If it’s London in February and it’s tipping down, it must be time for the London Pop Fest. So it was that we found ourselves heading towards the 100 Club for the all-dayer, with tickets clenched tightly in our hands and our hearts filled with anticipation of the delights ahead of us. [Actually, ‘tickets’ isn’t really the right word. More a soggy printout with a barely legible number on it that no-one would look at any way. Tickets used to be varied, interesting and worth hanging on to (even if just to remind me who I’d actually seen). A collection of old e-mails doesn’t really hold the same attraction. Anyway, I’m rambling. ]
Having been to the same all-day bash last year, I had very high expectations for this year’s event. After all, last year had introduced me to Allo Darlin’, Shrag and Standard Fare, who would all go on to produce cracking albums later that year. Could this year’s line-up prove their equal?
First up were London-based The History of Apple Pie, who set the scene for the day by giving us all a large dose of feedback just as they were setting up. Their set certainly wasn’t helped much by a muddy sound (which persisted for most of the day, or maybe it’s just my ears) that gave us plenty of drums but precious little vocals. A mostly Painsy type sound ensued but they were pleasant enough and had me tapping my foot, which is always a good sign.
There was a touch of Strawberry Switchblade about ‘You’re So Cool’ which I enjoyed a lot, although the audience interaction from the band was noticeable only by its absence. They were not alone in this respect as it was something that was generally lacking all day. I’m not expecting everyone to be a convivial raconteur but something more than a quietly mumbled ‘Thanks’ wouldn’t go amiss. A good start to the day nevertheless and a band to file under ‘one to keep an eye on’, which is exactly where I had Shrag this time last year, so they are in good company.
Next on were the band with the best name of the day: Humousexual. Two blokes: one drummer/singer and one guitarist with a dodgy amp. Sadly, their name was the best thing about them. Again, the sound prevented the vocals from carrying clearly but there was plenty of enthusiasm for them, as they had people down the front dancing and singing along – no mean achievement for five-to-five on a wet afternoon.
Plenty of songs about London in their short set: South London, East London, Camberwell – do they need to upgrade their travelcard? One major problem with only having drums and guitar is that if, as here, the guitar amp fails, it does rather leave you watching just someone singing while bashing a solitary snare and not a lot else. Full marks to him for carrying on without missing a beat (literally) but it all left me rather cold, I’m afraid, although they weren’t without a few enjoyable moments. The White Stripes they definitely ain’t though…
Evans the Death were much more my cup of tea. They’d been a last minute replacement at the Lexington the month before and had made a good racket that night, even if the singer had a cold, so I was expecting good things from them. The first thing that struck me about them is that they’re young. Very young. For ones so tender in years, they can certainly rock, as they moved from all-out noise to a more refined and melodic aspect with ease. Singer Katherine Whitaker has a great voice and numbers such as ‘I’m so unclean’ and ‘Sleeping Song’ sound pretty good to me. More amp problems didn’t distract too much from their set. They’ve got all the basics in place and are capable of moving on to produce something really good if they keep going like this. They’ve just signed to the wonderful Fortuna Pop label and are another band to keep a close eye on in 2011.
I can tell you nothing about the Felt Tips, as that was the time for a quick dash to Chinatown and back to get some grub and be accosted by a Big Issue seller on the way. He was ecstatic with the few quid I gave him, kissing my cheek and telling how he was going to ‘panel someone’ later as he now had ‘seven hours to get pissed’ before ‘seeing his kids tomorrow’. He then narrowly avoided being flattened in the middle of Shaftesbury Avenue (and thereby wasting his panelling and drinking opportunities) by shouting at the lorry. A surreal few minutes.
Eux Autres were our next entertainment and another band I was looking forward to seeing, as their latest album ‘Broken Bow’ has some real gems on it. Hailing from San Francisco, they prefer to sing in French sometimes, which I’m sure makes perfect sense to them. Much enjoyment was had by watching the bassist who is obviously a graduate of the “Bill Botting School of Bass Playing” – lots of bouncing around. They’re another band with more than their fair share of facial hair, which is becoming pretty much de rigueur for a lot of bands recently (apart from Evans the Death who are either female or too young to participate). I’m not sure it’s good development but, hey, what do I know about youth trends? Eux Autres gave us some inspired moments of gorgeous female vocals against a jangly backing and it was all over too soon. One to see again, in my book.
What is it that makes some people in bands stand out from us mere mortals? I was just behind three people while watching Eux Autres and thought ‘they must be in a band’. I’m not sure what I based it on but I was right as half an hour later they were all on stage as half of Help Stamp Out Loneliness, who then proceeded to give us the first real performance of the night. I’m not denigrating any of the other bands but Help Stamp Out Loneliness just have a certain zing that sets them apart.
Maybe it’s their lead singer who absolutely demands your attention, maybe it’s their mere presence on stage (as it was when they were standing in the audience) or maybe it’s just their wall of synth/guitar powered-pop but whatever it is they have it to spare. Vocal comparisons with Nico are unavoidable and this is one band that is capable of taking the pop-world by storm this year. Their debut album is out on WIAIWYA records in May, so look out for it.
I had been really excited about finally getting to see Bearsuit. They’ve been around for a fair while now and no-one has ever really sounded like them. They’ve undergone a bit of a line-up change in recent years and are now a five piece guitar/keyboard combo, with a drummer who looks like someone’s mate who turns up to make up the numbers at five-a-side but ends up being more than a bit useful. They perform mostly new songs from their forthcoming Fortuna Pop CD and seem to think they needed to apologise for it. No need, as it all sounds great and they deliver a series of numbers about ‘sexual exploitation in the woods’. The darkest recesses of singer Iain Ross’ mind have never sounded so good. The new single ‘When Will I Be Queen’ went down well, as did its two predecessors, ‘A Train Wreck’ and ‘Please Don’t Take Him Back’ and then they were gone leaving me wanting more and looking forward to the new CD.
I have to confess that before the day started, I’d have been happy to leave at this point, as I knew that things would overrun, making it tight to get back for the last train.
Also, I knew very little about The Monochrome Set except that they have been around for more years than the rest of the line-up put together. It soon became apparent that they were the reason why the gig had sold out as the place rapidly filled up as The Monochrome Set wandered on-stage sporting a variety of interesting outfits, berets, pipes and but a single moustache.
They had the appearance of a collection of secondary school art teachers. They were very popular with the new audience but I couldn’t help noticing that most of the crowd from earlier no longer seemed to be watching. One comment I overheard was ‘They’re alright but nothing special’ which summed up my thoughts precisely. I watched for a few more numbers and drifted off for the train.
If ever there was a audience of two halves, this was it.
Although the evening had not ended on such a high as last year, when the magnificent ballboy headlined, it’d had been a top notch day and I’m already looking forward to next year’s bash immensely. See you there and don’t forget your raincoat.
The London Pop Fest 2011, was an all-day event held on Saturday 26th Feb at the 100 Club.