Brighouse band Embrace played their 20th secret gig in Halifax at the weekend.
The band which had its origins in a garden shed in Bailiff Bridge played in front specially invited fans at Halifax Amateur Boxing club performing new tracks.
The five piece of brothers and former Hipperholme Grammar pupils Danny and Richard McNamara, Mike Heaton, Steve Firth and Mickey Dale are on the comeback trail after seven years.
Read Alan Whitfield’s review here.
I checked the forecast as we loaded the car with rucksacks packed with old clothes in preparation for our journey south.
Gale force winds and torrential rain.
It’s the 14th of December 2013 and although tomorrow I’ve made a promise to dig out the Christmas tree, today I have other plans and the six sets of LED lights are safely packed into the bottom of our bags along with the batteries from a couple of remote controls. Most of our instructions have seemed cryptic if not a little strange but these had come from the top.
John “Al” White had spoken.
Al’s the man in charge. If you have any questions about any of this you should probably speak to him but if you’re looking for answers than you’re going to have to wait with the rest of us. A few of us think we know who he is, some maybe believe the myths and others say he has to be more than just one man. Whoever he is, he doesn’t sleep and has the power to command a legion of followers to strange locations.
A couple of weeks ago I got called up again. This time however, I could bring friends.
People were travelling much further now, some from as far reaching as Australia and Japan. We’d grown as a group and it wasn’t just in numbers.
Some were becoming curious, nervous even, we had already been told we might not all make it and as we travelled through the high winds and gloom of the heavy rain word came in of cancelled flights that could temper our numbers. Al however, would not be deterred; he was hard at work and got the message out to us all that the “Kill Room” was ready for tonight.
We arrived with an excited expectancy of the unknown and after establishing contact with the rest of the group we again made our way to the recently disclosed secret location. Small groups of us set off on foot and made our way through dark side roads, walking between huge chimneys of old mills and beneath motorway overpasses to our destination in West Yorkshire.
It was about ten to six when we arrived and took our place in the queue behind around fifty others and watched as a chain of people formed behind us and disappeared from view. At around twenty past six people began shuffling into the building. It was maybe another twenty minutes before we were inside but once our names were checked off we collected our white boiler suits, safety glasses and masks and got changed. No one really new why we had to wear these, I am sure we had our wild theories but I’d given up trying to second guess their plans for us weeks ago.
Over the next ninety minutes our numbers grew until there was as many as ten times the number that had gathered outside a deserted Lumb Lane Mill in November. Far more than I think anyone had expected.
We made our way into the main hall, through a thick polythene curtain covered with bloody hand prints and stepped into a shrink wrapped room bathed in a deep red light.
This was Al’s Kill Room.
The excitement was growing with every passing minute. We all knew it was getting closer. I heard someone say earlier that it would start around eight and it was now quarter past, surely they would be here soon?
Maybe sooner if we started to cheer and chant.
So we did.
If the 10th November was the beginning of all this, if that was the intimidating initiation then this was clearly something else. I am not saying this didn’t feel like we were waiting for something big to happen because it did but this also felt like we were waiting for a celebration.
There was a euphoric welcome to the five men we were here to see when they climbed into the ring. Each dressed in brilliant white as they took their positions in front of the applauding crowd.
Then that siren started, the same one a few of us had followed through those dark tunnels in Bradford the one we had followed underground and listened to in darkness right before Embrace made their enigmatic comeback.
Tonight they were here again and kicking things off with a blistering new track “Protection”.
This was quickly followed by “In the End” and what I understand will be the new single “Refugees”. Each new song received a thunderous roar from the hundreds of fans who had waited seven years for this moment. Embrace were back, they were on stage, they had new songs and the night was just getting started.
The fourth new track of the night “At Once” followed and we all got the signal that we had been waiting for.
Danny quickly began to disperse red glow sticks into the audience and pockets of the crowd followed his lead by activating the lights under their suits. Within seconds the room was transformed, filled by a sea of continually surging red lights that were moving in time with the thumping drums and powerful bass lines.
