Sunday 29 November 2009

The Sexual Objects / The Tamborines / Still Corners / Standard Fare - Buffalo Bar, 27 November 2009

Bobby Gillespie is standing on the stairs (so no one can see him, hem hem), There are three Rockingbirds, a Dan Treacey and er, Pam Hogg lurking round the bar. Pourquoi? Because The Sexual Objects are playing and their singer is Davey Henderson one-time Fire Engine and thus legendary musical figure in select circles.

At school in the old days during an English lesson we once played that game where you have to think of a town, a flower, a book etc beginning with a certain letter (yes I had a rigorous edumacation). For the category ‘pop group’ I named The Fire Engines and was faced with the derision of my classmates who all thought I’d made the band up. What a bunch of squares, eh kids? I know I didn’t make them up ‘cos I’d heard them on John Peel’s show. And now I’m hearing bits of them live IN THE FLESH.

Davey Henderson, dressed in bright red shirt and spiffy rock ‘n’ roll boots (“I polished my boots, but I forgot to tune my guitar”) has a dry wit, a laconic drawl and a way with a tune. The Sexual Objects crank out jangly, croony, rollickingly ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll. On guitar and Beatles-esque backing vocals is that bloke out of Bricolage looking like the Lloyd Cole-faced cat that got the cream.

It’s a short but sweet set, with single 'Here Come The Rubber Cops' standing up proud and giving our ears a good rattling with its sheeny guitars and laid-back swing. The songs are peppered with bendy, glammy guitar sounds and plenty of gleeful sing-along ‘ooh la la las’. The snort-worthily titled ‘Midnight Boycow’ chugs and swaggers managing to suggest T. Rx, Bowie, The Rolling Stones and The Pastels all at once. Nice work.

Henderson gives a shout out to The Tamborines – huzzah! It’s true they’ve just played a magnificently eardrum-frying set; the perfect collision between ferocious fuzz and unshakeable tunes. Henrique cranks his guitar up high, hits the distortion and away they go, head to toe dressed in black, lighting reduced to tunnel vision white light flickering. It’s exhilarating, like facing into a hurricane. Set closer ‘Looking Glass House’ is particularly striking, a satisfying crash between The Stooges and NEU! with Lulu’s keyboard riff eerily twinkling against the roar. Fab.

The Tamborines are a rude awakening after the spookily lulling soundtracks of Still Corners. Still Corners are science-y in a Broadcast/Delia Derbyshire way and 60s noir soundtracky in a John Barry way. Icy blonde, cooly detached gossamer vocals and hoity tambourine shaking from singer Olivia are backed with keyboard and guitar skitterings. The music creates a compelling sense of unease, it’s remote but enthralling.

Standard Fare open this excellent evening of pop fun with gawky thrills of their own. The simple instrumentation (guitar, bass and drums rattle and swoon as appropriate) allows singer Emma’s appealing voice to shine out. There are moments that are slightly reminiscent of The Long Blondes’ pop glory - intelligent female singering with lyrics you want to listen to. ‘Dancing’, ‘15’, ‘Philadelphia’… they are bitter, they are sweet, they are damn catchy. Not really standard at all.

Sunday 22 November 2009

God Help The Girl / Pocketbooks - 100 Club, 21 November 2009

Pocketbooks in ‘reminiscent of Belle And Sebastian’ shockah! There were nervous scenes at the 100 Club last night, as a member of top London indiepoppers Pocketbooks mentioned that the idea of playing support to God Help The Girl was making them excited yet uneasy. The fact that they would be playing their B&S-inspired groovily breezy janglepop in front of head B&S-er Stuart Murdoch was the cause of this distress, but as it turned out Murdoch was down the road scoffing a pizza during Pocketbooks set and missed the whole thing.

More fool him as Pocketbooks play a blinder, their swoonsome pop racing along making heads and hearts dip and glide. Old faves like ‘Footsteps’ ‘The Outskirts Of Town’ and ‘Fleeting Moments’ make us feel warm and fuzzy and joyful, even when Emma’s voice is being all poignant. It’s a gleeful opening to the evening and not that much like B&S really. Afterwards there are more shock revelations as a spokesperson for the band admits ‘We were good’.

