Not even a year passes and we’re back at the Thunderbolt with the honour of seeing the big, bad, beautiful Band of Holy Joy. And what a not quite 12 months it’s been, the world sits firmly in the hand cart as we’re pushed off the metaphorical cliff into a not so metaphorical hell… of course it could be heaven depending on your point of view, (gotta keep the balance) who better to wave us off and soundtrack the journey than Johny and the band?
If I was writing some hack piece to fill up a random website’s acres of content hungry space I would probably talk about BOHJ’s renewed energy and sense of purpose and tell you their next album will be their best yet. Well the new album may well reach those heights, but Holy Joy never lost their sense of purpose or their energy for that matter, at least not from where I’m listening and as they so adroitly avoid cliche so I should at least try to do the same.
Tonight before we go forward we go back, over 30 years incredibly, to the Aspidistra House, our entry into their world. I think Johny must construct set lists like he’s plotting a novel, because then without pausing for breath he grabs everyone in the room by reminding us, Isn’t that Just the Life? Which of course it is.
It’s a set list of all peaks and no troughs, but with certain key moments that nail the themes BOHJ articulate so well.
New song, The Devil Has a Hold on the Land looms out of the night and tackles what these days is the ever present beast in the room. A comprehensive take down of a society corroded by greed, self interest, hate and empty narcissism, it comforts by deriding the banal cruelty that goes unremarked all too often but sidesteps the perils of empty polemics and name calling. Of course it’s all the more effective as a result and provides illumination rather than dour bleakness, because Holy Joy are never dour, the clue is in the name.
Ferocious they may be but this band is also more than capable of delicacy and can switch mood beautifully. There is an indie pop heart beating within many of these songs, just listen to Open the Door to Your Heart or Come Home to Me, joyous in excelsis AND you can sing along…
Elsewhere Funambulist We Love You feels firmly established as an alternative classic, anthemic without bluster and all too well capable of oiling tear ducts, as I know well.
Watching Johny and the band makes me think of a quote from Shamus Heaney, (yeah, ok I admit I had to check the specifics…) about the difference between optimism and hope, ‘hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth looking for’. Johny has seen too much to simply be an optimist, so he shows us a culture that values people by how much they can produce or how much content they can create, where there’s apparently no alternative to just letting the market decide with all the horror that implies, all the time burning with a righteous hope and belief that change can happen even when it all seems too much.
As the songs says, ‘Some nights I admit I break, I just walk and I cry. But I’m going to change this world before I die…’
We’re lucky to have them.
Long live Holy Joy.
Words Simon Heavisides Images Brian Gibson