It’s my first trip to The Ferret in Preston since it was rescued by the incredible work of the Music Venue Trust not so long ago, and (as Phil Collins might have put it), there really IS something in the air tonight – an initial sense of relief, coupled with a nod to a future of endless possibilities brought on by knowing you’re no longer one gig away from being kicked out of one of the North West’s best venues anytime soon.

There are many, “I Saved The Ferret” tees in evidence tonight – even The Empire Police’s Jordao is sporting one – and why on earth not – this is a massive success for both MVT AND the North West. 

What do we know about Blackpool-based opening act Circus? Well, they formed at the back end of 2022 and comprise Dec Tate on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Louis Taylor on lead guitar, Joe Wood on bass and backing vocals and Dom Brown on drums.

They’ve already appeared at Blackpool’s Bootleg Social (another of my favourite venues) three times, starting as opener, then main support and finally headlining at the first Inertial Sounds showcase. Having been picked up recently by BBC Introducing via Radio Lancashire, they brought us their debut single, “Talk” last month (April 2024) – it’s been well received, there’s already talk of a follow up in the near future. 

Circus open tonight’s set with the catchy, “Talk” which, in addition to some pleasing harmonies, captures the ghosts of The Smiths’ “Hand in Glove” and early Cure in the guitarwork. We’re informed that this is Circus’s first gig outside Blackpool, but you wouldn’t have guessed it on the strength of tonight’s confident performance, appreciated by a goodly group of supporters in the front row of the crowd.

It seems that there’s a fair spread of ticket sales between Preston, Blackburn and Blackpool, highlighting the need for folk to purchase their tickets in advance if they don’t want to risk gigs being pulled due to low advance sales. “While We Can” cleverly lulls the audience into a false sense of security by pretending to finish a couple of times, before kicking off again. 

Stage left, lead guitarist Louis engages in some nifty fretwork with frontman Dec, while stage right bassman Joe keeps things moving along nicely. “Play us something we know”, cries a wag from the crowd, to which Dec quickly retorts, “Wonderwall is NOT in the set”! “The Routine” is about a day in the life of a bloke from Blackpool and is a fine summery song, though possibly not the best thing to listen to while on a donkey ride as it’s a bit fast-paced (do they even HAVE donkey rides in Blackpool any more – I’m really showing my age now…) 

Dec asks if we’re looking forward to The Empire Police as, “They’re fcuking brilliant – I’ve heard them sound checking, although the lead singer’s a right handsome bastard as well” – well, what more could we want? “Keep Me In Line” is the next song scheduled for release and it’s a slow starter, with an almost country feel to it (at least if Robert Smith were to put a cowboy hat on and perform a cover of Ronan Keating’s “Life Is A Rollercoaster” –

I’m SORRY – I can’t help what my brain spews out..!) and features some more gorgeous guitar work and vocals, before they launch into, “In The Mist”, written by lead guitarist Louis. Dec tells us that the song is the reason why he wanted to join The Circus, much to the delight of the crowd. As we’re drifting gently back to Smiths and Cure territory, I think I’d probably have wanted to join them too. Joe’s bass and Dom’s drums rumble along in the background to keep this one motoring – tonight’s songs are sharp and to the point with no filler – just what you want. 

Set closer Cuckoos Corner is a mournful rocky affair, and is probably the closest thing to Oasis that our friend in the crowd is going to get, but it has a brisk, efficient character all of its own which has the crowd dancing appreciatively. 

If you’d like to catch up with Circus, you can find them supporting Swim Deep at Bootleg on the 8th of June, at The Continental on the 22nd of June supporting County Pilots and again headlining at Bootleg soon. (It’s almost as though they were from Blackpool or something!) – Lend them your ears and, as The Skids might have said a VERY long time again, “Come and play Circus Games” – well, we’ve already had the rollercoaster, so why on earth not? 

Circus played: Talk, While We Can, The Routine, Keep Me in Line, In the Mist and Cuckoos Corner. 

