Little Comets Review
by Ollie Hopewell

Review for Ay Up Duck Radio’s Sugarmill Show

On Monday 13th September, three very talented sets of musicians took to the stage of The Sugarmill as a part of The National Lottery’s Revive Live Tour. What followed was one of the most diverse and impressive musical performances I have ever seen.

The Smithpools

Opening an eclectic but fantastic evening was Fenton-based band The Smithpools, an indie/alt-rock trio who were performing at The Sugarmill for the first time, not that you could tell. While the band took to the spotlight with nervous smiles and a small stage presence they were quick to do away with it, crashing into Caller Unknown, the guitar riffs of which immediately made me think of the likes of Black Sabbath with that droning and electric whir they’re so famous for. What an excellent start.

I love to see animated performances on stage, especially when they’re unexpected. So, when bass guitarist and second vocalist Josh Gaitley began ripping round the stage in similar fashion to IDLES’ Lee Kiernan I was transfixed, more so when he didn’t miss a single note jumping round like a sugar-crazed toddler.

The steady drumming of Lee Gibson and more reserved performance of lead singer and guitarist Sam Holland perhaps amplified the frantic performance from Gaitley, but that disproportion quickly ended as the band began to take full stride, losing themselves in their work. Holland thanked the somewhat sparse crowd for coming to their first gig at The Sugarmill, declaring that even a small start is a big deal for the band who have been working for a couple of years to get here and make an impact, and I think there is plenty more to come from the Fenton three-piece.

The set was short but sweet; the band covered Muse’s Hysteria and Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict a Riot before slowing things down with original track Get Away, really showing the range and capabilities of the group who have influences from the likes of Royal Blood, Oasis and The Clash, giving the Smithpools a similar sound to New York dance-punk three-piece The Rapture and Stoke-on-Trent contemporaries Bathtub, with the bassists from each band enjoying jumping into the crowd at gigs, a trend I’m hoping never dies.

Broader comparisons are to the post-punk and DIY movements reigniting across the nation, channelling provocative lyrics to heavier and stripped back instrumental work, but Smithpools weren’t the most stripped back artist on the night.



Wielding nothing but an acoustic guitar an ability to tell stories like the finest of her country and folk influences, Mabel Rogers took to the stage in a single spotlight, beautifully delivering a thought provoking and solemn set which regaled stories of happiness, love and loss, and social issues in a modern take on the country genre.

Opening with America, a single which later appeared on debut album Wait & See, it was instantly apparent what Mabes was all about, combining country and singer/songwriter genres with a modern pop feel more abundantly clear in her studio work. There are influences from the likes of John Mayer, Bon Iver, and Billy Joel, not to mention Laura Marling, the artist Rogers openly admits to being her biggest influence and muse.

The heavenly combination of Mabes’ voice and gentle guitar notes were profound in Gone and Keeping the Noise Down, a peppier ballad about being overwhelmed in social settings and having to take a step back, a track which reminded me of Coldplay’s Don’t Panic.

Wait & See, a lullaby dedicated to her mother, preceded Little love, the first song she ever wrote, before performing newest single Fairground. Very smart and creative lyrics across the entire set evoke visions of slow dancing at a wedding while the abundance in humility and talent really shone on final track Radio, an upbeat anthem about the positive powers of music.

I can imagine being stood in a field as thousands of mesmerised onlookers hold their lighters aloft, gently swaying to the nostalgic and soulful sounds of the Billericay songbird.


Little Comets

Famed for impromptu gigs in venues such as university lecture theatres, trams, and supermarket bakery isles, Little Comets have taken their maverick and mischievous approach to music and ran with it since their founding in 2008, taking an uncompromising approach to creating music by means nothing shy of partisan. This adherence to their own style has meant dropping a slew of music labels to be almost entirely self-produced to avoid hierarchical interference, and this attitude to creation is inspiring, ahead of its time, and entirely justified by the quality I experienced at The Sugarmill on Monday 13th September.

Little Comets combine a dad-rock style of jumpers and knitwear with one of the most complete, complex, and polished sets I have ever had the privilege of hearing performed. Original band members Matt Hall and brothers Michael and Robert Coles have remained permanent fixtures of the group, with the band expanding to accommodate Matt Saxon and Nathan Greene into the fold when touring.

All five musicians are immensely talented and perform with almost telepathic timing and chemistry, with lead guitarist Michael Coles and bass guitarist Matt Hall providing backing vocals to lead singer, guitarist, and pianist Robert Coles. Keyboardist, guitarist, and sample producer Matt Saxon somehow finds time to also provide backing vocals while Nathan Greene is one of the most entertaining drummers I have ever watched, grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire performance.

The five-piece opened their set with funky surf rock tracks Worry, Jennifer, and A Little Opus from their 2012 album Life Is Elsewhere, providing perplexing levels of depth in tricky drumbeats, looped samples, and Afro-imbued guitar riffs along side the choir of five fronted by the excellent range of frontman Robert Coles.

Perhaps the most consistent comparison Little Comets receive is that they are Britain’s answer to Vampire Weekend, the two were both signed to Columbia Records after all. But I think it would be an injustice to make such a shallow and lazy comparison when I feel Little Comets are so much more than that; influences as ranged as Simon & Garfunkel, Debussy, and Roald Dahl have lead the band to a place where they can be lovingly compared to artists as diverse as New Order, The Police, The Drums, and the previously mentioned Vampire Weekend.

This is in no way an insult to contemporaries Bombay Bicycle Club, Dog Is Dead, General Fiasco, and The Maccabees, but the Geordie Nostradamuses for the 21st century, I hope they like that reference, find a complexity and depth which surpasses every band I have ever seen live, showing greater maturity in M62, The Man Who Wrote Thriller, Joanna, and Bridge Burn while returning to that charming and mischievous sound in Adultery, Total Abject Paranoia and Baywatch.

À Bientôt was the highlight of the evening, a culmination of everything great about the band in the perfect showcase of their talents and capabilities, utilising their vast array of technical equipment, soundboards, and faders to provide electronic licks of serotonin which left me stood with tears in my eyes and my mouth gaping in awe.

One Night In October, the song for which the band gained notoriety, was sadly not played on one guitar by all five members of the band as it previously had been, but was equally as impressively performed. This was followed by the feel-good Dancing Song which was met with a triumphant cheer and plenty of off-the-wall dancing just as its name would suggest.

Ending on the very poignant 3 Minute Faltz, an exploration of modern social issues and the human condition, before literally running off stage to catch a train, Little Comets have shown me the light and elevated my standards of live music to an almost unrealistic level. I doubt I will ever see a performance as complete or as elevating as theirs.


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© Ollie Hopewell 2021
Contact: SugarmillShow@gmail.com







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