Recently one of my favourite bands split up, this is their story. Thanks for the write-up Jason!
All words © Jason Wynne 2015
All photos © Mark Tierney 2015
“It‘s with a heavy heart that we announce to all our brilliantly loyal fans…..” and with those fateful opening words from Exit Calm’s final status update on the 9th March 2015 I knew there was no need to read any more because the stomach turning, gut wrenching feeling had now turned into fact, not fiction. Those that knew, knew. It was over. 8 years of highs and lows, 2 brilliant albums and countless majestic live performances from the greatest live band I’ve ever seen. There was an immediate connection between band and fans, one which will remain forever. Something that will never fade despite this storm in our heaven. The light is firmly left on in the Hope one day they play again. "You think you'll get another chance, this could be your last one".
Founded in 2007, when vocalist and wordsmith Nicky Smith responded to an advert from the talented trio of axe-master, general good soul and creator of ethereal hypnotising sound Rob Marshall, the rhythmic, deeper grooved bass player Simon Lindley and military-like precision of the fluid rhythmic drummer that is Scott Pemberton. The band quickly began writing songs together in rehearsals and it was evident from an early stage that they had something worth embracing and that they were to embark on a rollercoaster and sometimes tumultuous musical journey as their live performance began catching the eyes and ears of what was to become a bit of a cult following.
My first meeting with Exit Calm (probably not even remembered by the band) was by way of accident. I’d arranged to meet a friend of mine pre-Puressence gig at a local haunt – Big Hands. On arrival my mate introduced me to a “cracking new band and all round top lads” who just so happened to be support for the night. A quick nod of the heads and a couple of “y’alright”s later and that was it. I remember thinking how they looked the part at least and wondered if they could talk the talk as they definitely looked like they could walk the walk. They didn’t disappoint. That night they smashed it….big time. They stuck in my mind and over the next few months they seemed to be supporting all my favourite bands, and all my mates bands, and despite having a completely different sound they just stood out…like a beacon of joy…a shining light….the light at the end of the tunnel illuminating the lives of the new found masses.
Throughout the resulting years it was now time for friend's bands to be supporting Exit Calm, staying true to their roots and themselves, and they were on the cusp of something great with, firstly, the release of THE greatest debut album of all time with the eponymously titled 'Exit Calm' (2010) followed by the simply stunning, critically acclaimed, "difficult" second album 'The Future Isn't What It Used To Be' (2013). Appearances at Glastonbury, V and Reverence festivals as well as playing a set marking Liam Gallagher's flagship Pretty Green store should have kicked this band on to greatness but, alas, it wasn't meant to be. I've no doubt an appearance on Jools Holland or a fairer crack of the whip with certain radio stations would have elevated the band to the higher echelons that they so richly deserved. Higher bound. It never happened.
And so to the last meeting with Exit Calm and, little did I know, what should have been the homecoming celebratory Barnsley Underground gig in December 2014 to round off a brilliant gigging year, turned out to be their very last....for now maybe? Keep the light alive.
People suspected things "weren't right" that night and that Nicky "looked emotional" but I just put it down to another Exit Calm gig. Y'know, par for the course Exit Calm stuff - blood, sweat and tears. 100% effort put into it by all the band with the crowd feeding off the raw emotion from this honest, open, unassuming set of lads wearing their hearts on their sleeves in true Northern style.
3 monster new songs aired at live performances throughout 2014 suggested a third album was imminent. Reading between the lines of all 3 songs though it may have seemed obvious that something maybe wasn't right within the band anymore. Blinded by the beautiful ray of light that they offered us, as the music industry continued to die a death with reality shows and Simon Cowell influenced claptrap, we missed the cry for help. The greatest trick was pulled right over our eyes.
Throughout the years I've seen this band countless times with friends old and new. There's a devoted fantastic family of loyal followers far more qualified to say things about this brilliant band than me but when I was asked by band photographer Mark Tierney to write a few words I simply couldn't say no. Mark granted me access to some fantastic pictures, some yet to be seen until now, and it was an absolute honour and privilege to be given the opportunity to offer some crumbs of comfort to the Exit Calm family. I'm sure you'll agree that Mark's pictures capture a band at their peak and at times at their most vulnerable. Access all areas. That was Exit Calm. Baring their souls every night on stage. Something worth celebrating.
