In London, there are two upcoming evenings of 1980s indie nostalgia this week, plus one evening of metallic futurism. Read on…
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Adrian Gibson Music Productions presents:
The Monochrome Set + Bob Collins & The Full Nelson + The Wimmins Institute
100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London W1D 1LL, England
Friday 4th March 2016, 7.30pm – more information
Originally springing from late ‘70s London post-punk (within which they shared, in the early stages, connections and members with the similarly stagey but far cruder Adam & The Ants) The Monochrome Set blossomed in the early ’80s, presenting a very different take on New Wave. Surrounded by clipped and speedy back-to-basics bands, their singer and creative core Bid took an ostensibly fusty and intellectual approach but shook the dust out of it; deploying oblique wordplay and bricolage guitarwork as the tools for delivering his witty, wandering songs. A young Julian Cope once dismissed the band as being too English, too uptight and a little too prog. Bid might have countered by citing his Velvet Underground influences (including the mysterious, ambiguous film projections which were a Monochrome Set live trademark and established them as one of the most committed multi-media rock bands) and his preference for “avant-garde beat-group juddering” over either four-square rock’n’roll or prog frills.
Unsurprisingly The Monochrome Set’s legacy includes bands at the artful and overtly theatrical end of the spectrum. Direct descendants include Scarlet’s Well (Bid’s post-Set bid to marry antique weird fiction with Anglican post-punk and a girl’s-boarding-school vibe) and David Devant & His Spirit Wife (whose startling mixture of clever glam and music-hall stage magic was anchored by formet Set guitarist Foz). Less directly, the band provided the requisite blueprint of archness, wit and fine-art guitar stylings for the nascent Smiths, and for the oblique literate cleverness of Franz Ferdinand and the capering-yet-serious surrealism of Sleepy People. The brain aneurysm and stroke that Bid suffered in 2010 might have put an end to many musicians’ creative careers. In that typically out-of-step Monochrome Set fashion, it actually cemented the band’s then-recent return to action, with a recovered Bid still a strong creative force and (if anything) fascinated and inspired by his post-illness physiological rewiring and subconscious changes, especially when they manifest in the band’s music.
Bob Collins & The Full Nelson draw on the Medway lineage of pop, psychedelia, indie-rock and punk-blues. The band reunites a number of the key members of The Dentists – jangling, pre-Britpop Chatham absurdists who first walked their elongated wobbly line between pop and art pranks in 1983. Despite formally splitting in 1995, the band has never entirely gone away. Onetime lead guitarist Bob has already worked with assorted former partners in Fortress Madonna and The Great Lines; for The Full Nelson he teams up with Dentists drummer Rob Grigg and bass player Mark Aitken (a former bandmate from Bob’s time with Ascoyne d’Ascoyne).
Although the Full Nelson got it together in 2007, they’ve waited eight years to make an actual album: a long time, especially by the fertile DIY rock standards of the Medway scene. Their debut album ‘Telescopic Victory Kiss’ broke the drought last year, drawing on Bob’s years as a solo acoustic act and Medway Scene historian, its bucketing melodicism recalling The Who and Bob Mould’s Sugar as well as its Kent garage forebears.
They’ve been described by ex-Chumbawamban Boff Whalley as “wonderfully, tunefully, angrily unprofessional“, but with winning insouciance, pop-punkers The Wimmins Institute describe themselves as simply “a bunch of wimmins with instruments”, demystifying both their bandwork and their feminism at an offhand stroke. It sits well with what they actually are. There’s history and ties with a number of political music movements here, including Riot Grrl, Ladyfest and broad-left-wing campaigning. Of the four members, Jen Denitto and Deb van der Geugten (Americans abroad, initially caught up in 1990s London punk meshings) were both members of Linus (while Jen has also passed through both The Monochrome Set and Scarlet’s Well). Cassie Fox and Melissa Reardon are part of libertarian socialist rhythm-and-blues band Thee Faction.
In this case, though, history is a distant section to the immediate present; and the Institute’s main purpose seems to be to remind us that feminism can often be about women engaging with fun constructive skepticism and visibly enjoying themselves while doing it. Onstage and on record, singing and instrumental roles are swapped around at will and without regard to hierarchy, trumpets are tootled and any messages are put across in a sprawling scrap of noisy uncomplicated play. The single ‘Mansplaining’ encapsulates the band’s punky irreverence and their lippy but unmalicious spirit of resistance.
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Playing on the same bill this week, returning veterans The June Brides and The Wolfhounds have a number of things in common. Both formed in or around London within a few years of each other in the mid-‘80s; both released their first material on the ill-fated Pink label. They even played together long ago, to the point where Wolfhounds frontman David Callahan can comment (with sardonic affection) that this week’s show “replicat(es) the Ambulance Station in 1985, except this time The Wedding Present are so late they’re not even on the bill.” Both also took a long fifteen to twenty-three year break before their twenty-first century comebacks – The Wolfhounds first tentatively reunited tentatively in 2005, The June Brides in 2009 and (after intermittent one-offs and occasionals) both bands returned to regular action in 2012.
