Monday, October 30, 2006

Better Days remembered - ICA C86

I very nearly didn’t go to either of the C86 gigs, but I suppose that’s a risk you take when you entrust buying the tickets to a rampant alcoholic with a short-term memory. On the upside, I missed Friday’s gig, thereby saving £25 on seeing the Magic Numbers. I did see them at the ICA a few years ago around the time Heavenly were signing them; a number of the Heavenly mafia were gushing to me animatedly about how brilliant the Numbers were after that show. I couldn’t see it myself and the passage of time hasn’t improved their standing in my mind.

Desperation to get a ticket for Saturday even had me emailing Phil Wilson, someone with whom I’ve had contact for at least a week, but, almost unbelievably, he had at least 8 friends he’d known longer than a week. Tickets were eventually secured legitimately without any pulling of strings or involving showbiz pals.

Saturday was a good evening, if bloody expensive (£25 tickets – that’s including your booking fee, pedants – and £3.20 for a beer). First up, The Wolfhounds unleashed the most scabrous, unholy, ferocious, screaming noise. There’s every chance a number of indie kids are now suffering permanent hearing damage and calling that gig “their Who concert”; it’d be better calling it just a bit fucking stupid.

Possibly fucking stupid of me to stay right to the end, but when they hit their scratchy intensity full-on they could be quite special. I part company with The Wolfhounds somewhere around the second album, Bright and Guilty, when they were a little too hard’n’heavy for my liking, but up till then they had some true flashes of greatness. It was a rare treat to hear Rent Act, as vital to 1988 as Elephant Stone and There She Goes; as an epitaph, any band should be happy with that...

“No one is listening, but let’s shout out loud to prove that we’re alive!” Obviously Phil Wilson has to start with “I Fall” just because of that battle cry. Later there’s a simpler one from Phil: “Twee my arse!”

It was just him and trumpeter Big John; the rest of the music came pre-recorded – with authentic, shambolic mistakes, according to Phil. Now, I loved their show in that Peckham pub in January; better still – maybe because it was my first time, or just the bigger space accommodated them more favourably – was the Spitz return four years ago. This time round, much as I enjoyed the gig, I wasn’t sure about the hissing drum machine used on the backing track. A quick poll of my friends revealed exactly half for and half against the drum machine.

Still, Phil kept his word to this blog and played Better Days. Which was nice.

From Postcard-influenced pop (c’mon, you can hear Josef K’s Chance Meeting in The June Brides, can’t you?) to one of the original Postcard pop stars, Roddy Frame. Roddy opened with his debut for Postcard – and still his best song, I reckon – Just Like Gold. He followed that with a version of Orange Juice’s debut Falling and Laughing. Two women in my immediate vicinity cried during How Men Are. He can still move people to tears.

It did get a bit showbiz, what with getting the audience to sing parts of songs, but Roddy was a great raconteur and entertainer. If you ever get the chance to see him in a smaller environment – his gig four years ago at St Aloysius Social Club in Euston was my favourite that year; more recent shows at the 12 Bar Club had a warmth and intimacy far greater than even this personal, touching show - then go and don't look back.

As for being a 20-year anniversary of C86 or indie’s birth, this was a fine night, but the anniversary is celebrated - often far better - by events like the two Scalaramas in 99 and 2000, or Track and Field’s annual Pow To The People day. There are others around the country; there are ‘popfests’ in San Francisco; C86 and its spirit lives on in such events.

Whether we needed the ICA to commemorate something so vibrant and living – and at such great expense to the consumer, used to far cheaper gigs, and far cheaper everything (did no one at the ICA see the excerpts from the Hungry Beat documentary where a number of people banged on about the scene’s links with socialism?) – with such profiteering is another matter entirely.

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