Packing out the pub, rip-roaring riffs, intense vocals;
Halfcut are a hot new indie band experience in Exeter.
In Exeter, there is a palpable emergence of new live acts across the city. Just over a year ago when I decided to move to Exeter, the sonic landscape was unrecognisable to how it is today. Venues struggled to locate new talent and were safely recycling established local acts, leading to a rather unusual (for a city) monopoly of high-power bands such as The Issues, The Post, James Sebastian, and Die Twice. Though no one can argue that these acts haven’t had a huge impact in catalysing the city’s music scene rebirth, it would have confidently been said that gigging became slightly stale. You always knew the bill before it was ever
Today, Exeter is filled to the brim with acts scrambling over each other to play its renowned small venues across the city. Venues are filling up again to pre-covid levels, music is being released each week, and acts are building a loyal following. Hats off to all the the bands aforementioned, you really are to thank for this seismic change.
The re-saturation of the local scene has forced more small venues to take musicians far more seriously as a reputable demographic with influence. Among those venues are The Monkey Suit with their Suit Sessions, The Stokes Arms, The Angel Bar with its blues night and far more recently, newcomers- 50.7, located opposite the legendary Old Firehouse. Fittingly, I write about a newly formed band playing live at this venue.
Lucas Shaw, Max Heslop, Matt Smith and Ollie March comprise the indie rock band. Previously known as Coughing Fit, I had seen them play in their Calpol-ridden form at various jam nights at The Stokes Arms. I must admit it’s hard to spot an emerging artist thoroughly from just a few
moments on stage before having to hand it to the next batch of hopeful, sometimes woeful, performers. Nonetheless, the band had sparked an interest in me so when I saw them announce a show at 50.7, curiosity took over.
Arriving at the venue, I was surprised by the lack of bells and whistles for want of a better phrase. It’s a rather box-standard pub with a university student affinity. On a tiny stage crammed by the entrance, a PA system was erected, squeezing next to a full drum kit (with an impressive amount of breakables) and a couple amps that had definitely seen better days, the set list stuck to the speaker and a worrying amount of extension leads. All of these are the signs of a shit-hot local band. Safe to say, I was excited- despite the pub being virtually empty, bar the band members and their inner circle.
I spoke to Lucas, the band’s vocalist. Dressed in a 70’s reminiscent white cotton button-up shirt with jeans and boots he bought from a local charity shop, he certainly looked the part of an indie frontman but with a cool and collected edge to him.
I asked him how he was feeling with 50.7, seeing only a couple people in the room and it almost being time to play. He maintained his charismatic charm and assured me it would pick up. I was less hopeful than him. Having played a handful of devastatingly quiet shows myself in the post-COVID scene, I know the stress and panic first-hand. I had assumed Lucas was merely saving face.
Halfcut gets onto stage around the 9 pm mark and faff around with tone settings and mic stand heights- essentially the nervous pre-show routine for the majority of small artists.
9:05 pm and still an empty 50.7, looking back at them. Halfcut aren’t fazed. Matt Smith, the bassist donning an intimidating glam-rock eyeliner, black crop top and towering above the rest of the group, turned the master volume knob of his knackered amp to full. Feedback and static spews into the room from the tiny stage. All of a sudden a thunderous succession of chords come blazing from all angles as the band open with 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson. The roar of the amps is masterfully manipulated into melody by Max Heslop on lead and Lucas on second guitar.
It was a strange sensation to be transfixed to the band in an empty room and be totally caught off guard by the sheer volume of applause. During the time the band were playing a shortened version of the eclectic Crimson track, many a music lover had descended upon the venue. By the time Halfcut end the second track in their set, Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie, 50.7 is near to full. Quite a phenomenon to witness.
It is never to be underestimated the impact an audience has on the performance of a live act – empty shows fester broken egos and often musical malfunctions. A good show sees the crowd lively and engaged by the mastery of talent on stage, no matter the size of the venue, nor its capacity. It’s all about feeling full with the energy, and for Halfcut the rest of the show left me satisfied and yet hungry for more.
Showcasing a couple of originals in their set, such as Concrete Island, Halfcut show the potential to mobilise within the Exeter scene but also to advance as much as possible in the direction of artistry.
The band are a little rough around the edges at parts of the show, mirroring the venue rather well. They radiate contagiously explosive energy and harness that into their performance, which masks any slip-ups and solidifies the audience’s appreciation of the rough and ready nature of the group. Ollie is a fantastic drummer, highly technical and punching well above his years in crafting fills and solos. It’s a very loud experience, but I believe that with a couple bigger shows under their belt, Halfcut will have a very complete dynamic picture.
After a double encore, the sweaty Halfcut lads exit stage to about 40 audience members, equally drenched- engrossed in the groove in a space that can barely hold half of that.
Leaving the steamed-up windows and cheap lager-infused aroma of 50.7 with ringing ears left me with a massive grin on my face. It’s exactly what grassroots music should feel like, and I can’t wait to see Halfcut again, hopefully to a bigger audience and venue, but for now, it’s exactly what they need to mature into the creatives and performers they can so certainly become.