Hailing from Blackburn, Dilemmas are Hayden Atkinson on vocals and guitar, Evan Hurley on bass and backing vocals and Jake Robinson on drums. Meeting at college, Hayden and Jake were already playing together when, Evan asked if he could play bass for them in 2021 and that was it! They’ve already brought us five singles including Walkaway.

Which was produced by Empire Police’s guitarist man Tom Hale, and he’s also produced their sixth, “Dive” which is conveniently released today (31st May), with another of tonight’s offerings, “Song 9” scheduled to be with us sometime in July. These boys are NOT hanging about. 

Dilemmas bring us a slightly rockier, grungier sound than Circus as they waste no time launching straight into “Song 9”, with scarcely a pause for breath before heading into the bluesier, “Grey” with Hayden Twisting and Shouting (I’m at it again – I KNOW…) on dual guitar and vocal duties. Evan (at whose kind invitation I find myself here tonight) throws himself and his bass around stage right with great enthusiasm whilst Jake underpins the fun behind the drums. 

“We’re Dilemmas and we’ve just come from down t’road actually” announces Hayden, cheekily, before introducing us to “Flying Bye” which kicks off with some mighty psychedelic guitarwork and pounds along relentlessly, with Jake earning his corn as though his life depended on it. Just when we think it’s over, Hayden teases us with some MOST eerie guitar musings, before launching into “Hit ‘n’ Run” with some straightforward head down rock and roll, with perhaps just a TOUCH of Arctic Monkeys and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” thrown in for good measure – honestly, what MORE can you ask for? 

“We released a single today”, Hayden informs us – this is of course “Dive” – “Give us a listen, that’ll be very much appreciated”. The song in question has a very pounding bassline and some urgent choppy guitarwork that reminds me a bit of The Jam’s “Start”, but with a lot more oomph about it.

Being a threesome sometimes seems to mean you have to work just that little bit harder to make up for the absence of the second guitarist, but that clearly doesn’t seem to be bothering these chaps (just like it didn’t bother The Jam, come to think of it..) “Late Night Runners” opens with a guitar riff and slide that The Pistols’ Steve Jones would have been proud of”, but pretty soon, we’re off to somewhere joyously sitting between The Stone Roses and Oasis. 

“We’ve got two more – we won’t be too long”, Hayden informs us as they launch into, ”Don’t Let It Go”, initially sounding as though it’s heading towards Reef’s “Place Your Hands” territory, before deciding to rock out in a completely different direction. Dilemmas have also brought their own gang in the audience, but, like Circus, they’ve definitely made some new friends tonight too, with their brand of efficient, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll.

Dilemmas close their set with the manically-paced near punk of “Walkaway”, with which the crowd joins in enthusiastically. This has been another tight, punchy set delivered with friendly good humour. Should you go see Dilemmas? Absolutely. Should I try to shoehorn some sort of, “You shouldn’t be in a Dilemma about going” pun into the final sentence? ABSOLUTELY not. 

You can see Dilemmas at EBGBs on the 28th of June, On the 26th of July at The Continental for Preston’s Rock Am River Festival, Ossyfest in August and Clitheroe Mod Fest on the 28th of September. 

Dilemmas played: Song 9, Grey, Flying Bye, Rush, Hit ‘N’ Run, Dive, Late Night Runners, Don’t Let It Go and Walkaway 

The Empire Police hail from Preston and we last crossed paths at Bootleg Social in April of last year in support of the mighty October Drift – and they’ve also supported The Blinders, RATS and The Sherlocks, so it’s nice to see them headlining in their own right tonight. Their lineup is Jordao Bassa on vocals, Tom Hale on guitar, Harry Smith on drums and percussion and Sam Makepeace on bass. 

Jordao opens up tonight’s proceedings simply with. “It’s been a while” – and indeed it has, as the last time they graced the Ferret with their presence was on New Year’s Eve and tonight, accompanied by a posse of mates, they make their welcome return. One you get beyond the intricately woven music and pay attention to the lyrics, there’s a welcome extra layer for you to get your head around in the shape of intelligent lyrics commenting on the human condition in it may shapes and forms.

