Introducing: Sky Valley Mistress
“We’re Sky Valley Mistress and we play rock n’ roll…and we’re fuckin’ loud!”
For a moment, I felt like I was trapped in a billow of smoke. Low-end, grinding fuzz guitar, coupled with ear shattering drums and booming bass enveloped me the moment Sky Valley Mistress took to the stage. Their sound was simply devastating. It wrapped itself seductively around you, blocking out all else. It was as if it were just the band and I alone in a room.
But I had been warned. Maxwell, the drummer guilty of the monolithic noise reverberating from the back of stage had told me very little of his band’s live shows, their unmistakable presence, but I had managed to draw one key line from the sticksman: “We’re fuckin’ loud.” His northern twang gave him an earthly vibe. Instantly likeable, he was a man on the same wavelength of your humble scribe.
Tonight’s home, The Castle Hotel, located in Manchester’s stylish Northern Quarter, is a mischievous building. Tucked neatly in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, it is a traditional, ale-orientated pub that draws in an interesting blend of personalities and classes. But behind all that, lurking at the back on the pub is a gig venue as intimate as they come – literally just a small room with a makeshift stage.
The ‘green room’ where I was stood conversing with the band beforehand had a similar aesthetic. It was absolutely tiny, making it nigh on impossible to describe any of its discerning features due to the mass of sweaty bodies, stacked equipment and tossed clothes and that fill it. I couldn’t tell you the colour of the carpet. Kayley ‘Hell Kitten,’ the band’s vocalist, was sat aptly feline-like on a table in one corner, her back against their merch board as Maxwell recited his warning of the band’s engrossingly high volumes.
“Nothing can beat that feeling of seeing a great band you’ve never heard of live for the first time” he continued, the entire room, which included support act Loor A Los Heroes and their tour manager listening in. “You can’t get that off the internet watching a Youtube video, there’s no romanticism, you don’t get that same special moment.”
So there I stood, seduced and rapt by their songs; a potent mix of Black Sabbath’s hazy grooves and the fuzz-laden nastiness of Queens of the Stone Age. I had been warned.
The deal-sealer with this band is Hell Kitten however. Not to take anything away from the rest of the band – they are all strong, confident musicians and the band themselves are a firm collective – but her attitude, slightly sultry, soulful and seething all in one, was a sight to behold. She prowled the stage like the orbit to the universe which their riffs and melodies transport you to.
Their live prowess was only emphasised by the contrast of their train wreck support act. They were as interesting a combination of characters as the bar itself seems to attract. All members were dressed in buttoned up shirts tucked astutely into their tightly fitting jeans which led the eye down to pointy, polished shoes. It gave them a sense of togetherness but as individuals beneath the visual surface they couldn’t have been more conflicting.
Led by a frontman who had been cradling a bottle of Navy Rum for the hours leading up to the show – in the green room especially – he struggled at times for clarity and execution in his performance. Inebriation had clearly gotten the better of him.
The drummer was cool and calculated in his approach. Yet, he seemed too constricted, focused too much on playing than feeling the music. The bassist, the quiet backbone to the band held the fort without fuss: Nothing more, nothing less. The second guitarist meanwhile was the sober one. In stark contrast to his frontman, he seemed to have been nursing his drink since the turn of the century. He always had an eye on how the audience perceived the musicians in front of them, often feeling it necessary to cut over their leader’s stage ‘banter.’ To say it teetered on the awkward and downright embarrassing would be an understatement.
Personalities aside however, their visual collectiveness matched their audio chemistry, playing a tight set of bright, clean guitar led indie rock. Although their treble rich sound occasionally saw screaming feedback sneak into play however. But Fear and Loathing, a song inspired by the late, great Hunter S Thompson and a cover of Tainted Love at last gave the audience something worthwhile to sink their teeth into.
“Hell Kitten prowls the stage like the orbit to the universe to which their riffs and rhythms transport you."
Every good band has to have a live show to match. Rock fans aren’t ignorant. If you can’t produce the goods in the flesh then your life expectancy will drop like a wilting flower. Tonight Sky Valley Mistress wiped the floor with the competition.
“I don’t play live to impress your mate, it’s cool if I do, but I play for myself,” Maxwell had remarked back in the claustrophobic green room. “We’re a live band, touring helps us enormously. It’s what we wanna do,” added Kayley.
After tonight’s 11 o’clock finish it was a quick load-up of the van and then off to Wigan for a 3am set. Would anyone still be awake? Would anyone be sober enough to recall their set when the sun rose several hours later? It didn’t matter to them, because rock n’ roll is founded upon that kind of risk taking. Motörhead didn’t make a name for themselves by playing a Christmas shindig every 12 months and then sitting on their arses until things got festive once more. Sky Valley Mistress know the realities of life in a band still in its embryonic stages. That’s why, alongside embracing the power of the internet and the sources it offers a band in terms of gaining exposure, they are a constant on the North West live circuit.
“For me the internet’s bittersweet,” mused Kayley. “We’ve had people from Europe and South America discover us through Bandcamp and Facebook and say ‘oh you’re sick’ or whatever but the internet kinda stops people going out as much. It’s more of a good thing than it is bad, but you’ve just gotta get those fans that would rather stay at home to come out and see a show. People are getting lazy; they need a reason to get off their arses.”
Maxwell, arguably the bands most convincing spokesperson for conveying the band’s ideologies and passion for what they do soon interjected: “The internet is a great platform to put your band on, but it kinda oversaturates the market. When you’re an upcoming band your currency is fans, you know what I mean? So our first EP [The Best Thing You’ve Never Heard] is available for free download. It’s different with physical copies because it costs to make them, but we’d rather give it away for free and build a fan base first. Not many people will spend £5 on a band no one’s ever heard of.”
Their willingness to play as many different towns and cities as regularly as possible is exactly what is thrusting them forward, closer to the limelight they crave with the maddened desire of young, dedicated musicians deeply enamoured with rock n’ roll. With a follow up EP due for imminent release, something which they promise “is gonna be so much better” than their debut, if there is any justice in the world, a few people may just stand up and take notice.
Words: Phil Weller