Wills & The Willing + The Counterfeits - Messclean @ The Frog On The Front, Portsmouth.16/06/06.
The Counterfeits are in the middle of a long trek taking in such delights as The Frog before they head back to their native south-west home; tonight they give a good account of themselves to a small but vocal audience who clearly appreciate the effort and the quality of the songs. Best described as a power trio, the urge is to say they sound a little like The Jam jostling for stage space with Nirvana before The Who nip up with some power chords. These boys clearly have a love for their history as they slip in some blues to the mix and some impressive slide guitar but manage to keep it sounding modern and urgent; indeed they demonstrate an abundance of energy both in performance and in the tunes themselves which come across as heavy yet melodic and full of decent hooks. Well worth making the effort to see if they hit these parts again or you see them advertised for a pub near you, especially if you like good, guitar heavy tunes.
I like the look of Wills & The Willing before they even get on the stage, equipment squashed onto the small stage, big screen erected at the back and god knows where all the band are going to fit on the stage...but you just get that feeling as they come on that you are going to witness something good. In fairness, I knew nothing about them before the gig (my internet search for just Will & The Wiling proved fruitless...that S makes all the difference on Wills!) so I had no idea what to expect. Wolfie on the door of the Frog had informed me they were top notch in soundcheck and that I was in for a treat and they didn't disappoint. The band is fronted by Ian Willis, who comes across as a Cockney wide boy with a voice that he could have nicked from Ian Dury himself; he lets rip with a flow of gritty words best described as street poetry as he talks/raps/sings us around some fantastic stories; to counteract his gruff approach you get the more angelic voice of co-vocalist Gerri Cunningham who floats in and out of the songs as needed and gives a nice balance both vocally and visually. Musically the sound is impressive, a mix of rock n roll, funk and damn fine tunes from a talented band who all have various links to the music business in one form or another; over there is Jason Knight who used to be in Reef and behind the guitar is Jesse Wood, son of Ronnie Wood, so they know their stuff and they do it in some style too. Behind them runs video footage including a surreal piece that seems to be Ian Wills tarted up in a wedding dress and sitting on a sofa next to a chap who looks suspiciously like that Reg Hollis bloke from The Bill (was that his name? I have some distant recollection but I don't watch too much TV!) but it all adds to the fun and the general charisma that oozes from the stage. Of course, as I'm standing there taking it in I do think to myself, what the hell are they playing here for? It's a small crowd and with only two out of town bands on what is essentially a local band night, it gives the feeling of being at something special, one of those gigs that you will be able to look back on and think, I saw them down The Frog, because mark my words, Wills & The Willing are a special band and they fully deserve to be selling out at least The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth if not bigger venues. While the music is good and funky there is no escaping that the star of the show is Ian Wills, his down to earth attitude and poetic words are mesmerizing and he gives off the air of being someone who has been there, done it and probably ended up down the Police station because he did so, but has lived to tell the tale which just adds to the earthiness of this project and makes you want to listen. Easily the best band to have played The Frog this year, shame on you if you didn't come down to investigate, just don't do it again. If you see Wills & The Willing on the gig list, get in there down the front and have a good old knees up and make sure you listen to the words because you won't find anyone who can tell a story like Ian Wills can.