by Ollie Hopewell & Shaun Battison

Saturday 14th August saw The Sugarmill welcome back regular fixture Average Joe, possibly one of the toughest bands to describe concisely; drawing influences from a multitude of genres, artists, and movements, there is almost a timeless old-school class to the sound the band have nurtured, creating a tight and complete sound which ranges from a kind of soft and easy-listening lounge music to total funk you can’t help but dance to. Often described as a softer and more soulful take on the post-punk movement, it would be a disservice of us to suggest Average Joe fall into a single genre label when the band channels a plethora of influences to create a sound both unique and familiar.

Of the two constant band members, James Mycock acts as producer while playing both keyboard and congas on stage, while band namesake Joe Brennan-Hulme fronts the act as singer. The pair have gone from sampling music using mobile phones on stage to performing as a nine-piece with a talented band brass section to boot, and regardless of the shifting size of Average Joe, the elements of storytelling and inclusiveness remain the same as the band merges a symphony of different cultures, sounds, and emotions to craft relatable tales of love and loss from a working-class perspective cultivated in Stoke-on-Trent.

Arriving early for the gig was paramount as Average Joe announced their plans to premier a short film entitled Song Catching: Episode One, a documentary which details the band’s exploits over lockdown and gives insight to the scope of their artistic talents, showcasing the talents of Dan South and Tony Woolliscroft. You can watch the full 30-minute documentary on the Average Joe YouTube channel.

Applause and cheers erupted as Average Joe took to stage, with the band immediately kicking off the gig with new release Work In Progress, the song created at the end of the previously mentioned short film. Immediately the uninitiated know that Average Joe aren’t your typical band, marching to the beat of their own drum rather than confining themselves to a single label. While this non-conformity does make it more difficult to describe the band in words, it makes Average Joe all the more appealing, leaving you obliged to listen to more of their work while urging you to see them live as often as you can.

But, if we have to place comparisons to musical contemporaries, the artists comparable to the work of Average Joe fall into a certain niche of excellence. Think Mike Skinner and The Streets if they were married to Earth, Wind & Fire, or maybe if Sleaford Mods and Jamie T formed a jazz fusion band. A personal favourite comparison, though sadly not an original one of ours, is if The Rhythm Method were from the North; all comparison hints at the immense work of Average Joe but fails to describe it in its entirety.

On the night, Average Joe performed as a talented ensemble of musicians, with guitarist Rich Pratt, bassist Coogan, and drummer “Nasty” Mike to the left of dynamic duo Jim Mycock and Joe Brennan-Hulme, while, to the right, Bertie Baxter also played guitar alongside a brass section comprised of Jamie Sufi-Davies on trumpet, saxophonist Clive Martin, and Wayne “Sid” Smith on trombone.

Up next was East Meets West, a track in which the funk elements were really kicked up, prompting frontman Joe Brennan-Hulme to shift about the stage in this Cuban heels, black button-up shirt, and sparkly silver scale trousers, a real step into the smoother lounge band aesthetic than usually adorned by Brennan-Hulme. The track took more of a Screamadelica tone, with the brass section reinforcing a 90s electronica feel similar to a Primal Scream or Andrew Weatherall number.

By the time the band got to Took A Shine To You, Average Joe himself was back to his usual routine of mixing shadowboxing and dancing in a routine the likes of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis or Talking Heads’ David Byrne would be proud of, jiving around the stage with a confidence and swagger infectious to the large Sugarmill crowd who now found themselves dancing along.

Warm Clouds seemed to get all the couples in the room swaying lovingly as the poetry of Joe Brennan-Hulme’s words fell upon the crowd, playing the role of a storyteller rather than that of a traditional frontman. From arms linked in love to friends sharing a hug, the vibe and emotion displayed in Warm Clouds was one of togetherness and unity while remaining soulful and relaxing. Stoke certainly has some excellent bands, but none deliver a message or an emotion quite like Average Joe.

Runs In The Blood and Taxi followed, with both songs detailing a narrative of taking things too far or losing someone, coping through reckless consumption, and facing the consequences. Despite the darker tone of much of Average Joe’s work, the lyrics and melody take an upbeat tone and outline the positives of the situation; your partner has broken up with you? You can go out drinking with your mates! Had a few too many? Well, look how confident you are now!

These themes are very much present in the group’s latest EP, Take It or Leave It, which also includes the upbeat A Weekend in Wales, a track similar in feel to Blanketman’s National Trust album in the way it captures the feeling of an escape to an area where your troubles can no longer reach you. A Weekend in Wales made me feel nostalgic about family holidays and the long drives across the country as a kid, an almost forgotten memory which gave me immense happiness when I recalled them as Average Joe beautifully crafted this story while strutting about the stage.

In the same vein as Elbow’s Guy Garvey using a full orchestra onstage while performing, the trio in the brass section added an incredible amount of sound and depth to the performance while never taking away focus from the meanings behind each song.

The final few songs of the evening took to a more sombre tone; Grass Roots, Days Came, and Cross My Heart, by far the most important and well-received Average Joe song, take a stance on the importance of recognising and supporting mental health, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to crying my eyes out on the final track of the evening, as Cross My Heart hit home a powerful message of love and loss.

The generosity of spirit and humble attitude of each member of Average Joe is truly astounding, and you would do well to find anyone who does it better than the band often aptly referred to as Stoke-on-Trent’s finest.


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© Ollie Hopewell & Shaun Battison 2021
Contact: SugarmillShow@gmail.com







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