The good, the mad and the tired. Three nights with Electric Soft Parade

We simply wish you’d been here to witness it.

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Part 1. Newcastle upon Tyne, 10/11/2011

It all started with a pram. Don’t worry; this isn’t going to be some life history of the Brothers White – although we may build up to that one day – it is merely a tale of luck, happenstance and drunken conversations. More particularly, it’s how those drunken conversations can lead to something unexpected, delightful and quite glorious, if slightly ramshackle in places. Due to reasons far beyond the realms of decency and common sense Incendiary had to visit England for a few days last month. We shall not bore you with the details but needless to say it involved the aforementioned pram, a logistical nightmare and a number of suitcases. What is important is that I, your dear intrepid Incendiary reporter, found myself visiting Newcastle-upon-Tyne for a few days and a quick check of the local listings uncovered the welcome sight of Electric Soft Parade performing at the Academy on the very same evening of my arrival. Calls were made, texts and emails were digitally exchanged and a ridiculous assortment of public transport vehicles was needed to ferry myself to the doors of the Academy, arriving slightly later than pre-arranged to meet up with the band, but I made it there. The band, however, were running late.

Extensive roadworks and a slight miscalculation in the time it takes to drive to Newcastle from anywhere south of Darlington put pay to their original schedule, which left me with nothing else to do other than sample a few ales in some of Incendiary’s once local hostelries. After discovering, to my horror, that The Telegraph had been decorated, along with The Forth, I was relieved to notice a chalkboard in the latter that read something along the lines of “Before you ask, we do not sell Fosters, Carling, Blue WKD, Smirnoff knob juice or J20’s or any other shit.” I may long for the once greatest pub jukebox I’ve ever come across but I was delighted to see that at least some standards were being kept. Refreshed and thoroughly warmed through I made my way on to another drinking house, passing by the venue in time to see the band pull up outside in what can only be described as the Only Fools and Horses version of a transit van. The band stepped out and Alex, in particular, looked pretty much dead on his feet. Exhausted from driving and the rigors of a haphazard UK tour, most of the colour had drained from his face and still he had to unload, set up and play. Being four hours behind schedule they had no time for a soundcheck but still, showtime was approaching and the show must, as is so often said, go on.

I took the opportunity to join a few friendly Field Musicians for a pre-show pint or two before things kicked off in earnest but upon returning to the venue I asked some of the security staff if there was a cloakroom. They stared at me blankly for a moment and then one of them, somewhat hesitantly said, “We do have one, but I don’t think it will be open tonight.” Of course, this was Newcastle. I looked over towards the dark, empty, dust ridden hole in the wall that was the abandoned cloakroom and just had to smile. Apart from the puffer jackets these large gentlemen were sporting, complete with large white letters bellowing SECURITY at me, I was, of course, the only person in the entire town foolish enough to be wearing a jacket and besides, why hire cloakroom staff when you can hire extra security? Seriously, I’ve been at airports that have less security staff than the Academy. Were all of them really necessary? Quite possibly. After all, later that evening I discovered that Newcastle has it’s very own late night Greggs pastie shop – the demand for a sausage roll is obviously incredibly high at 2am in the morning – which is an admittedly impressive cultural highpoint for the city but even THAT had security guards at the door. I wonder, was there a chesse and onion pastie riot one evening? It’s a tough town, the Toon, and no mistake.

The Academy 2 was around half full, which was slightly disappointing, but there were enough of us to make it worthwhile, if not to justify the crash barrier in front of the stage (something you hardly ever see on the continent). ESP were greeted warmly but their set stuttered into life somewhat. Alex called his solo on Biting The Soles Of My Feet, ‘the worst I’ve ever played it and I’ve been playing it for ten years!” but to be honest, its quality shone through anyway. If there’s one thing ESP can do it is craft a pop song. Step forward new track Emily which, when I first heard it on da you toob felt a little too polished and slight for my ears but here it’s spangly little guitar lick tickled me enough to make me re-evaluate my initial opinion.

The lack of soundcheck resulted in a fair few pieces of equipment, mainly the keyboards, being given a thorough kicking at times throughout the set but the band quickly settled into a kind of ‘what the hell’ attitude, Tom White in particular. In fact, after switching to guitar a third of the way through the set, he set about trying to sneak in little moments of improvisation wherever he could place them. These tickled the rest of the band, bass player Matthew Twaites in particular, and after a few songs the gig took on quite a jovial and light hearted atmosphere. If things weren’t going to be perfect they could at least be a lot of fun and that was fine with me. Things simmered along quite nicely, every song greeted with warm and enthusiastic applause from those in attendance and we were treated to a full, brash and frankly fantastic Silent To The Dark to round things off. Always a crowd favourite, this early single is a pure slice of pop rock bliss and the full nine minute album version still delights as much as it used to but this line up (probably the best ESP have ever had) have simply got a bit too much oomph about them to head off into the quiet, contemplative world of that original. Here, they played the first half pretty straight, sticking to its lush pop rock blueprint and allowing half of the crowd to sing along with them before Damo Waters switched track and belted out a monotonous, Krautrock drumbeat which Matt and guitarist Andrew Mitchell (of The Hazy Janes) drove forwards. Tom switched on his whale noise guitar pedal as Alex sprinkled some spacey synth noises over the top and the song moved relentlessly into a powerful, heavy and hypnotic trance for a few minutes. Then Alex got up from his seat to join Damo at the drum kit for a frankly delightful tub-thumping conclusion. Needless to say, it rocked and the house, as they say, was brought down.