The response to the news of the devastating split of Exit Calm on Facebook was overwhelming. Messages of grief from all over the world, anger, resentment, sadness, support, some people offering photos of their tatoos with band lyrics etched into their skin, emotionally charged outbursts as people tried to cope with the sudden, unexpected, end - if only we'd seen the warning signs. The Alarms. This band meant something to a hell of a lot of people - very few bands have the ability to impact people the way Exit Calm did. People travelled from far and awide and they always made time to chat to people after gigs no matter how annoying (sorry guys) we were sometimes.
Reknowned for their intense and astonishing live shows there was Always A Way that the fourpiece would capture the imagination of their audience - taking them on a journey of high intensity with swirling, psychedelic sound, trademark heavy bass lines (Simon Lindley) and landscape cinematic guitars of the enigmatic Rob Marshall creating a platform for the gravel voiced frontman Nicky Smith and underrated, but brilliant, drummer Scott Pemberton. Asking questions of themselves and of the crowd, always. "There's a crossroads getting way too close, which path you gonna choose?".
Higher Learning became the soundtrack to my life. The opening chords at every live show enough to whip the crowd into a frenzy. "I'm sick and tired of this frequency you follow, I've got no time for the music on your radio". No truer words said to the adoring masses.
It was only years later when a good friend told me their best friend's brother appeared in the video to the song. Again, a connection, of sorts, with the band.
Whatever the reasons for the break up I believe it's not right for any of us to speculate and whatever has gone on should remain within the band. The majority of true fans feel this way and it would be wrong to tarnish their name without the facts. I want to tell them You've Got It All Wrong. You need to change your mind, You need to change your mind.
Sometimes it felt like a bit of a struggle for the band. We're On Our Own was a call to arms. They had the hardcore support though that hung on to every word and every note.
"I'm calling out to you, Can you hear my voice, am I getting through?" Smith would sing.
They offered hope to many. Light at the end of the tunnel. Victory in the face of adversity.
"I'll be the storm that's over you, I can be the cloud or the sun coming through".
Arms stretched out, looking upwards to the heavens, eyes wide shut, "Don't Look Down we're flying you should know know, We will ride it out" they said but in the next breath they were almost sealing their own fate pleading Forgiveness and I'm guessing the decision to call it a day may have gone along the lines of "there won't be a time to hesitate or misery will follow, We elevate and fade like setting suns into tomorrow".
The fourpiece have often been described as dark, moody, pensive and in reflective mood. Reference reaffirmed this. A song of love, lust, loss and being found. “Even though you’re standing next to me you seem so far away, I am lost in your infinity and I can’t escape”. Smith, live, would often sing, eyes shut tightly, feeling the bass, the guitar, the drums driving through his body from his feet slowly building up right to his head before an explosion of noise would release all emotions.
Rob Marshall throughout his Exit Calm career has simply owned the stage with ethereal landscapes, epic sounds, reverb, soaring haunting guitars and all round wizardry of an axe-man possessed. His ability to paint pictures and tell stories with his weapon of choice has often left the crowd mesmerised and he still manages to keep his feet firmly on the crowd while the adoring crowd float....into heaven. We could all be lost at sea but we'd all be sailing With Angels in Rob's presence.
It breaks your Hearts (And Minds) when you listen to the songs when you know it's all over for the band. "And the reason why our hope has gone, When the love is lost, your number's up". You hear the fourpiece create music like this and ask why it had to end. Each member integral to the structure, to the layers, to the mesmeric sound.
Simon Lindley not just the man with the coolest haircuts in the band but a bloody good bass player to boot. Clearly influenced by the likes of Martin Blunt and Simon Jones, his ability to meander, pick up the pace and slow it down was critical to the heartbeat of the band. Tinged with grooves and rhythmic intensity there were times when his bass would go right through you and the walls would shake, rattle and roll - let alone your whole body. Never unnoticed and always appreciated by the audience.
As for Scott Pemberton - The smartest drummer in the music with trademark suit and lucid, rhythmic, military precision drumming. Shades of Keith Moon in looks. He put everything into every performance. Pumping blood, exhuming sweat and tears. Every last drop of energy instantly relayed to the crowd and crucial to the mood portrayed by the band. It's all in the timing and this man has bags of it. He works in tandem with the bass to create the Exit Calm sound.
“We’re gliding over oceans, we are leaping across worlds, ‘cause distance is a notion in your mind” sang Smith beautifully as Exit Calm seemed to be effortlessly propelling themselves to another level whilst still being ignored by the mainstream media. When things still didn’t happen they stuck at it with true Northern grit but, as time went by, the good souls, Northern souls, were to pay the inevitable price in this horrible, cut-throat business and Atone, atone alone.
