review archive

Pow! To The People 7 – The Barfly, 30th April 2006

Lordy, it’s that time of year again, when the heroic Track and Field Organisation round up an intriguingly motley collection of pop ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll combos for a rattlingly good eight hours of beat fun. What’s more, despite persistent on-stage sound problems, I get big kicks form every single band on today - there’s not a dud in the house. However, The Barfly; I know it’s always been a notorious black-hole venue, but it’s really looking especially scummy lately. At one point I seriously think I’m going to end up walking home in my socks with the soles of my shoes left behind permanently adhered to the floor upstairs, such is the filthy stickiness factor of the floor. Meanwhile in the basement, the usual casual flooding yawns its way across the floor of the ladies and three of the cubicle doors' locks are wrecked. Classy.

Anyhoo, lets put interior design to one side, ‘cos first up it’s The Chemistry Experiment with their heads in the clouds. I like the Chem Exp, ‘cos they’re expansive, their songs give you room to have a little think. Today, they’re especially wafty, sounding like the smell of incense. Their snappier murk-disco beat tunes are to a certain extent eschewed (bless you) in favour of contemplative noodling. The first song lasts for aeons. Civilisations rise, fall and crumble. Pow Crowd
And then we actually get the sound of civilisations crumbling with an especially noisy freak-out thundering bit. I hope wildly that their whole set is going to consist of this one song ebbing and flowing, but no. Here comes the tautly glittering ‘We Were Never Wrong’ and other songs peppered with woozy flute and keyboard twiddlings and ha! a spot of cranky robot vocalising. Vocoders – they make you laugh don’t they?
I don't want to be one of those bands!

Speedmarket Avenue are cha cha charming. They’re also a bit of a shambles, thanks to the dreaded onstage sound. Despite requests to the soundman first in Swedish (whoops) and then English, the band, who only Easy-jetted in to Stansted a couple of hours ago, are putting up a losing battle with their instruments. Luckily, they have a secret weapon in the form of their new(ish) recruit ladysinger. Her scruffy rock urchin style – skull and crossbones scarf, razor earrings, scuffed punk-rock jeans – belies a smiley engaging manner and a sweet singing voice that skips over the top of the sparkling pop the rest of the band are wresting out of the sludge. Amidst another round of tuning and scrabbling she apologises, adding cheekily, “…but it’s charming, right?” at which t’ Avenue’s diminutive guitarist and singer wails, “I don’t want to be one of those bands!” i.e. getting away with being shambolically endearing. Catch them on a good night and Speedmarket Avenue will win your heart with their super soaraway, rattlegun pop, but today they are one of those bands. Best go with the flow and be charmed.

Long ago I loved The Groove Farm, I hammered my copies of their fuzzy pop-garage E.P.s ‘The Big Black Plastic Explosion’ and ‘Going Bananas With…’ and wore my pink surfing badge with pride. As is the way of things they eventually kind of fizzled away and then twanged back as The Beatnik Filmstars who I managed to never ever see or hear (not deliberately, mind) before they fizzled away too. Beatnik Filmstars
But, now the Beatnik Filmstars have reappeared so I’m intrigued, to finally get a squizz at them. And the main impression I get is, yes they too are going through sound traumas. The band punctuate their set with a plethora of apologies for sounding like, er, crap. From where I’m standing, mind, it sounds pretty cool. We get some Nuggets-y garage grooves complete with terminal fuzz bass (maybe this isn’t a deliberate thing, but it’s great nonetheless). There are buzzing beat tunes and cranky funk (‘Play That Wonky Music White Boy’) and even a spot of trumpet thrown in here and there adding to the twangling pop fun. As an introduction to the Beatniks world its worked for me thank you very much. Hey you sound fine, stop harshing my buzz, man.
Between bands we trundle down to the bar where we learn that thanks to the serendipitous wearing of a Suicide tee-shirt around Cardiff James ex-Love (he was in The Loves, I mean) is now James of The Keys. Cool. So we trundle upstairs to watch James Be In The Keys and in the process discover The Keys have become a monstrous garage fuzz beast, clamping a fearsome Bo Diddley shufflebeat to The Chocolate Watchband and crushing up a big old bluesy freak-beat riding on thunderous bass. It is a mighty thing to behold, so it’s a shame there aren’t many people up here beholding it. Shame on you saddo bale-outs nicking off to watch footie-ball in the pub. The Keys
El Perro Del Mar - Dog of the sea, innit? Post-gig analysis reveals a high proportion of punters are disgruntled with El Perro Del Mar’s performance – citing her as “one moody cow”. Post-post-gig analysis reveals El Perro Del Mar to be well disgruntled with the whole shebang. Witness her blog, “…an awful place called The Barfly…happened to consist of just about all I hate about rock clubs – cigarette fumes, beer, loud awful rock music, dirty toilets, an awful stage”. Whoopsy. Hey, The Barfly, she’s got your number. Once again, dodgey sound is cited as crapping it all up. And yet, and yet…I’m mesmerised by El Perro Del Mar’s music.
I rush off to buy her album at the end and then can’t stop listening to it for days afterwards. Flanked by two Scando blokes on bass and delicious icey baby-blue guitar, El Perro Del Mar stands mournfully under her funny lumpy beret, strums her guitar and sings in a beautiful crystal voice, sounding on the verge of tears (maybe she is, although she sounds like that on record too). I’m reminded of Vashti Bunyan’s sharply ethereal tones and maybe the twisted folk chiming of Espers. Sometimes, El Perro Del Marr is The Pipettes’ vampire sister in the attic, concocting shiveringly ghostly, sweetly haunted fifties bebop pop. (Incidentally, I just found out what ‘Pipette’ is French slang for. Oh.) On the incongruously titled ‘Party‘ she manages to sing ‘Be bop a lula’ in an extraordinarily bloodless way. It’s chilling, but oddly comforting. The shimmering ‘Candy’ is icily soothing, and spookily as the words ‘I’m going to buy me some candy’ curl out into the room, so does a sweet toffee smell. Then I realise it’s Dressy Bessy’s bass player hovering about smoking his pipe (yes, an old man sort of pipe with tobacco, not a Doherty type ‘pipe’). The set drifts to a close after seven curious, compelling songs and Sarah E.P.D.M. disappears back to Sweden disgruntled, whilst I’m left utterly sold.