In other news, God Help The Girl, the girl-group combo created by Stuart Murdoch, sound smooth and cocktail party-ish. They’re entertaining live, but maybe not something I’d sit and listen to at home (although I am listening to Amon Duul II’s ‘Yeti’ as I type so what the hell do I know?) Cleverly, Murdoch has managed to choose three extremely pretty girls to front the group, Alex Klobouk, Celia Garcia and Catherine Ireton. They can all sing, too - gorgeous harmonies leading the way on songs like opener ‘Act Of The Apostle’ (complete with co-ordinated hand movements that are rather Pipettes-esque).

They do seem a little nervous though. It turns out this is their first EVER headline gig and their second EVER gig at all. The band includes Murdoch himself who encourages us to look at the girls, ‘Is that sexist? What’s wrong with being sexy?’ Ha ha. There are also fellow Belle and Seb-blokes Stevie ‘Action’ Jackson (sporting big hair) and Bob Kildea, plus Teenage Fannie/ BMX Bandit (etc) Francis MacDonald.

The obvious musical reference is 60s girl group pop, with a soupcon of indiepop, but there are also hints of 50s doo-wop, and suggestions of a simpler, sweeter era in the squeaky clean delivery. Stuart Murdoch is apparently aiming to create big pure pop music with kitsch-en sink lyrics and he seems to have pulled it off very efficiently. We even get a new song, 'Saturday Night, the Loneliest Night of the Week'.

The set closes with Murdoch finally taking centre stage (he’s been sitting tinkering variously on guitar and keyboards throughout) to sing 'Perfection As A Hipster' during which the infamous Murdoch ‘soul boy’ dancing is unleashed. A perfect conclusion to a sugary pop evening.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

The music of Vernon Elliot performed by the North Sea Radio Orchestra - 22 October 2009, Union Chapel

Sweetie fact: Sherbet Fountains no longer come in a paper tube, they’re in a re-sealable plastic container! Is this a good thing? Are we pleased that the liquorice stick is no longer exposed to air-borne pathogens and can’t be clutched at by a million grubby hands before we use it to shovel sherbety goodness into our gobs? Is it disheartening that we can no longer peel the paper tube down keeping level with the sherbet supply within until it becomes a soggy sugary stump? These important questions were raised last night at the Union Chapel, Islington.

We are gathered in the exquisite surrounds of the Chapel for Marginalised: The music of Vernon Elliot (Oliver Postgate) performed by the North Sea Radio Orchestra. A lot of love and care has gone into tonight’s event. There are dustbin lids and Music Trees decorating the stage (in homage to The Clangers); a cardboard Ivor the Engine puffs out a constant stream of ‘smoke’; and there are sweetie vendors peddling candy striped paper bags containing such delights as the aforementioned fountain, a miniature bag of Chocolate Buttons, Sherbet Lemons, Black Jacks and some rather clammy Cola Bottles. Upstairs in the bar, folks are gathered round a table indulging in a spot of cutting and sticking, creating character masks.

Even more care has been lavished on the musical programme: a selection of musical pieces based on the original scores of Vernon Elliott, the composer who created soundtracks for Smallfilms. If you’re a child of the 60s or 70s, Oliver Postgate’s and Peter Firmin’s Smallfilms will be dear to you. The music will kick off all kinds of nostalgia trips. Jonny Trunk knows this. He also knows that Smallfilms created things of beauty (yes, ‘Bagpuss’ is a thing of beauty) that should be celebrated like any other artform. He is here tonight to introduce each segment of the programme in a sort of eccentric groovy uncle manner. It is he who gets us making the Ivor The Engine ‘shh-tch-kuff’ noise en masse (“starting slowly then speeding up”). Just before the interval, he enthusiastically introduces a three minute audio clip of Oliver Postgate testing microphone sound levels. His love of and enthusiasm for Smallfilms is endearing and infectious.