We’re encouraged to take a pace (or two) forward to fill up the gap between band and fans, and you can immediately spot the fans who’ve been around for a little longer, as they’re the ones who know the lyrics to ALL the songs, not just the fan favourites. Those Arctic Monkey fellows have a lot to ask for in that they’ve spawned a plethora of bands with something to say, but The Empire Police draw on other influences, from grunge veering towards metal as set opener, Tell England We Don’t Know” drifts easily into “Northern Bones” 

“Thank you for coming out tonight, Preston – we appreciate it” says Jordao, as he introduces latest single, “The Human Condition” which slows down the pace slightly to allow Tom, stage left to show us what he’s made of, as he delivers some dreamy guitarwork. As crowd members climb onto each other’s shoulders and punch the air joyously to the chorus of, “Modern Obsession”, stage right, bassman Sam is replaced tonight by Jake who, Jordao informs us, only stepped in a week ago and has had next to no time to rehearse tonight’s set, but you’d never have guessed – he looks like he’s been there all his life. 

Someone asked me before Empire Police kicked off their set if I’d seen them before, and when I replied that I had, he looked at me knowingly and said, “Ah, you’ll know what to expect then”, in a knowing manner. And indeed, I did – Jordao and his bandmates deliver sixty minutes or so of energetic rock, with (dare I say) more than a nod to early U2 in Tom’s guitarwork, but without a doubt it’s frontman Jordao who holds the attention both aurally and visually.

There’s an honesty tinged with just a little fragility about him and the themes with which they deal. “Cinematic Dreams” is a piledriver of a song which picks you up by the scruff of the neck and drags you along for the ride whether you want to come or not. 

Tom Robinson has described The Empire Police as, Absolutely extraordinary”, and, on the strength of tonight’s showing, I absolutely no grounds to argue with him. Another wag in the crowd calls for, “Stop the Clocks”, to which Jordao wryly replies, “How did you guess?” as that’s exactly what’s next in tonight setlist. The diehard fans are in their element as Jordao, Tom, Harry and Jake pick up the pace with, “Heaven’s Discrepancies, joining in with the chorus for all they’re worth. 

The set is starting to draw to a close with the scarce-contained energy of “Fine Lines” and as we applaud enthusiastically, a plaintive request for “Taxi Rank” is met with a retort of, “Be patient!” (it’s as though our man in the crowd has somehow failed to stumble across one of the setlists that adorn the stage, which would have told him all he needed to know),sure enough, after the Alex Turner-styled “Real Life” is met with rapturous applause, it is with “Taxi Rank” (their first single from October 2016) that The Empire Police round out their triumphant return to The Ferret, and you’d be hard put to find anyone in tonight’s crowd who doesn’t have the lyrics off pat.

As crowd members climb onto each other’s shoulders and punch the air joyously to the chorus of, “Modern Obsession”, stage right, bassman Sam is replaced tonight by Jake Owen from House of Wolves who, Jordao informs us, only stepped in a week ago and has had next to no time to rehearse tonight’s set, but you’d never have guessed – he looks like he’s been there all his life.

It’s fair to say that a lot of people are going home (possibly in “single file”) very happy tonight. The Empire Police have put their heart and soul into a most arresting performance (stop it, Pete – Ed.) tonight and they’ve not had to do a hard cell on us either (You’re fired – take him down). 

Should you wish to make their acquaintance in the near future, they’ll be headlining in Manchester at the Castle Hotel on the 14th of June and Liverpool on August the 4th, then they’ll also be at the Continental for their own Rock Am River Festival on the 26th and 27th of July, where I’m pretty certain they’ll be crossing paths with Dilemmas! 

The Empire Police played: Tell England We Don’t Know, Northern Bones, The Human Condition, Yesterday, Modern Obsession, Cinematic Dreams, Vibrant Highway, Like They Do, Stop the Clocks, Heaven’s Discrepancies, Fine Lines, Real Life and Taxi Rank 




By mykct