First, the disappointment: no Clor! To be honest, it was Clor that I was most looking forward to seeing last night: they made a likeable debut album this year, with a couple of ace singles. In their place, I was faced with the prospect of slogging through two completely unknown support bands. On my own. With naught but draught cooking lager and guilty fags for company. Suddenly, I had a flash of empathy with Pete Ashton, and his noble Going Deaf For A Fortnight project. This could be tough going.
First up, Ralfe Band (note the lack of “the”). A five-piece outfit, with a drummer and four multi-instrumentalists, all neatly lined up along the front of the stage. From left to right:
- mandolin/pedal steel
- semi-acoustic guitar/electric piano/lead vocals
- bass guitar/snare drum & cowbell.
Consequently, every number they played in their short set featured a different instrumental line-up, with band members sometimes swapping instruments mid-song. This worked extremely well, not least because all the band members turned out to be fine, skilled musicians. In particular, there was a fantastic snare drum & cowbell/mandolin break in the middle of one of the faster songs, which earnt the band their first whoops from the audience. (Audience whoops when you’re third on the bill being a pretty impressive achievement round these parts.)
Influences? Hmm, very difficult to pin down. There was an overall Celtic/folky feel, à la Waterboys/Levellers, which made me feel that the band would do particularly well in the south-west of England – but thankfully, they didn’t overdo the raggle-taggle-gypsy-oh crusty-isms (or else they would have quickly lost me). There were also elements of country and blues, a smidge of Bad Seeds/Kurt Weill theatricality, and even a hint of early Cockney Rebel here and there. Without wishing to damn them by association, I could easily imagine a Ralfe Band track on a cover-mounted CD for Uncut or The Word. The readers of Mojo would definitely like them.
They were also being street-teamed to death: promotional postcards quite literally everywhere, and a bunch of Nice Young People wandering round the venue with clip-boards, collecting names and e-mail addresses in return for badges. (Unfortunately, the Nice Young Person I spoke to, having thoroughly enjoyed their set, knew next to nothing about them – which slightly spoilt the effect.)
Ralfe Band, then. Not what you might call bleeding-edge, but they could potentially do very well. A likeable bunch, who clearly love what they do, but perhaps they need to work a bit more on their stage-craft if they’re going to raise their game. (F**king hell, I’m starting to sound like Louis Walsh.) Hope they don’t get chewed up and spat out as nice safe corporate indie-lite; they’re too good for that.
During in the interval, I bumped into two former colleagues – I & J – whom I have often hung around with at gigs over the past few years. Hooray for company! Billy lots-of-mates!
Vincent Vincent & The Villains were on next: a cheerful bunch of piss-takers, whose refusal to take themselves seriously made them impossible to dislike. Sure, the songs themselves were pretty daft – fast and snappy new wave power-pop, with comic lyrics and distinct rockabilly influences – but this didn’t stop the band performing them as if they were stars in their own private universe, whilst also being well aware of the absurdity of their preening and posturing. In particular, the be-quiffed lead guitarist (playing in his home town, with his family in the audience) seemed absolutely convinced that he was some sort of hugely shaggable Rock God – and hence, because he believed it, he sort of was.
God, I’m making them sound like The Darkness. They were nothing like The Darkness. Got that? Good.
The singer was one of those unlikely looking types who often make unexpectedly effective front men. Think 1970s Howard Devoto crossed with 1970s Tom Verlaine, with a cross-strain of 1970s Wreckless Eric. Bulging eyes, high forehead, a Dave-Hill-out-of-Slade fringe (with some suspicious evidence of an incipient comb-over), and bearing a home-made logo on the back of his jacket, which spelt out THE VINCENTS in what could easily have been white gaffer tape. I liked the way that, straight after the first number, he called for the sound engineer to turn down the volume on the lead guitarist. Ooh, power struggle! We like!
Earlier on, I & J had witnessed one hapless member of the band being refused entry to the venue, and actually being chucked out of the front door by the bouncer. This gave them a perfect opportunity to dedicate a song to him – which turned out to be a scathing, sarcastic attack on the pathetic nature of the existence of all bouncers everywhere. So witheringly apt that it could almost have been made up on the spot, this had the band grinning from ear to ear throughout at its startling appropriateness.
Over on the merchandise stand, Ralfe Band had CDs, 7-inch singles, more badges and more postcards. Meanwhile, Vincent Vincent & The Villains had… combs. Yes, combs. Which kind of says it all.
And finally, onto Sons & Daughters – a band whom I had last seen supporting the Fiery Furnaces, at one of the best and most enduringly memorable gigs of 2004. I had a lot of time for last year’s Love The Cup mini-album, which I played incessantly for several months – but having heard both singles from their latest album The Repulsion Box, had felt rather let down. Gone was their distinctive gothic country rockabilly, and in its place was something which sounded a little too close to bog-standard, NME-friendly, typically 2005-style garage-rock. It all struck me as rather short-term, opportunistic, and a waste of the band’s potential – and so I was there to give them one last chance.
Well. I stand corrected. Yes, Sons & Daughters are quite a different proposition now than in 2004 – but in a wholly positive way. There’s a new energy and focus to their sound and to their stage presence: having sharpened up their act, they’re now performing like a proper rock and roll band, as opposed to a nervous bunch of indie under-achievers. There’s confidence there now, and a real sense of attack.
This was especially apparent in lead singer Adele Bethel, who stalked the stage like an avenging fury. Constantly rocking herself backwards and forwards, looking and sounding fantastic, she still managed to hold just enough of herself back to retain that vital sense of mystique.
And guess what: the new stuff sounded spot-on, and a perfectly logical progression from the old stuff; everything blended together seamlessly, with the Love The Cup songs toughened up a bit, in order to match the rockier Repulsion Box material. In fact, the highlight of the whole set was one of the newer singles: “Taste The Last Girl”, which came across like The Au Pairs covering “What Difference Does It Make”. Yes, that good.
Sons & Daughters, then. I sense that this is a band who are now ready for larger stages, and who will know what to do once they’re on them. Next time they play Nottingham, I’ll be less apologetic about going to see them, and more determined to drag my gang of regulars out with me.
Ah, good old-fashioned guitar bands. They may not inspire quite so much semi-intellectualised purple prose as certain other musical genres, but on a freeze-your-bollocks-off Wednesday night in Nottingham, I can think of no better way of spending an evening.