Finally, I was carried downstairs to see, YES! A London band. Honest, a real one.
Lord above, when are they going to sort out the bloody name of this event? The new crop of bands from the isles of Britain and Ireland, (and elsewhere), deserve better than to be just lumped under the imaginative moniker "London Calling". I mean, the Dears, just to give one example, are from Canada. Not London. The London you are 'promoting' in this festival is not in Canada, Paradiso people.
There were only a few bands from London this year, and not all those bands were comprised of Londoners. Still I should stop griping; as Russell from Bloc Party pointed out, London is just a state of mind... Okay, 'nuff said on that point, and on to the music.
First up on Friday was the much hyped James Yorkston and the Athletes, purveyors of alternative country tunes. As they were on early-ish (7.30p.m.), the crowd was, for the most part still filing in through the door. A hardy band of introvert types, computer salesmen (all fans to a man), and curious early birds listened intently to the soft, reflective winters-eve music that the Athletes performed on the upstairs stage. And lo! It was good. Even bracing at times. James even wore a jumper. In fact, if ever there was the perfect intimate pub gig, it was this. But then we've always loved James Yorkston. A lovely start to proceedings. At this point I was thinking that we were in for a classic night, for next up on the roster were The Dears.
No Cities Left is an epic album, and we were consequently expecting much from them. And we got very little. A perfunctory run through of their new album, no talk, no attempt at winning us all round, just a frosty gloom enveloping everyone. God, they were fucking SHIT. Christ, you are paid good money to at least try, Dears. Some of that money comes from my pockets, earned as it is through miserably long hours working in a factory. You, (yes you, the band, The Dears), live an essentially pampered existence, one which I wouldn't mind swapping with you. If you are all so hung up that you can't even raise a thank you to the people who came to see you, then you deserve all the negative energy that I now send to you. Oh, and Mr. Lightburn; one other thing. The next time you turn and ask someone off stage how long you have to play, making it perfectly obvious that the shorter the time is left the better, don't do it in front of the audience.
Upstairs again to The Bravery, who walked onstage looking like some rockabilly fashion outfit. (The bequiffed singer wore what looked like an RAF dress jacket). At this point I thought the worst. I thought, "oh no, even worse", when the first number went all electric disco on me and the bass player adopted an axe wielding, legs astride pose, as if he was riding an invisible horse. Things from then on got rapidly better though, as the band rocked out a quite stunning set full of colour and (sorry) bravado. They really have something, though I'm not quite sure what; because they were not easy to pin down, musically. A bit of electro, a bit of Chameleons and even some Blancmange fergodssake. But they lifted the mood.
Downstairs again to see the 22-20s whose album, with it's no-nonsense '60s tinged rawk music has been a definite hit with this magazine. The 22-20s were great and obvious and up front. All you want with a band when you're in the mood to wig out. Big tunes, growling guitars, scuzzy ambience, lovely. And thee campest bass player of all time. He tossed his lovely, curly mane of hair, he stamped his feet in a high-heel Glam-Rock Bowie kinda way, he pouted and preened. He was all a quivver and a quakin'. I have no doubt that he could throw the best tantrum in Amsterdam that night, if he wanted. He was wonderful.
Our shaking knees got us up the stairs one more time for the Future Kings of Spain, (next year I'm gonna buy me some cramp-ons). They were a band from Dublin, so not wholly enamoured with the London Calling moniker. Maybe they had this in the back of their minds for their on-stage demeanor that night was surly and tense, somewhat narrow-eyed. They belted through some dark, Teenage Jesus/Death Valley 69 growlathons, sounding at total odds with the current NME led "art rock scene" that we have to put up with nowadays. Good. I liked them. They have something. Not that I can properly define it, mind you, but there's something there.
Finally, I was carried downstairs to see, YES! A London band. Honest, a real one. I quickly made notes in my spotter book, dated the sighting and drew each band member in a detailed way, in order to have a visual benchmark so that I could verify any later spottings of London bands I might see in the future. If you see them near you they are called Bloc Party and they ended the night as James Yorkston had begun it. On a massive high. They were tremendous. Left of centre, for sure, but never inaccessible. Their song structures seemingly came out of nowhere. Think Pere Ubu, certainly In a Flat Field era Bauhaus, some Teardrops bits, even shades of Krautrock bands such as Neu!, or Amon Duul 2; (okay some readers will know I'm pushing a leetle too hard there. I'll relent a bit and say that maybe its in the spirit that surrounds the band, whatever, Amon Duul 2 came to mind). Chock full of ideas, and obviously not the finished article, thankfully. Bloc Party are on the way to being something special. I can feel it in my water. There was even an encore.