What’s most likely to be cited is that both the Brides and the ‘Hounds are associated – for better or for worse – with NME’s legendary ‘C86’ compilation cassette. Thirty years old this year, C86 serves as both inspiration and albatross. Still a touchstone for indie jangle-pop as genre, history and (effectively) way of life, it’s long since generated its own shower of clichés about a shared guitar-pop ethos, mostly white and slightly fey (and some of it, by implication, fighting a rearguard action in the face of oncoming hip hop), More recently another, more attractive ‘C86’ trope has been gaining traction, remembering the project as a celebration of recording and songwriting initiative; cottage labels and scenes ignored by and detached from the glut of London yet coming together in a common purpose.
I’ve got to admit that I can’t add a new twist to that summary: nor to the one which suggests that ‘C86’ was also a marriage of convenience between assorted bands which actually differed widely. Beyond their shared intelligence, a little practical and cultural geography and the sympathies that come with both bands having fed their inspiration (and taken their lumps) at the same point in time and culture) there’s not so much to link The June Brides and The Wolfhounds. The Brides released comparatively little – just four singles and the mini-album “There Are Eight Million Stories’, although the latter topped the British indie charts for a month. In contrast, the more prolific Wolfhounds managed four albums and a clutch of additionals across four years (while evolving from a skewed pop/rock act into a noisy brutally textured art-rock band) but never quite hit the same commercial heights. The Brides gently post-punkified a version of early ‘60s Anglo-pop, simultaneously undercutting and underpinning their upbeat verdigrised trumpet lines with deft, flint-chipping rhythm guitar (as if Anthony Newley had temporarily poached Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen). While you could discern traces of ‘60s beat-pop in The Wolfhounds, the band were a rawer and leaner beast: straightahead guitars shading, over time, into art-noise.
Thoughtful and articulate though The Wolfhounds were, Callahan’s tense wiry voice (always on the brink of a ripping sneer) perpetually hinted at something nastier, or at least at being on the brink of a withering analysis of the world around him. With the June Brides, Phil Wilson sang pillow-soft and easy, letting his astute, observational lyrics work around the friendly puff and wheeze of the tunes. Callahan’s were more likely to hit you on the bridge of the nose and wake you up. The June Brides would write the blueprint for Belle & Sebastian. It’s a little less easy to trace those who explicitly followed the path the Wolfhounds hacked out; although the excellence of Callahan’s prickly, visionary subsequent work with the sampler-crazed Moonshake makes at least as good a legacy.
Now reunited as individual bands and as tourmates, the two bands aren’t hitting the nostalgia circuit as hard as some of their peers; but they’re playing as if it mattered, under their own terms, to people who also think it mattered. It’s dignified, it’s consistent; and if you think that such words are coffins then perhaps you never picked up on the integrity of each band’s work. They might not have been pompous about it, but these guys were always about craft and smarts. Thirty years on, they still are.
In support are soft-voiced young Brightonians Clipper, who are still too new to have much up online; or, indeed, to have much written about them yet. Ask me again in 2046…
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The sludge-rock and math-rock evening is provided by the ever-reliable Facemelter. From here on in, the words are theirs…
Chaos Theory presents The Facemelter:
A Horse Called War + Wren + The Broken Oak Duet
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Thursday 4th March 2016, 7.30pm – more information
A Horse Called War are crusty sludge heroes from a backward town in Norfolk, who formed ten years ago, released an EP, played shows with bands like Raging Speedhorn and Weedeater, got some rave reviews in Terrorizer, Sludgelord and the like, then broke up in 2010. After a few of them had stints in other bands, including William English, they reformed last year and the UK metal community rejoiced! They’re back for their first London show in 2016 after playing to a rammed Devonshire Arms last year. Will be brutal.
After a stonking show supporting Bad Guys at Baba Yaga’s Hut’s Christmas show last year, a tour with Empress, and a slot with EARTHMASS and OHHMS at The Facemelter the year before, hardcore/sludge hybrid Wren are back to play new music from their upcoming sledgehammer of an EP ‘Host’, the follow up to 2015’s split with noise rock three-piece Irk. Featuring members of Facemelter favourites obe, Wren have moved beyond the post-metal leanings of their previous work and have taken a step into a darker, rawer, and more experimental realm of tonal vastness, demonstrating previously unheard elements within their repertoire. Utilising a core framework of Neurosis-inspired industrial sludge-metal and the biting noise-rock morass of The Jesus Lizard, Wren spawn a sonic alchemy that is both ambitiously referential, and jarringly unique.
The Broken Oak Duet are a progressive heavy-math-rock duo, featuring baritone guitarist Thomas Morgan and drummer Howard James Kenny. Having blown people’s minds last year when supporting bands like Raketkanon and playing at ArcTanGent, Handmade and Tramlines festivals, they’ve conducted a Kickstarter campaign in order to produce their debut album ‘Terrain’ and will be launching it at this gig.”
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More March gigs shortly… plenty of jazz, plus some nation-building events…