The 100 Club on London’s Oxford Street is music’s equivalent to Napoleon Bonaparte: Quite small, not particularly attractive but rightfully important, historically.
It’s a subterranean venue that goes unnoticed for most shoppers on that particularly hellish street, more intent on surviving the Primark stores at either end than celebrating the many legends that have trodden the boards of the stage at the 350-capacity room. Yet for Gibraltarian bands - indeed, for just about any band the world over - being able to perform there is a victory akin to the diminutive French General (the one we met in the opening sentence - keep up!) having been able to succeed at Waterloo. For a long time the venue of choice within Jazz circles, the 100 Club also played a vital role at the height of the Punk scene, playing host to the likes of the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Jam, while in more recent years it has become the London home of Marillion frontman Steve Hogarth’s stripped-back solo performances and the setting for secret gigs by little known ensembles like the Rolling Stones, Metallica or a young Liverpool lad who goes by the name of Paul McCartney. Put simply, playing the 100 Club is a big deal.
Extra kudos, therefore, to young Kristian Celecia for so nonchalantly taking to the stage, mature beyond his years in his songwriting, performance and overall approach. Armed with his acoustic guitar and influenced by the likes of Mumford And Sons, The Lumineers and Newton Faulkner, Kristian kicked things off with the two-pronged “Uuu”/“Seniorita”, before delighting the audience - by now increasing in size and including Minister for Culture Steven Linares and Minister Samantha Sacramento - with self-penned songs like “Hurt”, “Room 303” and “Stay”. A shame that a number of those present chatted away a little too loudly during the quieter parts of Kristian’s set (I guess that’s bound to happen when Gibraltarian friends and acquaintances meet up in an enclosed space), but his was an understated yet solid and very enjoyable performance. A more than adequate start to the ‘MTV Presents London Calling’ event jointly organised by Neon Angel, MTV, the Gibraltar Live Music Society (David Diaz from the GLMS did a grand job as host) and HM Government of Gibraltar.
It was a brave line-up for what I hope turns out to be an annual event, combining the tried and tested sounds of Jestream and Frontiers (more of whom later) and the relatively inexperienced Kristian Celecia. Somewhere inbetween were Manatee, a three-piece with only a couple of live gigs under their belt but featuring no newcomers to the Rock’s music scene. With former Rock On The Rock Musician Of The Year Luke Bosano on vocals and guitar, the likeable Stefano Blanca Sciacaluga on bass and backing vox duties and Jonathan Felices on drums, Manatee perhaps seemed a little timid at first. Initial nerves soon wore off, however, and the Indie-flavoured but melody-heavy songs, influenced by Death Cab For Cutie and The Gaslight Anthem, went down well, as did Stefano’s “Como están los llanis?” quip. “Out Of The Blue”, “Living A Lie” and “As We Sail” were among my favourite songs of the night and I look forward to future gigs by Manatee.
Frontiers were on next. The Dumas brothers travelled to the capital from different parts of the globe, with little time for rehearsal, but as usual delivered a strong set. It was immediately apparent that a sizeable part of the audience - mainly Gibraltar students and some who’ve made London their home, but also a fair few who’d flown over specially for the concert, as well as some music industry players - were Frontiers fans. The former This Side Up boys are the perfect package. They have the musicianship, the songwriting talent, the youth, catchy hooks and good looks that would have record company executives ticking their ‘next big thing’ boxes. Simon, Philip, Guy and the rest of the band shone on songs like “Delilah”, “Waterfall”, Ed Sheeran’s “Castle On A Hill” or the impromptu encore “Universe”, but it was fan favourite “Seven Seas” - a song truly worthy of major chart success - that proved to be their set’s highlight.
And on the subject of highlights, it’s fair to say that accolade must go to Jetstream, who perhaps more than any other act on the night showed real hunger and a collective ‘fire in the belly’. From the very start, with an energetic take on “F5”, the five-piece really went for it. The slightly less refined, edgier-than-usual sound suited them well (and in my opinion it’s a less polished approach than that prevalent in their more recent material that will go down best with a wider UK audience), and it only took a couple of songs for frontman Nolan Frendo, guitarist Stu Whitwell, bass player Justin and skinsman Tristan Tonna to have the entire 100 Club crowd in their pockets. “The Story Of My Life”, “Starlight” and “Lala” were performed with the passion and swagger of a band whose vast live circuit experience has awarded them bags of confidence. Jetstream were the worthy headliners on the night.
Whether anything tangible comes from ‘London Calling’ remains to be seen, but on a cold November night in the heart of London, four Gibraltar acts showed those assembled that talent on the Rock is plentiful and those beyond our borders would be well advised to sit up and take notice.