Lenmania has come a long way from an in-joke. What started life as a gaffe in Jamie Lenman’s inbox between label mates has manifested itself as a sold-out, rip-snorting all-dayer of off-kilter alt-rock. And while the absurd humour of the events’ origins remains intact (‘I went Insania at Lenmania’ shirts are plentiful), the operation is slick, with a focus on squeezing as much out of this bizarre opportunity as possible.
Lenman brackets the day with his own sets, indulging his softer side in the afternoon over on in the Boston Music Room stage. Meticulously moustachioed, dressed in a tailored suit and party hat, this early session is buoyed by Lenman’s magnetic presence. Stripped back versions of new cuts ‘Devolver’ and ‘Body Popping’ are proper treats, as is an irrepressible cover of Madness classic ‘It Must Be Love’.
Brighton’s Broker are the first band of the day to open up the PA, and they do so with a twisted lip and wiry dissonance. They sound about as far away from chips on the pier as you can get, with ‘Talk’ and ‘Quixota’ lurching from the stage. Must be something in the sea air. Hannah Lou Clarke is the anomaly on the bill, but her wry acoustic indie is sharp enough to win the room, and ‘It’s Your Love’ is a genuine hit.
The St Pierre Snake Invasion almost run away with the day. Scathing, unrelenting and with the ever-present threat of an unscheduled shower of scream—vomit, frontman Damien Sayell rattles through ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Workshops’ with world-weary anger and dry humour. In Dynamics are pleasant enough, but get lost in the Snake Invasion aftermath and the rote but muscular riffage of Bad Signs, who deliver no-frills metal in time for the pivotal fourth pint of the day. Fizzy Blood, who lifted their name from a track off Lenman’s Muscle Memory, are a more interesting proposition, sluggish sound check aside. As well as delivering the best guitar gurns of the day, tracks from September’s Summer of Luv EP sound particularly punchy in the small space.
The evening heralds in a wave of Woking’s angriest young people – an Employed to Serve / Palm Reader combo across both stages. These bands couldn’t have had more contrasting years; ETS took 2017 on with the release of The Warmth of a Dying Sun, while Palm Reader let new material simmer. Either way, both bands are completely furious tonight. ETS sound battle hardened by their latest tour; ‘Good For Nothing’ and ‘Void Ambition’ inspire the first Wall of Death of the day and are delivered with palpable vitriol. Palm Reader meanwhile go off like coiled springs on the Boston Music Room stage. ‘Sing Out Survivor’ is a melodic opener, but ‘Always Darkest’ and the airing of two other unreleased tracks hint at a truly bleak, unrelenting release for 2018.
Jamie Lenman warned the crowd at his earlier show that his second stint was going to be heavy. “It’s a sad thing really, because right now we’re all getting on. But later – I’m not your friend,” he says with a comically-furrowed brow. “This is real metal.” But it’s a better laugh than that. Lenman’s closing set is a perfect vertical slice of the man’s work from the last fifteen years. The bipolar nature of solo debut Muscle Memory already made his sound an odd sell, but here, somehow, we get classics, covers and rarities, muscle, memory, as well as the fresh pop-and-pomp of Devolver, all in a cohesive set. For the Reuben faithful there’s an ultra-rare airing of Racecar’s ‘Stuck In My Throat’ and In Nothing We Trust’s ‘Agony/Agatha’. For those craving Lenman’s throat-shredding vocals, the fun and filth of ‘Six Fingered Hand’ and ‘All the Things You Hate About Me, I Hate Them Too’ serve nicely. And it’s a testament to the strength of newbie Devolver that tracks like ‘Hell In A Fast Car’ and ‘Mississippi’ – which open and close the set – stand toe to toe with such a well-loved back catalogue. In amongst all this there’s red-hot saxophone, birthday balloons, guest appearances and a supercharged rendition of Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’.
It is, frankly, about the most fun you could have in a crowd of sweaty strangers, and a real tribute to Lenman’s graft. If it was in any doubt before, Lenmania’s first outting surely solidifies his status as a national treasure.