Statistically speaking, you’ve probably never been to a Friends of Batman gig. Maybe you’ve never even heard of them, given their habit of playing just one live show a year. But that one show a year – which these days is usually a Tramlines show – is a guaranteed barn-shaker… and it always includes something you’ve never seen before.
This year it was a mid-set scuffle between rapper/stylophone abuser Terry and vocalist Jim (Connolly – the guy who draws cool comic book stuff about Sheffield). Last year it was a fake Mexican, drafted in to replace the aforementioned Terry, who’d buggered off to Cornwall. The year before that it was a conga round the pub to a cover of the BBC test match cricket theme tune ‘Soul Limbo’.
The FOBs are unlike any other Sheffield band. They’re anarchic pantomime, performed by a group of comedy-punk upstarts who are old enough to know better, and they’re bloody good fun to watch.
FOBs kicked off proceedings at the Shakespeare on Tramlines Saturday with a suitable level of theatre and mystery, entering the room only when the intro track had loftily announced their interstellar levels of heroism.
Enter five blokes dressed as (in order) a freemason replete with fez, a lothario in smoking jacket and shorts, a nun, some horrendous fetish gimp version of the Caped Crusader, and a vaguely Satanic take on the Sons of Batman gang from The Dark Knight Returns.
They start by thanking everyone for turning up with set opener ‘Glad you came’. But Jim and co quickly turn to less pleasant matters with ‘Probe’, a song about a man who gets abducted by aliens and thoroughly probed, leading to the discovery that he quite likes that sort of thing.
Serious stuff. They follow with ‘Phantom Crapper’, which probably doesn’t need much explanation, and things continue along a similar vein.
They’re rough around the edges, and you wouldn’t want it any other way. Who else in Sheffield turns up with a Theremin, a kazoo and a bass ukulele? In their own words, “It’s ultra-violent acoustic, a crazy new sound.”
What they do have, in buckets, is charisma. And stones the size of boulders. Each band member gets their moment in the spotlight, and the audience gets the chance to point, laugh, join in, cry, ponder the mysteries of the universe, and then walk out in disgust, if they like.
In 2011, FOBs had an art competition halfway through the gig, where audience members had to come up with, and draw, a superhero with a serious flaw. In return, they could win a Jim Connolly print. Nifty.
This year, audience participation is limited to getting a go at banging the drum being passed around by Brother Teresa during their encore – an a cappella version of traditional folk song ‘The Thing’.
The one gig a year thing suggests FOBs isn’t necessarily the highest priority in Jim, Thereman, The Great Kazoomo, Terence All-Gold and Brother Teresa’s lives right now, but they’ve taken the time to write (and practice) some groovy new material. In fact, they’ve now got enough to do an album, even if more gigging isn’t on the cards.
But they fit the festival atmosphere perfectly, and they’re lots of fun at Tramlines, so I can (just about) live with one gig a year.
Check ‘em out. If you can find ‘em.
Words & Photos: Joseph McArthur Field.