Wednesday 4 January 2012

FOE at Bull and Gate - 3 January 2012

Thank god for Twitter.

A chance search reveals that my intended gig for tonight (returning veterans Artery and feisty young pups Cold In Berlin plus others) has been postponed because the ageing headliners are 111. Sorry, they are ill. Thanks to Les Dawson for that joke.

I divert across town to the Bull & Gate for the first night of a Fortuna Pop records residency. Even this event is not running entirely to plan. One of the bands (Whales in Cubicles) have pulled out and as a result, timings are all over the place.

The first remaining band are Wild Swim, who hail from Oxford. I don’t particularly care for them, but they do spark some debate amongst my party.

My view is that they are painfully aware that the singer Richard Sansom has an almost classically good baritone voice and that the desire to showcase this utterly stifles them. There are moments when the rest of the band threatens to break out into some kind of wild fidgety jazz, but these flashes are mostly damped down as soon as they begin in favour of a safer option.

My friends point out that the overall sound of Wild Swim is very commercial, and that in particular, fans of Wild Beasts may care to lend an ear. I’m not convinced and think that the band needs some proper tunes. They are not irredeemable, but they require work.

In contrast, headliners FOE show what rock and roll energy is all about.

Hannah Clark and her band just sound FILTHY. The guitars and keyboards crackle with a dirty, buzzing electricity that sounds positively dangerous, as though someone could get a nasty shock at any minute.

Clark squints through long red tresses and is wearing a rather shapeless heavy cloak-like dress. This is understandable, because it is bloody freezing in this room. Less understandably, she has topped off this ensemble with a natty tiara.

The rest of the band keeps warm in the old fashioned way, thrashing their guitars and bobbing and weaving around the stage. I do like to see guys enjoying themselves and I do like to see instruments physically abused. Good work.

Hannah Clark has a rapid fire yet monotone vocal style. It adds speed and a sense of urgency to the songs, so that they fairly motor along. This intensity means that songs such as ‘A Handsome Stranger called Death’ burn much more fiercely than their rather more measured recorded versions.

I find FOE a fine way to greet the New Year. If I have a minor quibble it is that Clark never quite engages with her audience, her eyes being either closed or gazing off into space. However, I accept that it is hard to have empathy with a half-empty room in which the crowd are bunched closer to the door than the stage.

A sharp evening’s entertainment. I’m a friend of FOE.

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