Thursday 23 September 2010

The Darling Buds, The Drains, Disco at 100 Club, 22 September 2010

The Darling Buds

The chain of events leading to me being here tonight are Byzantine and strange.

So I’ll pass over the cinema and the mysterious disappearance of the movie I was due to see and the pub which appears to be operating as a pawn shop, with guitars exchanged for framed football shirts.

I end up at the 100 Club for a gig-come-celebration of the life of John Sicolo.

Sicolo ran the legendary ‘TJ’s’ in Newport, the venue that gave early opportunities to a plethora of bands in the 80’s, from Catatonia to Anhrefn, 60 Ft Dolls to The Senseless Things. TJ’s was described as the ‘only venue in Wales that London journalists had ever heard of’ and bands loved to play there, and they loved Big John Sicolo.

Tonight’s bill has largely come about because several acts reformed for a Sicolo tribute earlier in the year and decided that they would carry on.

First up come feisty five piece Disco, who are fronted by two female singers, Emily and Sam, who display markedly contrasting body language.

One is having a ball, screaming her head off, dancing and bopping and bouncing around. The other is a picture of self consciousness who looks and acts as if she wants the stage to open up and swallow her.

The songs are simple and enthusiastically belted out a la Shampoo or (more recently) Pens or Hotpants Romance.

I think that they are great fun, but even as they finish the awkward lass is only semi-joking when she says “Never again!”

The Drains remember when punk was young. The singer may now look like a bank manager, but he knows how to put a song across. And when that song is called something like “Motherfuckin’ Motherfucker”, that is quite something to see.

He tells tales of Sid Vicious and Nick Kent and even remembers the name of the original bar staff from the 100 Club back in the day.

Watching The Drains, I am struck how this kind of performance has gone out of fashion. This is song as an angry shout, with genuine outrage and venom in the vocals. It hails from a time when bands were pissed off on a personal and a political level. It ain’t subtle, but it’s sure effective.

Headliners are The Darling Buds, playing their first London gig since 1992. It is so long since they have been around that a modern band has taken the name, unaware or unheeding of the fact that somebody else had the same idea over twenty years previously.

The Darling Buds were always slightly the runt of the litter amongst late 80’s power-pop bands. They got played by Peel and they may have had one of those ‘for one week only’ slots on Top Of The Pops, but they never quite took off. As their set progresses, it becomes clear why.

All the elements are present. The guitars chime and chop, the drums snap and singer Andrea Lewis, in her black dress and snazzy red shoes, is all these years later, a strikingly good looking focal point.

Ultimately, it comes down to the strength of their material. With a few notable exceptions, many of the Darling Buds’ songs sort of tool along at the same level – pleasant in isolation, but subject to the law of diminishing returns.

But tonight is a celebration and not a critique. Lewis is showered with home made confetti from the small band of loyal fans, some of whom have dug out surprisingly pristine ‘Buds Burst Out ‘88’ tour T shirts.

It’s a fun evening, more party than gig. The bands and the punters are enjoying themselves and everyone goes home happy.

John Sicolo wouldn’t have wanted anything less.

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