Tuesday 22 April 2014

Ravioli Me Away, Witching Waves, AS Ondas, Firestations, Ampline at Brixton Windmill - 18 April 2014

Witching Waves

Another Bank holiday, another opportunity to get some bands under my belt. Today, and indeed any day, the Brixton Windmill is my friend.

Today’s line-up has been put together under the name ‘Bad Friday’. It turns out to be a misleading description. There’s not much that’s subpar today.

The band who draw the short straw of being first on are ASOndas. It must be really intimidating to play in what is initially an empty space, but the sound of guitars soon draws the punters from the bar and garden.

The band are a bit nervous to start with, the guitarist unable to bring herself to make eye contact with us. 

However, it doesn’t take them long for them to settle into what is a short and spiky set. Vocals are alternated between the three band members, possibly to best effect when the tiny drummer takes over. We’re off to a promising beginning.

Firestations are a band who have refined their sound into something that approximates to a folk take on Krautrock. The music ticks along to a simple repetitive beat while the voices of Michael Cranny and Laura Copsey harmonise and complement each other.

The band starts off very arrestingly, but I find my attention starts to wander as they go on. This is mostly because I’m hungry and smell of the BBQ in the garden is beginning to waft into the room.

Ampline are probably the biggest names playing today. They’re a veteran US noise band fronted by Mike Montgomery, also known for his work with Kelley Deal in R Ring. This is a rare UK show.

The band are grey of hair and grizzled in appearance. When they blast off, they sound like Armageddon.
Theirs is a thunderous din, the guitarists crouched almost face to face as they exert their instruments to ever louder extremes. Occasionally, Montgomery lends his voice to the thrash. You can’t really hear him, but it doesn’t really matter. Ears bleed, teeth rattle.

Witching Waves are a complete contrast. The intense pop of Mark Jasper and Emma Wigham relies on great songs and a slightly peevish attitude, which adds an edge to proceedings. I like them a lot. They even manage to pull off a Kanye West cover and make it their own. I’m impressed.

It is often said that you can’t go wrong with a three piece no-wave jazz pop punk outfit that consists of three gals dressed up as US rockers KISS. It’s often said because its true. Tonight Ravioli Me Away are terrific.

Sian, Rosie and Alice pull off the very difficult trick of being serious and fun at the same time. They’re cut from the same cloth as the Slits – one foot in dub reggae and the other in contemporary issues. It doesn't feel like a lecture. It feels like a damn good night out. I dance like a dervish. An overweight dervish.

I have to bow out at this point and miss what were no doubt excellent performances from The Graphite Set, Shopping and Skinny Girl Diet.

‘Bad Friday’? Good gravy!

Warning! The audience in this features a girl in costume as Russell Brand. It is quite the most disturbing image ever committed to film.

Monday 14 April 2014

A Witness and The Cravats at The Buffalo Bar - 12 April 2014

A Witness 

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.