As if there wasn’t enough electricity and excitement in the room already, “Ashes” was next up and it’s songs like this that Embrace have been crafting for almost two decades. Perfectly formed anthems that unite strangers, songs that make you punch the air and choruses that have you bouncing two feet off the floor.
We were all now truly galvanized.
There was almost enough time to catch our breath before Danny moved to centre stage and parted the crowd. We were all expecting something else to happen; after all we weren’t dressed like an extra from Outbreak for no good reason. As the crowed parted a man in a red boiler suit and white mask appeared from the back dividing the crowd with a rope over each shoulder. Even then, watching this masked man lumber towards me I had no idea what to expect. As he secured a pathway through the centre of the crowd others followed passing out small cups of powder that Danny assured would be explained as he introduced the next track as “All You Good Good People”.
This song might be 15 or 16 years old but it felt like it was the first time I’d heard it live and the crowd seem to feel the same as they fervently sang every word back at the band. As the song reached its climax Danny stood grinning at the edge of the stage holding two cups above his head. We all waited, I held my breath and at the absolute height of the crescendo, at the point that resembles a rollercoaster about to nose-dive, in that second, every single cup, was launched into the air and the entire room fell host to an explosion of multi-coloured powdered paint.
As dust settled, the song closed and the applause was deafening.
The lights lifted and no one knew what had hit them, we all stared at each other cheering, laughing and hugging. This really was exceeding even the greatest of expectations.
“Looking as you Are” was next up and this huge sing-a-long was followed by “Quarters” and “I Run” which are further insights to their eagerly awaited sixth LP. Both were outstanding and both delivered something new whilst holding on to that unique sound and feel. Embrace have always had a contrast in their styles and that is still evident, only now it feels more confident and deliberate. Every aspect of what they do has transcended the band to a level that maybe even they didn’t think they could reach.
“Natures Law” and “Someday” came next and as expected received huge applause from the glowing crowd. It was during the break in Someday that an unknown voice interrupted us with a countdown from...
The second burst of paint exploded as guitars and drums crashed around us in the tremendous finale the air again turned into a thick red haze that eventually dispersed as the heartfelt “Gravity” allowed us the opportunity to draw breath, huddle together and chant the melodic riffs in time with the band.
One final new song “Thief of my Island” was to close the set and this is another incredibly well worked song with drums and keys that you can’t help but stomp or dance to. For at least the third time tonight Danny was on hand with additional percussion and it was this well rehearsed live set-up that has really lifted the band.
I don’t think I have seen a band get a reception like this, it was remarkable. These guys have been away for seven years and have just blown the place apart so it was fitting that the band emerge from backstage to play an encore that they perhaps hadn’t planned but they truly deserved.
They started with “Maybe I Wish” and finished with the beautiful and understated “Fireworks”. These parting tracks were our gifts from the band and they were welcomed with literal open arms.
Every single track tonight was played with a visible passion and honesty. They have poured their souls into this music and it was easy to see they were hugely grateful for the crowd’s reaction and were perhaps as humbled as each and every one of us.
You would think that this was maybe enough but no, the band had more planned and stepped back into the ring at the Halifax Police Armature Boxing Club to provide us with a two and a half hour DJ Set. They mingled with the crowd and allowed us all photo and signing opportunities.
For me it was enough to congratulate them and say thank you.
There are nights that are great and then, very occasionally, there are nights like this. I mean, if you’re going to put on a performance then this is how you do it.
This wasn’t just a live band, this was an event, a celebration of a comeback, the advent of a band that have a renewed and unflinching determination to show everyone what they are capable of. This was five men who wanted to share their hard work and self belief with their fans and for me, being part of that group makes the whole thing even more incredible.
Some moments are unlikely to ever be recreated and this was one of them. This was a night that I will always remember and I mean really remember. It won’t just become a memory of a memory like your first day at school, your first bike or maybe even your first kiss. I’m going to remember this, remember the emotions and all the little details that made this night remarkable, I’m going to remember the friends that made it extraordinary.
If the band they see this as a rebirth, a new start then I understand why they see this as an opportunity to do things their way. If their potential hasn’t already been realised then make no mistake, their next album is about to make sure of it.
One thing is for certain, Embrace are back.