REPUBLICA is back. Sinking into the leather sofas in the games room of the vast Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, we chat with lead singer Saffron and keyboardist Tim Dorney about how the industry has evolved since the band’s explosion onto the scene in the 1990s, punctuated by hit songs “Ready To Go” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” from their successful eponymous 1996 debut album. Very much the iconically edgy power frontwoman of the time, Saffron oozes a charisma and grace impossible to manufacture, and it is a breath of fresh air to hear their stories of what can happen to a band who, though seemingly unstoppable back then, have thankfully lived to tell the tale of that all too common kiss of death by a label who went under at the time of their second album release in 1998. A lot can indeed happen to a band.
Punters happily pile in, and the buzz begins as fans happily natter with each other, some revealing that they have driven in from other cities. The words “Saffron” and “Republica” surround us in conversation – there’s a lot of love in the house for this band.
To open the show, we’re treated to Republica’s signature sound, as punching drum beats fill the air and electronics kick in – we’re waiting for Saffron to join her crew on stage as they give her the perfect instrumental introduction. Weaving her way through the guys, she makes her entrance in a sharp black leather outfit, red lights in the fringe, and a killer smile. She’s in her element and wastes no time jumping into “Bloke.” With diva poses switched on full, that intense stare into the eyes of the fans, and no-nonsense lyrics “So – don’t you tell me / I’m not listening / I’ve already heard it // You better watch your back / I’m gonna take you on / I’m gonna take you on,” we’re all properly put in our place, hypnotized by Saffron’s contagious high energy and massive vocals layered with her distinctive South London accent.
As they enter “Rush Hour,” sparks are practically projecting off the stage with Saffron’s electric performance, and even the more timid members of the crowd are now bopping along. Impressively thanking the crowds at the end of each track, Saffron clearly enjoys reaching out to the fans, taking every opportunity to shake hands, to the delight of a guy with seriously fabulous 80s hair who has been singing along.
The familiar intro to “Drop Dead Gorgeous” generates woops as Saffron leans into the fans, with band and crowd symbiotically bouncing around for the whole track. Smoke fills the stage and lights go down, while Saffron strips off her jacket to reveal a stylish silver shirt, and the band pumps out anthem “Get Off” – “Like a speeding car, you want more! more! more! / Like a rattlesnake I hate, I want to get off / I want to get off with you!”
Barely taking a breather, Saffron can’t wait to dialogue with the crowds: “How you doing, Leeds? How are you, darlin’? Alright?” before introducing “Millenium” off their second album “Speed Ballads.” This is followed by new track “Hallelujah,” loaded with banging energy and an infectious chorus, reminding us that Republica has that knack of pushing out songs built for film and TV soundtracks and many a sports stadium. During “Picture Me,” Saffron, tambourine in hand, makes a point of walking across stage to shake hands with a female fan, again demonstrating a rare balance between the diva and the gracious artist.
“Christiana Obey” retains the Republica edge, as the new track pounds into the venue with its high-power dance energy and Saffron’s vocals ranging from fragile to fierce. “Beauty and vanity: what shade colour do you see? / Am I bright or black and white? A shining star? A silent light? // Scrapbook postcard memory, a photograph – all smile, please / Just look deeper in my eyes / everyone tells me the camera never lies.” Saffron has been quoted as saying that this is about a person asking a mirror what it thinks of the person looking into it, in reference to image-consciousness and the way women are (mis)treated in the media. Anybody who ever questioned Republica’s relevance need only listen to their lyrics – sharp social commentary and biting venting of frustrations with people and industries are more than a little apt for the current era.
The set peaks with the ultimate Republica track “Ready to Go” – serious hair-shaking and pogoing ensue. The track ends to a fan shouting “Tune!” as Saffron shakes more hands and introduces closer “Holly” which she blasts with attitude: “In the Hollywood bowl of serial killers / Who cares anyway? / Holly don’t give a damn!” With the band visibly sad to have to exit the stage, the crowds won’t let them go, shouting “One more song!” until they return to keep the party going with another rendition of “Hallelujah.”
Ending on a high, Republica have proved that they’re more than just relevant – they’re essential.