Words by Nick Mee. @Nickjmee
Despite their temporary hiatus at the turn of the decade, nearly ten years as a rock’n’roll entity has enabled Orphan Boy to assemble a clutch of soaring street anthems, a compelling live show, a passionate fan-base and some antipathy towards the music industry – all of which they brought to The Sebright Arms on Thursday night.
Powered by the solid 16th-note beats of drummer Chris Day, whose sticks flicked between sturdy post-punk and bouncy Oi-like indie, the Grimsby four-piece were illuminated by the strident vocal clarity of singer Rob Cross – looking a little like Joey Barton with a purpose as he clasped his telecaster stagefront – and multi-instrumentalist Sam Carlton, who veered between keys, guitar and ship-horn sax blasts. Carlton’s versatility allowed Cross to take his own place on the keys for the set’s atmospheric centrepiece, an evocative pairing of urban ennui from Orphan Boy’s latest album, ‘Coastal Tones’. ‘Money To Money’ segued into ‘Thirtysomething Lovesick Ballad’ [see video below] where Carlton’s ghostly sax and sinewy guitar licks hovered above the rhythm section’s steadily ascending groove as Cross documented an existence on England’s declining north-east shores. Cross is a fine lyrical chronicler of the travails of the unfashionable everyday, not unlike a provincial British Springsteen, and, for all their punk roots, Orphan Boy at their best have a flavour of The Boss’s widescreen, anthemic escapism, clear from the get-go in the melodic passing tones that flecked the indie-disco of ‘Transpennine’ right through to the cinematic litany of workers' dreams, ‘Bury Your Stars’. Closing number ‘Some Frontier’ injected a shot of something leftfield; built on a martial rocky rhumba and featuring a searing singalong chorus about the cost of the UK’s pointless wars, it left a memorable impression to depart with into a rainy Hackney night.
A night whose only real musical misstep, a standard Libertinesy thrashabout mid-set, was dedicated to any representatives of the music industry present, who were “ten years too late”. Sure, the industry is emphatically no barometer of quality, but perhaps Orphan Boy are now attracting the interest of some because they are a band who’ve hit their stride. It would be a shame for them to discount their chances of greater national acclaim right now, for as this Sebright gig emphasised, Orphan Boy's live dynamism and lyrical relevance is deserving of wider attention.