Monday, December 12, 2005

Hair's apparent


The Different Kettle Of Fish Super Special Christmas Fandango - and quite possibly the last ever ADKOF night - doesn't get off to the best of starts.

First of all, on entry we're confronted with a sign which reads: "Due to bad illness Hooker will not be playing". They are one of the main reasons I've come - and this is the second time they've dropped out and left ADKOF impressario Phill in a bit of a pickle. He's done his best to ascertain the validity of the aforementioned "bad illness" - apparently the drummer has an abcessed tooth and sounded dreadful on the phone - even going so far as to research the condition online.

Second of all, Motorcycle Stunts. An indication of what they're all about: stool-perching and furrowed brows feature heavily. There are the occasional glimpses of something more promising, and the vocalist's voice is not without power (though his lyrics are), but sadly for the most part it's over-serious, over-emotive, under-written and under-imagined stodge. And to lay claim to a band name that connotes excitement and daring - you familiar with the Trades Descriptions Act, lads?

A tad harsh? Well, perhaps. Because as it turns out, they're the perfect opening act for what follows. And what follows is quite remarkable.

The Pubic Fringe are personal favourites of eccentric curmudgeon Mark E Smith of The Fall, with whom they've toured, and approximately thirty seconds into their set they're one of mine too. Immaculately abrasive yet extraordinarily tight, they're a brutal psychobilly covers band roughly (and that's the operative word here) in the mould of The Cramps with nods and winks in the direction of The Birthday Party and The Stooges.

They sound like they've forgotten to take their medication. Like there's other people's skin under their fingernails. Like if they weren't on stage they'd be in the gutter eating dog-ends.

Vocalist Nazi Sinatra is the inevitable focal point. Clad in a tasselled cowboy shirt, he lurches back and forth apparently using the mic stand for support and chainsmoking, a fact which immediately explains his extraordinary rasping growl.

The set careers through a series of stomping three-minute songs before reaching its peak with a much longer number about "old-time religion" which might be what The Doors would have sounded like (criminally lame rock hack cliche alert!) had they experimented with ketamine rather than LSD and spent their days chewing their own arms off.

Under the circumstances, for me to stand tapping my foot and nodding my head is akin to saying "Excuse me, would you mind leaving me alone - there's a good chap" while being savaged by a rabid pitbull. This music demands a rather less restrained and polite reaction. Curse that English reserve.

A remarkable band, then. And, perhaps most remarkably, they're from Stourbridge.

And then from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Trash Fashion left Birmingham for London seeking fame and fortune like modern day Dick Whittingtons, and their homecoming has enticed a number of "the Custerati" (copyright Phill) to stray from their spiritual home and into the sort of grotty venue they'd normally avoid at all costs. And that means assymmetrical haircuts and unusual and colourful mix 'n' match clothing. Of course, they only appear from upstairs once The Pubic Fringe have exited stage right. What a shame - it would have been entertaining to have watched them getting a new arsehole torn.

When Trash Fashion appear, they too are quite something visually. A guitarist with a bizarre ponytail-meets-Kajagoogoo haircut, a single dangly earring and a bright orange jumpsuit. A vocalist wearing a black hat, a skeleton mask, a pair of shades and a long black mac, soon discarded to reveal nothing but a pair of black 80s football shorts. And, er, a drummer with a mohawk.

And when they start playing, my first thought is of EMF gone cock rock.

My next thought is that they're the band Dan Ashcroft would unequivocally slate in Sugarape only for the Nathan Barleys of this world to read the piece, take it as an ironic commentary and flock to their gigs for fear of missing out on the hippest thing going. The idiots.

To be fair to Trash Fashion, they're not exactly serious, singing about "meat and two veg" and ditching the guitars mid-set and coming over like an electro Goldie Lookin Chain for a song about rave culture.

It's about this point when my interest is at its peak (though even then I'm viewing them with detachment if not suspicion from the back of the room), but it soon goes downhill again, and the utterly rubbish encore is an awful mistake.

The moral of the evening's tale? Beware the tide of fashion - it's often more honourable and infinitely more dignified to be washed up on the shore than to strive to stay at the crest of the wave.

To mark the death of ADKOF, on leaving the venue Phill ceremoniously launches a leftover mince pie into the canal (oh sorry, did I forget to mention that you missed out on food too?). Its silver foil tray glints in the moonlight as the baked goods arc towards the water. We laugh (though internally several tears are shed) and walk off into the night.

Who knows what happened next. I like to think that the pie rose Excalibur-like from the depths, and that ADKOF will live on - though not like some freakish Frankenstein's monster that runs amok out of the control of its creator, obviously...


Anonymous the other Jonathan said...

You know, the least surprising thing about Public Fringe is that they should come from Stourbridge. That one-horse Black Country town has produced more than its fair share of bands who sound like they may have forgotten to take their medication. Pop Will Eat Itself, Neds Atomic Dustbin and Wonderstuff emerged from there in quick succession during the heyday of Grebo, the movement memorably defined by Stuart Maconie as encompassing 'any bunch of hairy-arsed lads who came from Stourbridge and lived in a van' or words very much to that effect.

Meanwhile the neighbouring town of Halesowen has produced absolutely no musical talent of any importance whatsoever, unless I am greatly mistaken. The entire population should hang their heads in shame. And don't even get me started on Rowley Regis.

12:07 am  
Blogger Ben said...

To quote Dan from 'I'm Alan Partridge': "'I stand corrected', said the man in the orthopaedic shoes". Not exactly familiar with the respective oeuvres of Ned's Atomic Dustbin and PWEI, but The Pubic Fringe were certainly quite something.

12:26 pm  
Blogger Donna S said...

First of all, said 'Stourbridge' bands came from all over the region really, but Clint Poppie went to King Ed's, and then there was the art college, the Mitre pub... and don't forget the Ring Road of Death that claimed the life of Bunnyman Pete de Freitas... Stourbridge just has it going on! In comparison, anyway.

By way of this train of thinking, 'comparison' is not the key to appreciating ADKOF's final line-up - but contrast surely is. I have not heard Hooker yet (will I ever?), but as for the three other bands that took part in proceedings that night, could you get more of an ecclectic mix?

I know I'm perhaps biased, but I think Neil of the 'stunts is a fantastic lyricist... but emotive? Yes, he's guilty. Having said that, what is wrong with emotive? Besides, I told them there was a poet, so they played a fairly laid-back set *blushes*. They do have some up-beat songs too.
The name? Maybe that suits the songs you didn't hear better. Then again, weren't BMX Bandits on of those 'pop' bands from Scotland in the early 90s? similar thing I'd have thought?
Like you, I fair appreciated the Pubic Fringe... they ticked all the boxes - attitude, anti-style, clang-clang guitars... they were even ugly! Still, after the nth song, I wasn't actually sure I liked them. Perhaps one of the reasons the custerati's entrance was so noticeable was because the room was fairly empty during their raucous set? (notes smugly that this was not the case for the previous band).
Trash Fashion? Well, they should have annoyed me immensely... but by contrast I found myself liking them.

Different Strokes to move the world, Willis!

3:33 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

You're absolutely right about the eclectic mix, Donna - that's what made the nights (and that last hurrah in particular) so interesting, even if (as Phill has said) all the bands hated each other...

Yep, the room was pretty empty for The Pubic Fringe, and they evidently scared a few people off mid-set - but then I quite like that in a band. Motorcyclestunts I just found bland, but from what I can remember I think my verdicts on all three bands may have been in the minority.

11:57 pm  

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