Gazel and Gurl – St Pancras Old Church – November 4th 2019

2019 has been good for me. The nights draw in, the fireworks light up the sky, Christmas calls from around the corner and those of us with a romantic bent can’t help but get a bit reflective. At a ripe old age I’ve finally descended upon London and thrown myself into all that it has to offer. 

There are moments from the year, memories that can be plucked from its ether that will register above others. First visits to venues that I’ve since grown to love will always resonate. When I initially stumbled upon Hackney’s fine Paper Dress Vintage, I caught Gazel in full.flow. Gurl were her support band on that balmy evening as well. My review (here) suggests that I’d be a fool to not see Gazel again before the year is out. 

St Pancras Old Church is a venue I’ve wanted to get along to for a little while. The programme there tends towards acoustic Americana and that’s right up my alley as regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know. But tonight, in a repeat viewing of that fine night back in May, Gazel and Gurl are once again challenged to warm me up. The seasons have changed; you need a coat and a mulled wine in addition to the acts tonight. The line-up is familiar.

St Pancras Old Church is an odd beast. I’ve been to music venues in decommissioned churches before yet it seems that this space still doubles up as a place of worship. Perhaps that why on entering that the atmosphere feels subdued; it’s like you’re gatecrashing a wedding of somebody you barely know. A cash bar sells an array of alcohol in cans and bottles. I crack open a can as I sit on one of the pew-like seats and feel desperately short-changed when I realise that my beer won’t quite fit in the hymn-book holder of the seat in front. 

It seems that Gurl are similarly spooked by their religious surrounds. Their lead singer says as much a few songs in. The vocal range is as impressive as the first time I saw them and yet the overall performance feels more restrained. The songs still stand out as quality as the music ebbs and flows between 80’s influenced pop and fulł-on glam. The band again repeat how they fortuitously met Gazel via a social media connection. There’s clearly much love and respect between the two. And they’re a band you can’t help but like.

Gurl might have been a bit constrained by the church but the opposite is true of Gazel. Where Paper Dress Vintage might have felt a bit too hemmed in, the extra space afforded to Gazel within this venue allows her expansive vision to truly come alive. So, lights in strong shades of purple, pink, white and red bounce around the nave and ceiling of the church like spirits on the escape from Gazel’s Book of spells. This is the official album release of her Book of Spells, a perfect opportunity to marry the spiritual with the concept in appropriate surrounds. 

Gazel takes to the stage clutching a miners lamp. Wrapped in a green robe and with long curls running down her back, she’s every inch the fantasy figure from your favourite fairy story. She sings sweetly as her band (a keyboardist and drummer) create the fabric. Like Madonna in her Ray Of Light period, Gazel draws upon middle Eastern rhythm to add flourish to her pop. She dances provocatively and giddily twists, a dervish of fun in a sanctuary of friends. 

For some, the pretension within the art might be too much. It’s true that the concept is a busy one that demands attention. And Gazel’s hyperactivity doesn’t cease; she bangs a drum, she reads poetry from her book and now she plays notes on her violin. For most though, the overall impact is engaging. And when all are urged to stand and dance at the end of the set, we oblige. The room has gone evangelical in its praise of Gazel. 

With her debut album launched, we wait to see what her next twist, turn and trick might be. 

LegPuppy and Dismembered Sound Booth – The Victoria – October 31st 2019

I’ve never much celebrated Halloween. Maybe that’s a generational thing? I can’t recall dressing up as a scene from a nightmare and knocking on doors asking for Haribo chews in my youth. I guess for some the thrill of putting on a witches costume, plastering your face in errant make-up and taking pictures of yourself to add to your favourite social media account is too strong a pull. 

Thank goodness that London still has the free gig scene to dip into instead if Halloween does not float your boat. And sometimes those gigs are altogether stranger than the main event.

Up at the Victoria in Dalston, there are more than your fair share of zombies walking around, more than you’d get on a typical Thursday. I’m here at one of my favourite London venues for LegPuppy’s Halloween extravaganza. So weird and theatrically out-there are Legpuppy that every day is arguably Halloween for this oddball art collaboration.

But before LegPuppy do their thing, I arrive in time to catch Dismembered Sound Booth’s delightful set of off-kilter revolutionary electro-pop. There are four of them and the two up front who mostly sing have painted their faces as a nod to the night’s celebrations. “You’re so fucking beautiful you make me sick”, they all sing on repeat as a video jumps through all sorts of image on the screen behind. 

