I do usually have a rule on Brewtown Music saying that I won’t write about cover bands unless there are certain circumstances that drive me to write one about one. Well this one is half covers, half originals and they recently decided to call it a day after over seven years together. So I thought, let’s give them a Brewtown send-off! No comic relation, Fantastik 4.
Dave Rowlands (lead vocals, guitar), Ady Hellyer (lead guitar, keys, backing vocals), Rio Hellyer (bass, backing vocals, mandolin) and Nick Beesley (drums) originally made up this veteran band that went from another Midlands cover band to one of the most sought-after quartets out there.
Formed in April 2006, F4 started out as just a covers band with the band’s own Mr Fantastic, Dave Rowlands (and just as flexible…with schedules! Not like that!). Their first two gigs in the next month for a wedding party at Dunstall Cricket Club and another wedding party on New Years Eve in Belper! Then the grannies went from the ‘bent-0ver’ dance to moshing!
In between a full year’s worth of gigs amounting to 50 in 2007, mostly in Burton pubs like The Royal Oak, The Punch Bowl and The Shoulder of Mutton in Barton, F4 decided that in order to stand out from all the other rock cover bands, they were going to write some material of their own.
Their new material which included titles like Sturm and Drang and Dent were well-received by the public (at least the public that saw them) in between the familiar crowd-pleasing cover sets that they performed on cards with the likes of fellow Burton-based cover band Rockaholic and Tilted Smile.
Vorspung durch Fantastik!
Come 2008, they had branched out from gigging in Burton and playing private wedding parties to playing all around the Midlands. Two big performances of this year came in March with a performance at the Sitwell Tavern, a place they would return to twice in that same year with one return getting a review from Derby-based DJ and magazine publisher Mick Moonshine.
Another 2008 highlight was their weekend at the second Conkers Live Aid (the first had Tony Hadley headline!) in Moira where they performed a set ‘as’ Pink Floyd on Saturday and U2 on Sunday. This high-profile show (which they would return to multiple times over the next few years) gave their fan base a big boost as well as their public profile.
Since they had a great response to their original material and not just playing ‘Mr Brightside’ for the umpteenth time, 2009 saw them perform not just in the Midlands, but all over the UK, reaching as far as the O2 Indigo in London besides the odd show in Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham. How did they get to London you ask? Why through a competition for unsigned bands of course!
Through the end of August to the end of September, F4 were part of the Surface Unsigned competition in which they first made the Regional Finals in Birmingham (after 6 months and 5 heats), with two dates at Brum’s O2 Academy on 30th August and 12th September. They then were able to make it to the National Finals in London playing back to back nights on the 26th and 27th September. They were very well-received in both Finals.
To get this far, for a Burton-based cover band (well half of one anyway), was quite an achievement but of course I’ve gone on about Burton’s music triumphs before so I won’t dwell TOO much! We still have a few more years to go!
The next two years were pretty similar, in which I mean they continued to be a success in both their town of origin and further afield, getting booked for festivals and national gigs including Warwick, Liverpool and London many more times. To build the hype for their long-awaited debut album, they released the four track EP It’s All About You in April 2011.
After the tragic death of local music legend Pete Youngman, the bands of Burtfest 2011 held on 17th-18th June dedicated their sets to him including F4 who were supported greatly by Youngman and often joined them for a jam or two. They also participated in the second, and so far, only other Burtfest the following year which held over 100 local acts and both Dave and Ady performed a set with Dave Ball, but I probably told you that already. Still, mentioning it for the newcomers is good too you know!
Their long-awaited debut album It is What it Is was released in April 2012 which contained ten original songs plus an alternative acoustic piano ballad version of Dent. As this album went public and post-Burtfest, Rio decided to pursue her own solo musical endeavours which left the group without a bassist. Although Rowlands played bass from time to time, the group decided to hold auditions and try-outs for the position. Former Lady and the Tramp guitarist JJ Jones was considered (and performed with them as GladeFest in August) but they eventually decided on Dan Bounds who remained their bassist until their departure from the scene.
They just kept going in 2013 as they always did, with an odd cheeky acoustic set from Dave and Ady whenever they had the chance. In June, they were given some radio play on national independent music station XRPRadio and in July they performed alongside Tilted Smile and the Roz Bruce Infusion for the Moira Furnace Festival organised by local music promoter Lavy.
The sad news came in October when the band announced on their Facebook that they would be calling it quits after nearly 8 years together and that their farewell tour would culminate in a final hurrah at the Wetmore Whistle where they would be joined by Rio, JJ and a very appreciative crowd.
It’s come down to this though of course, what about the music itself? Well, half of their output isn’t even theirs and talking about covers is something I said I won’t do here so let’s look at the stuff that WAS theirs.
F4 list their influences as Led Zeppelin, Paul Weller, Elvis Costello and U2 among many others. Aside from doing covers by most likely all of those bands, it also shows in their originals, with an eclectic mix of classic and modern rock like “Sgt Pepper meets Madchester” as David Couchman from Surface Unsigned put it.
Playing Pulp’s Common People and Stereophonics’ Dakota was a gateway sure, but they soon became well-known for their own material too with the Elvis Costello-like vocals of Rowlands and solid musicianship amongst the band itself showing that this wasn’t just another cover band and their song Dent was a great way of introducing their own catalogue to the public.
Right from the opening fuzzy bass and guitar harmonies, you can tell it’s going to be a stand-out song. This combined with the daunting rhythm of the song creates a great feeling of uncertainty which is significant to the title, at least according to your humble narrator, who looked up the dictionary definition of ‘dent’ instead of trying to use my brain which said: “a hollow or depression in a surface.” This could be true of this song mind you.
There’s definitely a feeling of trying to keep a plainly visible insecurity hidden here in the lyrics which appears to be what Rowlands is going for when he sings:
Between insanity and fame
Is a face that looks the same
Destination right or wrong.
And if you fall across that line
Your opinion also mine
Would you sacrifice your soul?
I think a lot of us can relate to feeling pressured into conformity whilst showing discomfort at the idea of losing yourself in the process. At least that’s what I think the song is getting at anyway. But once again, I could be completely wrong so see for yourself what you make of it with the above video.
After calling it a day this weekend past, Fantastik 4 have lived up to their name in many a Brewtown eye, with their well-played covers for the casual clientele and their well-made originals for the music lovers out there. They, along with promoters of course, helped hype up the Midlands music scene in a big way and paved the way for many more bands to follow. Give them a listen and they may come back in some form or another, you never know. Aloha F4, until we meet again, this has been Brewtown Music serving you another fine brew of Midlands tunes.
Official Website: http://fantastik4.co.uk
It is What it Is on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/it-is-what-it-is/id519824084