Live Review: Band of Skulls at Sugarmill, Stoke

Written by SarahGoodyer

Hailing from the complete foot of the country, in south coast Southampton, the Sugarmill in Stoke is quite an unsuspecting venue and location choice for Band of Skulls. The 400 capacity venue is almost trivial in comparison to some of the places recently announced as part of their October/November tour taking place later on this year; Manchester’s Albert Hall, for example, can hold about 2,000 anxious fans.

Nevertheless, the intimate setting of the Sugarmill, complete with balcony and a funky roof terrace, proved a complimentary setting for the debut of new songs, yet to be heard by fans, as well as the old favourites.

Brave choices

The blues-rock band, made up of singer and guitarist Russell Marsden, bassist and vocalist Emma Richardson, and drummer Matt Hayward, kicked off with ‘In Love By Default’. The part-title track to By Default was followed up with another new song, ‘Black Magic’.

It’s clear from the outset that Band of Skulls were not planning on approaching the gig with caution. It’s a brave choice for any band to start a set with a song their fans have never heard before, but it seemed to pay off; the crowd provided with an outline of what to expect from the rest of the album.

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Next was ‘I Know What I Am’, taken from their first album Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, and the song that helped launch the band’s rise to fame after it was featured as iTunes’ free single of the week.

The trio, who were joined for the evening by a keyboard player, then introduced their new single, ‘So Good’, which was released the day before the gig (28th April) via Spotify. The more pop-style track shows remnants of Haim, and was well-received by the crowd, but it was clear from the crowd’s reaction to songs such as ‘Sweet Sour’, with Marsden and Richardson’s interlocking and harmonising vocals, and ‘Himalayan’s jaunty feel-good vibe, that you just can’t beat the familiar fan favourites.


Band of Skulls followed the harmonious ‘Sweet Sour’ up by debuting two more new songs: ‘Tropical Disease’ and ‘Bodies’. Singer Marsden quipped how refreshing it was to be able to play the songs to an audience, rather than in front of each other in a church, where they spent a lot of time writing the songs for their upcoming album.

It did become evident, however, that Marsden seemed to need some reassurance, with several searching looks of approval into the crowd during the new songs, but there’s no denying the trio have honed their talent of writing a mean riff.

Image: Creative Commons

As the gig was nearing its end, it appeared the crowd was only just starting to warm up. ‘Death By Diamonds and Pearls’ and ‘Light of the Morning’, both taken from their first album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, sent the audience into a mass frenzy. Hayward’s drumming in ‘Light of the Morning’ gave an assured nod to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, before leaving the stage for a premature finish.

Highly anticipated

They returned to the stage shortly for their anticipated encore, opening first with the lead single to their new album, ‘Killer’, featuring the occasional rogue crowd surfer. Their set was ended with ‘Asleep at the Wheel’, with the line “cause where we are going is anyone’s guess” etched into people’s minds.

Despite this gig only being their second live performance of their new songs, they were performed tightly, and as if they had been playing them since their beginnings 12 years ago. Although a number of bands and artists tend to shy away from debuting new songs until their release, Band of Skulls were far from afraid with the showcasing of 7 new songs, and a brimful of riffs, from their soon-to-be released album. 

Are you a fan of Band of Skulls? Let us know in the comments below!