3rd September | Exchange
Photos: Grace Fitton-Assinder & Paul Assinder
The lights dim, orchestral music begins to play and the band enter the stage wearing matching astronaut outfits, complete with cardboard box helmets. They tell the audience they’re going to the moon. The Spook School have always been a band that go the extra mile when it comes to their live shows, and it’s apparent in how they kick off their final Bristol performance. ‘It’s less like a band coming to an end and more like a CBeebies series,’ quips drummer Niall McCamley.
The Spook School’s commitment to doing their own thing has always been a large part of their appeal. They’ve written songs that address topics rarely explored in mainstream music, like queer issues, and on stage they’re unlike any other band. They refuse to take themselves too seriously, cracking an endless number of jokes between songs. At times it feels less like a gig and more like hanging out with a group of old friends, making this final Bristol show all the more bittersweet.
But if The Spook School are ending, they’re doing so with a bang. The band sound fantastic, ripping through every song with a punk sense of energy. Think the Ramones or Buzzcocks. Drummer Niall McCamley and bassist Anna Corey form an airtight rhythm section, while brothers Nye and Adam Todd shred heavily on their guitars. Vocal duties are shared out among the members, and all of them are singing along on most of the choruses. It adds to the band’s charm.
The show kicks off with ‘Still Alive’ from The Spook School’s last album Could It Be Different? With its roaring chorus that takes aim at the haters (“Fuck you, I’m still alive”), it delivers the first of many great singalong moments. The band also reel off plenty of great songs from their earlier albums, including queerness anthems ‘Binary’ and ‘Burn Masculinity’. They even deliver a handful of songs from their debut album, including a blistering rendition of ‘Can You Ever Trust a Man Who Thinks Matt Damon’s Really Cool?’
There are also more sombre moments in the set as well, such as the band’s performance of their final single, the fittingly titled ‘Keep in Touch’. Corey’s backing vocals help give the song a haunting, melancholy feel. Set closer ‘Try to Be Hopeful’ is similarly moving.
Eventually the time comes for The Spook School to set off to the moon, as promised. The band members put their astronaut helmets back on, exit the stage and leave the audience listening to a launch countdown. One accidental press of the ejector button later, courtesy of McCamley, and The Spook School return to the stage.
For an encore, the band cut through a punk-infused cover of the Fleetwood Mac hit ‘Go Your Own Way’ before finishing things off with another Spook School classic, ‘I Want to Kiss You’. It’s a song that sums up the appeal of the band perfectly, challenging gender normativity, having a slight tongue-in-check edge and – of course – rocking hard. The Spook School may be ending, but they’re going out on a high note.
See the video for ‘Body’ here: