions being removed on July 19, this will be a full-capacity gig at The Wedge – one of the earlier rescheduled dates had been for a socially distanced show.
‘I'm a big fan of the sit-down gig, specially as I get older,’ he laughs, ‘but there are certain gigs that don't really suit that.
‘If we'd been doing a nice acoustic thing, or I was doing my solo stuff, it might be nice and it would have worked, but I think this is a one-off gig we're doing, we're not doing anything else, so it would have been a bit of a shame to have it subdued.’
And rehearsals have been interesting to say the least.
‘I don't want to sound unprofessional here,’ he laughs, ‘when this first got touted, we had a couple of rehearsals back then, but we've only had one so far where we've had everyone together.
‘The funny thing is, when we had this one full band rehearsal, it was the best the band has ever sounded.
‘Everyone fell back into place – it was the first time we've all been in a room, probably since 2014, and it felt like it was yesterday.
‘Everyone slipped back into their roles. A couple of us have played in other bands together, so we still have that frame of mind as musicians, but a couple of the others haven't been too fussed with it. But we were all straight back into it, the same jokes, the same kind of dynamic in the band – it was really lovely.
‘There were a few mistakes, but I don't think there was ever a B of The Bang gig where we were completely rehearsed and knew what we were doing.
‘I don't like it when bands are too polished. There is a place for that. But we weren't that!
‘Every time we played it was something different. Sometimes we'd have four guitarists turn up sometimes there'd be one. It was kind of stressful, but when everyone was on form and when you caught the moment, it was amazing.’
Looking back on that last gig, Wit says: ‘We'd always been a little bit involved in with Southsea Fest, either running a stage or helping out. Josie (Curtis), who ran it, she's a good friend of ours, so it made sense for it to be our last one.
‘It was at The Kings Theatre, which was a lovely setting and it was a really emotional day because we knew we were stopping. It's a gig I could sit back afterwards and be proud of what we'd done.
‘But this gig is like when you find a box under the bed and you open it up and go: “Oh yeah, that's nice!”
‘There's no ulterior motive, we're not trying to use this as springboard for anything else – it is literally just this gig.’
The support acts for the gig, Van Gosh and Andrew Foster are also interwtined with history of The B of The Bang, as Wit explains.
‘Rich (Keam, Van Gosh’s frontman) used to be in a band called The Ridgeway, which Matt (Allen) was in, who was the original B of The Bang drummer, so I've known him and his projects for years.
‘When he started Van Gosh, I played bass with him at Victorious. Then Tim (Cole), who's going to play with us at this gig, he's never played with B of the Bang before, but I've played with him in Sink or Soar and a couple of other bands, he's playing bass with Van Gosh for this gig too, so he's got double duty!
‘They're all incredibly good musicians – and very entertaining.
‘Then Andy Foster’s playing as well. He's been around the scene for many years and been a good friend.
‘He played in B of the Bang early on as well, so he was in the collective at some point, and I've always stayed close with him.
‘But it's not really about us, its for Jody – we're just the thing that's getting people together. I can't wait to get back onstage with that group of people for a mate.
‘If we can make a small contribution to that, then it's worth doing.’
As an added bonus, the reunion has inadvertently led to the creation of a third B of The Bang album.
‘At the time when we split, we were doing a few new songs, but they got packed away and never thought of again,
‘I was looking through some of the old stuff we had and found these old demos. They were just sat there and I hadn't listened to them for eight years or whatever.
‘But then I thought, yeah, they're actually alright. Maybe I'll tart some of those up a bit, and we've recorded some new bits.
‘So we're going to release a lost B of The Bang album. I've set up a little label called Chufty Badge and the first release on that will be this album, and then put out some other things from some other bands.’
The B of The Bang benefit gig for Team Sexton is at 7.30pm on Saturday, July 24. Tickets £8. Go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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