The god of his own universe, Smith, proclaims “before it’s better it’s gonna get worse” and maybe, just maybe, the boys can settle their differences one day on their own personal roads to Recovery. The loyal, passionate fans will keep the light alive in the meantime. They’re the reason why the band have been lost and have been found. The truth, the lies, the love, the light in their souls. You get back what you give. Exit Calm always gave it, in abundance. In Serenity we hear “everyone’s near that you could want”. To hear this song on record, let alone live, will make the hairs on your neck stand up. The whole band baring their souls to the congregation.
So when they told us The Future Isn't What It Used To Be, it summed up Exit Calm. You could take positives from the second album’s title but negatives too. Did they mean the future was exciting or was it more ‘nothing lasts forever’, it’s not what you’re going to expect it to be and you’re not going to like it? Was their time running out? The audience didn’t think so and there was even high profile airplay on radio and TV. Was this the moment when it was to all explode and they’d be catapulted to a new level, a new audience? It should have been. The band’s second album, a second coming, some might say but the working class lads, probably frustrated with it all, talked of “stolen dreams of living life, from rags to riches, being nothing but a joke” and that the Rapture would come…and it wouldn’t be long. They still had the believers, the followers, they still do. That is fact, not Fiction. You're still something that's worth celebrating. Just don't "waste it all on nothing" as the song Albion goes.
In the band’s final statement they say "maybe one day we can all stand on the same stage again, and all be proud to perform our music"…..When They Rise again, dignity in tact, it’ll be a celebration of hearts and minds again. Nothing has ever been easy for Exit Calm. Nothing handed on a plate. Every single bit of recognition they’ve got they’ve deserved. There’s only so much a man, or four men, can take. “When the lies are kicking you down, until you’re reaching for the ground” - The video to the song highlighting the struggle of 4 working class men in Victorian England becoming increasingly controlled by those above. Poignancy aplenty and showing defiance to the very end.
For the band, and many fans alike, it probably felt like “the sky had swallowed up their whole life” when the inevitable happened. They came to blow our minds, they succeeded. Whole lives spinning round at the end. Why couldn’t they just reconcile and never look back? They were Higher Bound weren’t they? Holier than any religion, for sure. There was nothing stopping them not even a Holy War. Love being the only law but the time had come – they were ready to go and the Promise of a third album had slipped through our fingers.
Exit Calm truly were the voice between our ears and in our minds. Care to look on YouTube and seek and you will find astonishing performances - live, acoustic and in the studio. No matter the environment they always blinded you, they always guided you.
Maybe Exit Calm, in Glass Houses, didn't envisage their own demise, I don't know.
The knockbacks from those that thought they knew better than to take a chance from this criminally underrated band must have added pressure and took their toll..."everytime we fall from what we dream of".
Despite everything they had the special ability to Open Your Sky and shine your way as Smith would often stare intently, engaging with the audience - "everyone now I see is me, Somebody I just might have been". Genius lyrics from a possessed man, a tortured soul?
So who knows what the future holds? Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together. That four and a half train journey last summer across Poland when I got to hear the first airing of 3 incredible new songs suggested things were only going to get better until you actually listen to the lyrics close hand.
Come Back Again lads, there's a void in peoples lives already. The music scene needs you, your army of followers needs you, you need this too.
Footprints is THE song that could make them, that could break them. It's one of the best songs they've ever done/written but the answer, I guess, is in the lyrics. "Do you fear a change coming? Do you know it's your time? Do you hear your train coming? It's the end of your line". Every single line, every single lyric to that song...hitting a nerve. "You realise one day when you've gone, when your darkest shadows fall, when your life becomes a storm". Barnsley Underground and that final gig - it was the greatest song I've ever heard live purely from the point of audience/band interaction. There were tears - we thought of joy, but maybe it was signalling the end. The Veil had been dropped - the race was over, time to call it all a day. But even at that point of despair Smith sang "All I see are angels beside me".
All that is left to say is a resounding THANK YOU to Exit Calm for being there and making music that mattered. All four lads still have so much to offer the music world and we wish you every success and happiness in whatever paths you choose to take. You ALL have your own unique talent. Don't leave it all behind.
Nicky, Rob, Simon and Scott.....
You can let it go now you know
We can let it go now you know
You keep the light alive......................X
All words © Jason Wynne 2015
All photos © Mark Tierney 2015