Declan Welsh & the Decadent West take to the Stereo stage with a distinct air of confidence that is hard to ignore. It feels like a big occasion for the four-piece after all; not only is this their first headline show under their new moniker, but it is also marks the launch of their brilliant new single ‘No Pasaran’. An impassioned call to arms against fascism, it is their most emphatic offering to date; finally seeing the band embrace their full punk rock potential in blistering fashion.
With this in mind, there is a certain atmosphere in the room that overrides that of a normal gig. With a huge ‘No Pasaran’ flag draped over the back wall and a rousing speech from Unite Against Fascism at the end of the night, there is a definite sense of social awareness, a feeling of collectiveness and unity; as if just by being here, we are now part of an empowering movement. This band are here to provide music with a message and it is delivered in emphatic style from the outset; Welsh’s spitfire vocals and socially conscious lyrics bolstered by a muscular punk rock sound with the help of those around him. Bold and menacing basslines make themselves known alongside imposing percussion and sharp guitar lines; lending some of the more tested material an invigorated boost while re-affirming the hard-edged punky direction they are now headed as a group.
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Welsh is still the focal point though; so determined and forceful in his delivery that he has you on side from the outset. With plenty of chat in between songs, he strikes the right balance between humorous, anecdotal and defiant; appropriate given the range of subjects laced through his songbook. He offers a refreshing perspective; possessing the confident swagger of a traditional rock and roll frontman but with the prime aim of making a difference through his music. His witty and satirical observations are displayed through the likes of ‘Do What You Want’, its lyrics promoting sexual fluidity over sultry rhythms and reverbed guitars, and pacifist anthem ‘Get Along’, its swaggering guitar lines building up to a huge singalong chorus which boldly declares that ‘every cunt is a good cunt’. At the more humorous end of the scale is ‘Amsterdam’; more boisterous than it is on record with Welsh’s lyrics about a not so cultured trip to the city leading the song before a stomping chorus. Elsewhere, his popular poem ‘Lads’ gets a welcome appearance, albeit with a slight makeover; performed at a slower pace with the addition of guitar strums.
As a solo musician with his acoustic guitar, Welsh always showed the capacity to be a fine punk artist but as the frontman of a band, his songwriting takes on a new power; the progression to a four-piece outfit proving to be nothing but fruitful, as seen tonight. While many of their tunes come armed with a message, there’s also time for fun as well. Their indie rock and early Arctic Monkeys influences come more to the fore throughout the set with a plentiful supply of catchy guitar hooks. The upbeat romance of ‘Things You Do’ and the fun party anthem ‘Never Go Home’ in particular remind you of summer with their bright indie pop sensibilities and earworm melodies; Duncan McBride’s sharp guitar lines elevating both songs.
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With new material interspersed throughout the set, it becomes clear just how much their sound has progressed this year; something that will be evident for all to see on their new EP, said to be coming out soon on local label Dead Beet Records. It is only fitting that they end the gig with ‘No Pasaran’ though; the highlight of the night. Even more powerful live than it is on record, it makes for a ferocious finale; the night building to an almighty climax as Welsh unleashes every last drop of energy into the song. Its strong message resonates with the audience who raise their fists in defiance and chant along with his roaring declaration ‘Los Fascistas, No Pasaran’.
It feels like the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Declan Welsh & the Decadent West, who are carving out their own niche and establishing themselves as an essential part of the Scottish music scene. In a year that has brought so much doom and gloom, political strife and social upheaval, it is more important than ever to use art as an empowering tool; and this band are doing exactly that. They have a message to share and they are doing it in bold and unapologetic fashion. As Welsh has said himself: “To fill a venue like that on the back of a punk single about fighting fascism shows that music can still say something.”