After that CDs were sold and signed, security guards got excited about having something to do, “Alright lads and lasses, drink up and get out!,” and Incendiary, some Field Musicians and a couple of ESP members headed off into the Toon for further liquid refreshments. If the gig wasn’t a triumphant success it certainly wasn’t a failure and it provided us with a good chance to meet up with old friends and discuss future world domination plans. ESP mentioned that they had been offered the support slot for Noel Gallagher’s impending European Tour (having just finished a quick UK sprint with him) but were unsure if they could put everything together. “We may be able to help with that, at least around the Dutch gig” I suggested…………….

Part 2. Leiden, 29/11/2011

Two weeks later, the Trotters Independent Musicians van had made its way across the English Channel and up into the flat lands, arriving in Leiden at the doors of SUB 071. I’m not sure any of the band knew what to expect but it was clear that, by showtime, ESP had settled right into the world of SUB 071, with broad smiles and glazed eyes visible on all members of the touring party. The idea of watching ESP perform in SUB had kept all members of Incendiary giggling for days in the run up to this event but even we were surprised at just how much fun it turned out to be.

SUB’s narrow broom cupboard of a room forced the band to set up in a way that saw them all facing in on each other and so, from the off, the set felt more like watching them in a rehearsal room rather than a venue. In fact, SUB’s probably smaller than most rehearsal rooms so it felt like we, the crowd, were really on top of them, almost looking down on them which is a vantage point most bands should try once in a while I think.  At first, the band tried to be a little too professional for the space and the first song had to be abandoned due to an overbearing kick drum playing havoc through the PA but quickly, and without too much trouble, the band started to warm up and before too long we, and they, were having a lot of fun.

The band were relaxed and enjoying themselves with Tom getting excited enough to break a string at one point. This led to the kind of on-stage quote little heard nowadays, “Can somebody please get the guitar out of that cupboard for us?” and let’s not forget the delightful, “Thank you for the safety pin.” Small gigs are truly the best. With a couple of jazzy interludes, the occasional heckle from one or two Incendiary members and more than a little improvisation every now and then from Mr Tom White, the gig developed into a warm, inviting and intimate atmosphere which was simply great to be a part of, even if you were just one of the people at the back nodding their heads appreciatively.

It was a delight to hear Bruxellisation again, the way the song dovetails between light and dark is a clear example of ESP at their best and even the forced guitar change (due to comments mentioned earlier) during Number One couldn’t stop the crowd’s heads from bouncing along with delight. If That’s The Case Then I Don’t Know was remarkable and seemed almost too powerful for this tiny room. Played slightly faster than usual the song tore into life, building up to a quite frantic conclusion. (Further proof, TW if it were needed, of its status as a great shagging song) but the price of admission was encapsulated in the quite fantastic version of Silent To The Dark. Extended much more than it had been in Newcastle, the song must have clocked in at close to fifteen minutes. The extended Krautrock wig out at the end was simply magnificent. With Damo, Matt and Andy in top gear, Tom and Alex traded playfully back and forth between guitar and keyboards for ages, adding layer upon layer of slightly surreal and transcendental musings on top of that momentous rhythm, before building the song up through its riotous tub-thumping section into a fierce and frankly shattering conclusion. Trust me, you’ll want to search the tinterweb to get a listen to this version, it was outstanding.

Whereas normally that would bring the curtain down on any regular show, ESP were having so much fun they decided to treat, nay spoil us, somewhat with the powerful and pounding Broadcast, an ESP remix of Brakes favourite Comma, Comma, Full Stop and a scuzzy, fuzzy and frankly triumphant cover of If I Can Dream. It was a version filled with yearning, self pity and real power, a version the King would have been proud of and with that, ESP left the building. We simply wish you’d been here to witness it.

Part 3. Amsterdam, 30/11/2011

And so to the Melkweg a night later and the first night of their European jaunt with Noel Gallagher. This meant a large room, a sold out crowd and an abundance of security guards once again. The crowd had a larger than normal selection of expats included in it – the clear sign being that the room filled up in front of the stage first – which was a good thing for ESP as there was already a significantly large number of people ready and waiting for them when they strode onstage, (Dutch crowds are notorious for arriving late). The Newcastle gig may have been fun and the SUB 071 gig may have felt special to all of us who were there but there’s simply no denying the fact that ESP stepped up a level for their short Melkweg set. Polished, assured, confident and clearly loving and feeding off the larger crowd the five of them simply played their socks off.

They sounded fantastic too, in particular a delightfully quirky Cold World and another fabulous, if somewhat clipped version of Silent To The Dark. However, special praise must be given over to Lily, a song that simply gets better every time I hear it. Its delightful guitar lick gets under your skin quickly, aided by a clever little tip tap drum beat. The way the second guitar comes in to wind you into the chorus works wonderfully too and where that would be enough for most bands and the song could perfectly exist in its form as a quirky little three minute number, I simply love the way they drop the whole thing into reverse, turning the last third of the song on its head. It’s an absolute joy and the kind of thing that ESP seem to be able to do in their sleep but it’s this ability to swap and change styles without ruining the song that marks them out above so many other pop/rock/indie bands.

They came, they saw and while they may not have conquered the Melkweg (for fans were still streaming in through the door as they finished) they certainly left the stage with more fans than they arrived and it was a pleasure to witness them on stage in what is their rightful home. The larger stages suit them because they can handle it. Electric Soft Parade can hold their own with anyone; in fact they pretty much blew Noel “I’ve got one drumbeat” Gallagher off the stage as far as Incendiary were concerned, (seriously, apart from a sublime acoustic version of Supersonic, we were bored to tears by Noel quite frankly!) Their tunes are powerful enough, and deserving enough, to play these large rooms and there’s a lot of potential in this current line up that has yet to be fully developed. Incendiary had a fun three nights with Electric Soft Parade. Here’s hoping that, if fortune shines on them, we may have many more nights with them down the road. If you haven’t paid attention to them so far, or had forgotten all about them, it’s time to take note once again.

 

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.