‘Look at who’s up there [at the top of the charts], we don’t want to be like them’, says Rowan, half of London-based outfit, The Rhythm Method, responsible for the band’s romantic chorus hooks. His statement is a response to a fan saying they deserve more recognition than they have garnered.
Rowan and frontman/lyricist Joey are playing at Rough Trade’s Nelson Street store, and only 50 to 60 people are in attendance. It's a brief show of witty interactions between Joey and the crowd, and their biggest songs (Something For The Weekend, Party Politics, Local Girl). The audience seems to be divided between devout ‘Methodists’ and the partners they’ve dragged along. Streaming-wise, the popularity of the songs from their debut album, How Would You Know I Was Lonely?,does not reflect the star-studded following they’ve picked up in the last 5 or so years. Mike Skinner (The Streets), Chris Difford (Squeeze) and Elton John (from, err, Elton John) have all expressed their favour. But Rowan makes it clear to the fan that popularity is not the point. ‘We’re part of the resistance’, he says, in a way that's appreciative of the fan’s complement while also making his point clear. The point that Spotify views or an album with as many of the world’s biggest artists as possible (Yes, you, Ed Sheeran) are not part of ‘#Methodism’- their self-dubbed philosophy.
Through their fusion of Streets-style lyrical wit about being a Millenial in Britain and sing-along-choruses that are half-Rick Astley, half-Pet Shop Boys, TRM have forged a unique space in modern music. The band walk the tightrope between Capital’s meaningless pop and 6 Music’s serious indie, and this straddling of two extremes is reflected in their music. Witty, sometimes dark lyrics are offset with catchy chorus hooks (Party Politics). Songs about life’s adversities are peppered with good ol’ English wit (Cruel). This balance is well personified by the two - Joey as the humorous, loose cannon and Rowan as the technical pragmatist. Imagine Shane MacGowan made a band with Johnny Marr. It’s a style of innocence, irony, humour, intelligence and, above all, entertainment. A form of music that was once en vogue, now lost to the social-media world of self-absorption. Remember when Boney M were singing about Tsarist Russia, a ska band could make a hit about Baggy Trousers, and Chas N’ Dave were penning ballads to their favourite seaside towns? It’s pop music without the self-obsession - songs that make everyone stop for a knees up without losing their sincerity.
It’s an ethic well reflected tonight in Bristol. Everyone in the first three rows is singing along, if not to Joey’s extremely well-crafted lyrics, then definitely to Rowan’s infectious choruses. The latter is wearing a striped suit with a polo underneath and stands behind his piano, laptop and guitar - the rhythm section of The Rhythm Method. Joey prances around the stage - platinum blonde hair, blue camo tee, shorts and Adidas trainers. Between songs he’s giving people handshakes and making self-deprecating comments about the band. Everyone’s enjoying themselves, even the partners of the ‘Methodists’, who have started to tap their feet. Brexit-themed highlight, Continental Breakfast,has an almost UK garage drum beat, making the feet-tapping erupt into full on 90th-minute-winner limbs. The harmony formed between the band and audience creates this feeling of belonging, not only for those who are singing along, but also those merely enjoying the atmosphere - as if we are now part of the ‘resistance’ too.
Throughout history, the centre has often been out of favour. The middle child has its own syndrome. Sitting on the fence ‘gets you a sore arse’. Malcolm suffers from being in the middle. And the Lib Dems are, well, the Lib Dems. The Rhythm Method, in how they balance pop and indie, occupy a kind of middle-ground. Whether that is a popular thing to do does not matter. What matters is uplifting music, relatable lyrics and, above all, entertainment. After the gig, as I’m listening to Rowan talking, I look around. All the audience and both band members are standing outside. Joey’s talking about pro-wrestling with a group of lads; Rowan’s talking about the bands musical direction. Everyone is laughing and that sense of belonging comes back. It’s the resistance and they look like you and me. And then I realise what Rowan meant. Music isn’t about the amount of views or the amount of money you get. It’s about giving people songs that make life a little easier. The Rhythm Method have reminded their followers of that, and that’s entertainment.