It doesn’t take me long to realise that I love what Dismembered Sound Booth are creating here. They rant against Hackney trendies, the sadness of alcoholism and celebrity culture, never standing still for long enough to be pigeon-holed. It’s as if Jarvis Cocker formed a group from the remnants of The Shamen, Happy Mondays and Chumbawumba and convinced all that they should perform like Public Service Broadcasting. It’s playful and sinister in equal measure. We all nod at the wisdom of lines like ‘I choose chemicals to make me more conversational’ and delight as the two who take singing duties feed each other fake drinks. It’s doesn’t all make sense – and neither should it. Dismembered Sound Booth end with ‘The Fuck Show’ and we stand gobsmacked. 

 

But that feeling of joyous bewilderment gets higher still when LegPuppy take to the stage. Instrument wise, it’s set up like a DJ set. A man in a leather gimp mask stands behind the box of beats orchestrating proceedings whilst all manner of theatrical things occur around. A spurned bride, dressed to resemble a Tim Burton character slowly strokes a puppy (of the cuddly toy variety) whilst a menacing predator strolls around. Behind both is LegPuppy’s Bez – a crazy dancer who bounces around whilst being buggered by an inflatable ghost. It’s truly something else. 

Music wise, LegPuppy serve up some pretty dark, industrial fodder. Lyrically, the angry tone is often lightened by the humour. ‘Selfie stick, narcissistic prick’ runs the chant as the hypnotic rhythm reels you in. There’s points being made and points being scored as the performance builds to a cacophonous convulsion. It’s all simply wondrous.

Another band follow but they seemed blessed with an ounce of normality and after the wild scenes from the two acts I’ve seen tonight my eyes can take no more. I pass ghouls and ghosts, witches and wizards on the wander home but it all seems tame in comparison to the night I’ve had.

Blossoms, whenyoung and Inhaler – Sebright Arms – October 28th 2019

Something isn’t right. I’ve been at the Sebright Arms before on a Monday night and it’s never been this busy. People are queuing outside the door of the basement to get in. The 200 capacity club is rammed to the rafters and all for an act that I can find little out about online. Who the fuck are Zuzu’s Petals? An obscure American grunge influenced band from back in the 1990’s with a few Spotify hits each month? The kids must clearly be onto something here. I hang around the sweat-laden basement to see what follows. 

Jack Saunders is apparently the late night Radio 1 indie DJ of choice. Fair play to him – that’s some gig to get and he must hold a fair bit of sway amongst up and coming bands. Tonight is part of his series of  ‘Hopscotch’ gigs. He jumps onto the stage to introduce Zuzu’s Petals.

I’m very sorry“, he tells the assembled throng. “Zuzu’s Petals have been unable to make it.“. Nobody seems that disappointed.

“But as we often do at Hopscotch, we’ve been able to find a last minute replacement. I’m delighted to introduce to you – Blossoms.

The crowd, small and rabid, go ape. They delight in their luck though many clearly had more of an inkling about what was going on than I did. I’ve seen Blossoms before but only on much larger festival stages. I’d enjoyed their melody and songwriting but would never have described them as urgent and immediate. Tonight in such a small venue that’s exactly what they are. They rattle through their tunes. Charlemagne sounds bold and modern; the crowd are pleased by the pick and mix attitude of Blossoms; they mosh like their lives depend upon it. 

 

Truth is that even without Blossoms, this free gig is a thing of real quality. The sub-headliner whenyoung have been ripping up the festival circuit this summer. Coming across as the  missing link between The Cranberries and Blondie, they’ve got a captivating front person in Aoife Power. At times her vocal seems to be stretching a bit too far and that’s either the charm or the downfall of whenyoung. Apparently, they count Bono as a friend and fan.

 

And that might explain why Inhaler are also on tonight’s bill. I’m stuck at the front of the queue, trying to get into the venue whilst ‘industry types’ and their partners push on past. I have time to look up Inhaler on my phone and note that Bono’s son is in the band. I’m not much of a U2 fan but I’m also sure that my son wouldn’t want to be judged by his Dad’s output. So, I listen as best I can; I get the slightest of glimpses of the band and they look the part. For a moment, I convince myself that this is why the room is so very crowded. It’s not ground breaking but it’s indie guitar music done with a style and flourish. They’ll go far. 

 

Fame and celebrity are funny old beasts. I can’t deny that I feel pretty lucky to have chanced upon this evening; it’s another London gig that I’ll never forget. I also wonder whether I should have missed out so that a proper fan of tonight’s acts could have taken my place. 

Still – onwards and upwards.