After an introductory film about the Margins project – the very deserving recipient of proceeds from tonight - the evening proper begins with the North Sea Radio Orchestra playing a fantasia medley of music from Smallfilms. This is accompanied by a charmingly ’naive’ film by Arctic Circle Cinema in which hand-drawn, paper cut-out versions of characters from the programmes are wiggled about on sticks.

For the rest of the evening we are shown clips from the actual Smallfilms animations, one of which, ‘Pingwings’, I have never heard of. The clip we are shown is brilliant and hilarious, the tiny knitted penguins (for that is what the Pingwings are) shuffling about an actual real-life farm in stop-motion. Or hanging philosophically from a washing line, pegged up by the beak. The small girl seen in the film is Josie Firmin, Peter’s daughter. And she is here tonight (now a grown-up lady) selling her pottery. Sweet.

I heard the North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Ivor The Engine Theme and Variations on ‘Freakzone’ earlier in the week and was eager to hear this truly wonderful piece of music again. It’s the most rousing of the pieces played tonight, not least because it features, gasp! a drum-kit, which rattles militaristically, there’s also an excellent sonorously squidgy cello / keyboard sound adding the tiniest tone of foreboding to the music.

‘Land Of Our Fathers’ (yes, the Welsh national anthem) completes the Ivor set and lawks! the audience is invited to sing along with the third verse to create a suitably stirring ‘chorusing in the aisles’ feel. It’s blimmin’ hard to sing – even in English.

There’s a cheer as the Noggin The Nog section is introduced. I never really got into the Nog, being a tad too young when it was being regularly shown, so it’s a pleasure to suck on a sherbet lemon, soak up the atmospheric music and admire the artwork – brooding Nordic vistas, creepy forests and of course the villainously moustachioed Nogbad the bad. Brrr!

The centre piece of the performance is the orchestra playing a live soundtrack to a complete episode of The Clangers. This of course includes some sterling Swanee Whistle work as The Clangers chatter away to one another.

And so to songs from ‘Bagpuss’. The iconic (yes indeed!) opening to every episode is played “Once upon a time, not so long ago…” I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one clamping my jaw shut so I don’t inadvertently chant along with the familiar words. The North Sea Radio Orchestra plays the twinkly theme tune and run it into the ‘We will fix it’ mices’ song. At this point people are almost head-banging (albeit gently) such is their glee. A selection of songs taken from the vaults of the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ are aired, including the ace ‘Uncle Feedle’ sung by Madeleine the doll sound-alike Sharron Fortnam (I think). It would fit perfectly on any ‘underground folk’ compilation.

And so, with Jonny Trunk encouraging us all to do big Bagpuss yawns, proceedings and brought to a gentle, joyful close.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Heralding a stage where consciousness is higher. Fave Tunes - September/October 2009

In Love – Ringo Deathstarr Tonight the band are being ‘Automatic’-era JAMC. Good plan.

Quick Canal – Atlas Sound (with Laetitia Sadier) Euphoric Indian summer space-out.

Shithausen / Son Of Shithausen – Euros Childs Crazy titles crazy soundz.

Vivid Youth - Pastels / Tenniscoats Breezy clouds in high skies.

Once We Walked In The Sunlight - Papercuts Opiated analogue glow, like a three bar fire with cough mixture (in a wibbly calming nice way).

Agoraphobia – Deerhunter Soothes an agitated mind.

No Presents For Me – Pandamonium Laid-back garage psych from olden dayes. Plus! Backwards guitar alert!

Little Kids – Deerhunter Nursery rhymey chimey and shivery.

North Sea Radio Orchestra - Ivor The Engine Theme And Variations Basoon-erific and actually quite funky when the military drumming and terrifyingly squidgy keyboards kick in.

North Sea Radio Orchestra – Bagpuss/Uncle Feedle Gorgeous folkadelia, wasted on kids.

Festival On The River Of The Frozen Moon - The Lickets A spectral orchestra waxes and wanes.