WORDS AND IMAGES BY ALEX RATCLIFFE
“The Poem Was Followed By Their Top Song, Gender Studies”
In a quiet neighbourhood of South London sits The Ivy House, a small, community owned pub. It’s in the back room of this pub where Irish band M(h)aol (pronounced similarly to mail) headlined their first ever show in South London, and their first show of 2022. M(h)aol are a feminest post-punk band, primarily from Dublin Ireland made up of Róisín (Vocals), Jamie (Bass), Sean (Guitar), Connie (Drums) and Zoe (Bass).
As I entered the venue, the first opening band Genn (pronounced as Gen) were already on stage. It was that stage that I noticed more than anything at first. The room wouldn’t have felt out of place as a community centre in a small village or school. Dark wooden facades filled the room and the stage was wrapped in silky curtains and red carpet.
The two opening bands, Genn and Blood Wizard, felt like a good fit for M(h)aol’s style. I don’t think it’s a style for everyone, and personally it wasn’t my normal taste in music, but they definitely had their moments where I and the small crowd gave them our full attention as we bobbed our heads along.
It was then time for the headline act. The band members spent some time getting set up, which was troublesome due to the small stage and having 5 band members. The first thing that stuck me about this band was that they had two bass players. It was quite a change from the bands I’m used too, where you might have 2 guitar players, usually with the lead taking on one of those roles. This band however kept those roles very separate, with the lead only occasionally using a tambourine.
As the band began their set it felt quite tense and eerie, the lead singer, Roisin, stared over the crowd into space for what felt like an eternity. One of their base players, Zoe, was using a violin bow against her bass, creating this unsettling tone to compliment.
Another quite striking choice was that the guitarist (Sean) decided to face away from the audience throughout the entire show. I asked him after the show if there was a reason for this, expecting something meaningful, considering this is very much a feminest band with mostly all female members. I thought that perhaps having the only male member of the band facing away might relate to that somehow. Unfortunately, it just turned out to be because of nerves more than anything else.
In terms of actual music, I did actually enjoy it more than I expected. The initial hurdle was that they line their music with this quite hard screeching effect from one of the base players. Initially it was the only thing I could focus on, being that you don’t often have that kind of messy noise in a lot of music. However, once I had adjusted to this style, it became quite easy to listen to and enjoy.
During the set, the band took a break from all of the instruments and decided to read out a poem. Quite unusual, definitely a first for me and I’m sure everyone else in the room. The poem was titled “Bisexual anxiety” and from the back of the room I listened to every word. It was a poem about feeling like you have to fit into either a black or white, rather than sitting in that grey area that can be bisexualality, which felt deeply personal.
The poem was followed by their top song, Gender Studies, which I expected a larger reaction to than was given. I believe it’s a fairly well made song and it was definitely performed well on the night, yet the audience didn’t seem to enjoy this one over any of the other songs performed. We were given some insight into the origins of the track, that it had been written at 2am following a night shift at a restaurant while the band was on hiatus and had yet to even regroup. It was at their first practice after coming off of hiatus that Róisín suggested they give it a try, and to their delight it’s exactly the kind of track that defines them.
They ended the set with a song titled “Asking for it”, which is a callout to rape culture and a middle finger to the excuses that are so often given and accepted that enable such horrific experiences for many. I think it was a perfect song to end the set with and left me with a perfect image of what this band is. While their song won’t be for everyone, they’re pushing the right messages that need to be heard more in the music industry and I’ll be looking forward to what songs they release next.