Evolution is a harsh and arbitrary process. For every small furry mammal that prospered in the shadow of a dinosaur’s demise, there were thousands of trilobites that never made it out of the ocean at all.
Tonight is very much a trilobite night.
The Buffalo Bar is a notoriously cramped and claustrophobic venue, but even the prospect of resurrected mid-Eighties indie demi-legends cannot fill the place.
We start off with MacDonalds, the pick-up band helmed by Paul Guided Missile and featuring the great and the good of the indie parish. Members of Art Brut and the Applicants have passed through their ranks.
Unfortunately I miss the start of their set and so am unaware of the current line- up. This doesn’t really matter as this is less of a set than a reminiscence and a discussion. There are occasional songs, but these are almost beside the point.
It’s all very convivial.
Next up are The Cravats, a band much beloved of the late John Peel. They were much too ornery and unusual to stir the greater gig going world at large.
They are led now, as then, by the sizeable and intimidating Shend, a front man who, rather like David Thomas of Pere Ubu, debunks the popular misconception that big men are necessarily jolly.
Shend mutters, blusters and howls his way through what is essentially The Cravats’ singles compilation.
What made the band unusual at the time, and still defiantly uplifting now is Svor Naan’s blaring saxophone, utilised as a lead instrument. It’s a literal blast.
Age may have caught up with The Cravats (tell me about it!) but they are still as grumpy and loud and wonderful as fuck and songs like “You’re Driving Me” and “Off the Beach” still sound great.
Headliners A Witness are an even rarer sight. They’ve not played since 1989 when original guitarist Rick Aitkin was tragically killed in a rock climbing accident. This gig marks the 25th anniversary of his death.
I last saw the band back in the day at the Bull and Gate, a legendary venue synonymous with this era. It was shut down a couple of years ago for ‘refurbishments’ and currently sits disgracefully boarded up and abandoned by the brewery chain that bought it.
A Witness only ever released one album and a clutch of twelve inch singles. I still love them dearly.
This is pop music at its most brutalist. Singer Crayola’s voice is an astringent bark, song titles a surrealistic collage.
We get everything tonight; ‘Helicopter Tealeaf’, ‘McManus Octaphone’, ‘Nodding Dog Moustache’ and of course ‘I Love You Mr Disposable Razors’ with its references to “You watch carved from an Italian mountain…”, a reference to a then popular advert for Mont Blanc wristwatches.
The evening ends with the band’s first single ‘The Loudhailer Song’.
A Witness didn’t sound like anything else in 1986/7 and they don’t sound like anything else since.
This has been a shameless wallow in nostalgia. But also a fine reminder of a weird interregnum in British music when the last of the obviously post punk bands had died off or gone on to better things and before the more nakedly commercial acts of the late Eighties and Nineties rose to prominence.
History remembers the mid-Eighties as all synths and shoulder pads, but there were small guitar bands out there on the margins – and they were utterly unique.