It was one of the hottest September days in memory, and one of the hottest days of the year, so being jammed into the upstairs music room of the Black Heart in Camden was probably not the best place to be, except that it was. Hands Off Gretel had returned to north London’s rock capital, just over a year since their London debut at Camden Rocks Festival, at the now defunct Barfly. In that day’s testosterone-filled room, the guitar-wielding, dreadlocked Lolitaesque Lauren Tate was not only a refreshing change, but showed that she could rock it with the best of them.
But what a difference a year makes. The band has been through a couple of personnel changes, with founders Lauren and guitarist Sean remaining the constant. This current line-up works. The music is much tighter, which is reflected in their stage presence. And they have released their first album, which is why we were packed into that room instead of being out enjoying the balmy late summer evening.
Yanna A started off the riot grrrl night, armed with her Fender and looping pedals for a solo set of angst-ridden grunge and self-effacing banter. French trio A Void upped the ante with chaotic set of punk, that left the stage and the audience in disarray with their Gallic charms and guitar noise.
Camden institution Healthy Junkies, brought their experience to contrast the innocence of the other acts. Now into their fifth year of hosting a monthly punk night up the road at The Unicorn, the band know a thing or two about giving an audience what they want, high energy punk ‘n’ roll.
By the time Hands Off Gretel hit the stage the room was proper hot and sticky, and the ever-growing fanbase were keen to give their support. Lauren’s signature immaculate make-up didn’t stay that way for long, as it melted down her face making her look far more the riot grrrl than she normally does, which was better befitting of the songs she was belting out. Sean was as animated as ever, whipping the air with his hair and swinging his new guitar around. Drummer Sam, to his credit, played with a broken hand and didn’t appear to let it hold him back.
Hands Off Gretel might not be breaking new ground with their sound, but neither are most of the other young bands playing today, whatever their chosen genres. However the South Yourkshire quartet do what they do well, they do it with youthful exuberance and a unique look that is totally DIY, right down to all their posters and record covers. If anyone is going to encourage young girls to pick up guitars and not be afraid of being themselves then it’s Lauren. And even if her songs do address serious issues such as identity and not fitting in, there is still a sense of fun that punk/grunge/garage often neglects.
If you don’t see the band on the current album release tour, do try and catch them because they have a bright future.