Semifinalists are my fave band for an unspecified amount of time, 2006, so I’m cheered as one third of Semifinalists, Ferry Gouw, takes to the stage for a curious solo set. Essentially, this is Semifinalists karaoke as Ferry sings his little heart out to backing tracks, but it’s oddly magical nonetheless. I start to become mesmerised by the Gouw fringe as its owner judders, slithers and bounces about the stage clamped over his microphone, barking and crooning his way around the glittery shards of sound. If nothing else you’ve got to admit the guy’s got some chutzpah. For the stripped down finale Ferry goes all out a cappella with a touching rendition of Beat Happening’s ‘In Love With You Thing’. Sweet.

I missed out on the ringing pop sensation that was The Loft first time round (history tells us that so did most people), although I did manage to be the right age to lavish attention on post-Lofties The Weather Prophets soon afterwards. Judging by tonight’s performance, the accolades and near mythical heralding of the band aren’t just the ‘I woz there’ ramblings of saddo fan-gits

Ferry 'finalist
Old man Pete Astor For starters there suddenly seem to be no sound problems here as the old geezers come on sparkling sharp, cutting like a knife. Starting with a firey ‘Beware’ and then ferociously gathering momentum from there on up The Loft play it like they mean it and not like a gang of oldsters grasping at the past. Janice Long lust-object Pete Astor may be looking a tad gaunt these days, but the songs are fresh and enticing. Mid-set (around the point that ‘Winter’ spangles blissfully) I’m starting to feel light-headed as the sound of my teenage years rushes back to meet me head on, giving me a nose bleed. By the looks of it this is happening around the room, the front row is a line-up of indie geeks, Ben Eighteenth Day Of May, David Feck, Andy Kicker et al nodding their

barnets furiously like it’s 1985. There’s a snapping cover of Richard Hell’s ‘Time’. Then, of course, the money shot with double whammy set closers ‘Why Does The Rain’ and ‘Up The Hill And Down The Slope’. Inside I’m rollercoasting with joy.

Hey, Dressy Bessy, it’s been a while. Since the band’s last visit round these parts they appear to have wired themselves straight into an electric mainline and are riding high on a gutsy fuzzed up buzz. The cutely hewn bubblegum pop songs are still in there somewhere, but Tammy and her gang are taking no prisoners, kicking up an exhilaratingly raucous stomp. Songs from latest fizzpop longplayer, ‘Electrified’ ricochet around our ears, getting the crowd in a froth (see the fat hairy man jump!). A handful of older songs, ‘I Saw Cinnamon’, ‘Lookaround’, ‘This May Hurt A Little’ are played at warp-speed, but still manage to gleam with glee. Tammy oscillates wildly, never still for a moment, all the better to show off today’s selection from her wardrobe of vintage 60s gear, a white knitted skirt with mod RAF symbol and matching white tights and kinky boots. Nifty.

Tammy like my apple badge. I rule.
Tweed trilbies and beards - it's the only way. Finally, it’s cacophony pie for afters as Mazarin dish up plenty of decibels for everyone. Apparently they have to play dead loud because the drummer hits really hard. It’s a good excuse anyway for blasting out a disorientating melee of warggh! flangey guitar, thwangling chords, and Grandaddy vocals sung by a man in a beard and a tweedy trilby – obviously a great thing. Once you make your way into the eye of their storm you find an Elephant 6 style playful psychedelia at work amidst the howling gale of shuddering noise, of Montreal in a wind tunnel, perhaps. There are twisty, dreamy tunes in here, one song even sounds kind of twinkly 60s girl group in a wahhh! kind of way. Think The Shangri Las through a storm of distortion – like what JAMC always promised.
So, then I’m thinking maybe this is kind of Dead Meadow-lite when Mazarin crunch out a particularly malevolent slab of heaviness. I huddle closer within the bosom (heh) of the crowd, not least in an attempt to stave off the hypothermia threatened by the arctic air conditioning. The final song has a rumbling Velvetsy bass line and sounds oddly familiar, my ears tune in and gradually a chewy version of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Burned’ extracts itself from the maelstrom, whipping round our knees. Buffeted but cheery we trundle out into the rain.
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