How big does a band have to be to give away their drumsticks? From Pie & Vinyl to the Wedge, Will Sutton goes on the trail of Pompey music heroes Kassassin St.

2015-10-17 17.32.23Castle Road Festival, Record Store Day, April 2015. Pie & Vinyl’s small but well-planned stage crowns the lively festival on this elegant street. My wife and I enjoyed Portsmouth-French groove combo Curl so much that we bought their CD. We were debating whether to hang around for the rest of the evening. There was this band Kassassin St coming up, who we’d sort of heard of but knew nothing about.

‘What are you talking about?’ said the bloke next to us. ‘Haven’t you seen Kassassin St? You can’t go now.’

He didn’t bother to explain the band’s appeal, his recommendation more convincing for such taciturnity. Half an hour later, we were fans.

There’s something magical about being right there with the band, especially when you’re being let into a secret. Right at the front, in the crowded street, we could see the band’s complicitous grins, the guitar pedal wizardry, the singer’s nonchalant assurance when they kick into a surefire stomper and the whole audience starts to bounce.

2015-10-17 23.16.58The songs are enough to hook you in. The whole audience joins in the ‘Doo-doo-doo’ chorus of ‘To Be Young’. Everyone moves along with the stuttering rhythms and soaring chorus of recent release Radio Silence, and the jagged riff that kicks off Royal Handkerchief Ballet. Well-crafted lyrics. Sonic echoes of 80s and 90s pop bubbles through (Placebo, anyone? Talking Heads? Suede?) but with zesty slices of dance music dropped in to add extra fizz.

But it’s the band themselves that makes the gig special. Frontman Rowan Bastable negotiates that fine line between self-deprecation and insouciance, between pose and bashfulness, with a teenage toss of the hair that disguises his accomplished stagecraft.

Drummer Nathan Hill seems to have his own fan club. With theatrical anticipation he raises his brows, points a drumstick at us, launches joyfully into the chorus, pulls it back for the verse. Come in, Ringo, your time is up. I’ve spotted Nathan walking round Southsea, headphones in, drumsticks in hand, living it just as fully as he does onstage. Nathan’s twin, Ryan, is on guitar, Andy Hurst on keyboards and Tom Wells holding it together on bass.

2015-10-17 23.16.58-1Victorious Festival, August. Kassassin St graced the Castle Stage early in the day. I dragged all my friends along. At the unwholesome hour of lunchtime, they still managed to get us to dance. It was the Seaside stage at 6pm where they received their due plaudits, the fields filled full of fans old and new, all singing along as the song wound down into its angelic organ coda:

Welcome to the Royal Handkerchief Ballet.
Welcome to the Royal Handkerchief Ballet.
In the morning, I won’t leave you
Cause I’m your good friend.

Fresh crowds converted. New hearts conquered. ‘Better than The Darkness,’ adjudged my friend Megan, as we summed up our top moments of the festival.

Wedgewood Rooms, 17 October. Expectations running high, we trooped into the Wedge to see the boys return home in triumph. Support band Clay from Leeds were good musicians and exuded confidence; but somehow, for all their melodic tunes and soulful riffs, they never quite connected with the audience. They never held our gaze, and couldn’t win us over. That was left to the boys from Kassassin St.

2015-10-17 23.54.30Greeted with hometown roars, they responded with their own pleasure in returning from a hectic tour. (We bumped into Mr Bastable beforehand, chatting to friends. He was extremely polite, despite my unrestrained fan babbling.)

If radio silence is the key,
Do you receive me?
Do you receive me?

In the elegantly disturbing video, made by Jack Daly and James Sharp, the searing highs and lows of this song create an unnerving isolation for the girl, whose blank calm can’t avert the threat: ‘I’m in your room under your bed.’ Live, though, the uplifting chords have us all raising our arms out toward the band.

They stomp through the big numbers, growing in confidence as the crowd grew more and more enamoured of them. The trademark maracas come out for Talk in Riddles, before the singer incurs the security guards’ wrath by coming out into the crowd. ‘Note to self,’ he says, clambering back onstage, and mutters something abashed about mic leads always getting tangled in mosh pits.

New songs, old songs. The guitar and keyboards create the atmospherics in Mouthwash, while the bass underpins the whole mesh with a solid line. Scatterbrain begins to ramp up the energy again. Then they take it up a gear with the dancy trancy underpinning of Centre Straight Atom to set the whole room screaming.

My friends and I, reduced to fan-boy and fan-girl amazement, try to sweet-talk the security guard into grabbing us a set list. More than his job is apparently worth. To the rescue comes bass player Tom Wells, who takes the set list to get it signed by the band. He comes back not only with a bonus drumstick, but with the drummer, bug-eyed genius, Nathan Hill, who makes our evening by signing the drumstick and telling us how much he’s enjoyed himself.

It’s always exciting to discover a new band. To discover them at the end of your street gives you an extra sense of propriety, a vicarious pride and the pleasure of saying, I was there.

Where next for Kassassin St? They’re creeping on to radio setlists. Their live show is stomping. They’re the darlings of the south coast music cognoscenti, and rightly so. Upwards and onwards, boys. You’ve got the whole town behind you.

Photography by Will Sutton.