Spearmint and Piney Gir – The Water Rats – November 14th 2019

I’m none too sure when I first heard Spearmint. It might have been when the much missed ‘Word’ magazine featured one of their tracks, the excellent ‘Scottish Pop’, on their wonderful monthly compilation CD. It could have been as a result of listening to good friend Steve and his effusive praising of the album ‘A Different Lifetime’. 

“It’s got a story running throughout that you’ll definitely relate to”, said Steve. The rise and subsequent fall of relationships was undoubtedly my thing back then. 

Whatever, I’ve been a fan of Spearmint for the best part of twenty years. And, in that time, I’ve never once seen them live. I do remember trying to get my friend Richard to book them for Summer Sundae after I found one of their CDs lurking in the submissions box. “I’ve never heard of them”, he said, promptly putting an end to that plan.

Imagine my excitement then that on a cold Thursday night in London, I’m going to see Spearmint at the Water Rats. The venue is close enough to walk to, just 15 minutes from my new property guardianship. It’s all set up perfectly. 

Water Rats is a fab, iconic venue. I’ve been here years ago but not in the last year since I’ve been living in London. A cosy bar at the front gives way to a back room complete with a decent stage, lighting desk and sound system. It seems better equipped than many of the spit and sawdust gig venues I go to; more upmarket, the place oozes confidence and class. 

Piney Gir supports Spearmint. And makes a bloody good job of it. Piney is dressed in a stylish, 60’s era, black dress with a swathe of green running through it. Her backing singer dresses in identical fashion but the green dash is replaced by red. The backing band dress with similar astuteness. It’s very mod; stylish, cute and kooky with a healthy amount of maraca shaking. “This one was written during a summer when I listened to nothing but doo-wop”, says Piney before launching into a set highlight,  ‘Peanut Butter Malt Shop Heartthrob’. 

Piney’s an engaging raconteur, a bit of a vintage witch and full of ideas about how Spearmint could improve their merch take by selling toothpaste. Most of all though, there’s a smiley joy about this set. Her final song comes with a chorus of ‘I could make you happy every day’ and by the time the song ends few are in the mood to argue. There’s a ton of grinning as we head back to the bar for refills.

 

Spearmint take to the stage on the dot of nine. They’ve got a lot to get through. Mr. Shirley Lee wears a smart dotted shirt and a skinny red leather tie. It’s almost as if he’s come straight from work. The bulk of tonight’s set draws from Spearmint’s recently released album, Are You From The Future?. And I don’t mind this at all seeing as it’s been on regular repeat since I received a copy. It’s a fine work and, in the live setting, the songs come alive even more. The electro-pop urgency of ‘St. Thomas In The Darkness’ sounds nothing like Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ but we still laugh at the observation made by an American journalist in interview. 

Of the new album tunes, ‘Fireflies’, all about the reliability of memories, really hits the spot. ‘Pick The Paper Up’ sees Spearmint firmly nail their colours to Europe and we all love them the more for that. They’re a band of vintage and they use this experience well. You can’t help but gulp in awe when the gently subtle harmonies between the band come to the fore. 

A sprinkling of older tracks are mixed in to keep the nostalgia-heads happy. I guess I’m one of them. I cannot even explain the all-encompassing joy I feel when hearing the likes of Julie Christie, Scottish Pop and The Flaming Lips played live. They are stupendous indie-pop songs. Tonight provides the perfect release from the daily grind. 

It all comes to an end far too quickly. The world would clearly be a better place if more people knew about Spearmint. 

 

The Lottery Winners and Depression, Baby – Sebright Arms – February 26th 2019

I’m glad that I went out tonight. Feeling a tad tired after last night’s restlessness (here), I almost did the unthinkable and curled up early. 

But this room is still sauna-like and frankly unpleasant. I’ve discovered the source of the difficulty though. There’s a thermostat in the corridor of this Airbnb and a guest in another room seems to think it a good idea to turn this up to max at every opportunity. I’m now switching it to something sensible whenever I leave the room. There are no compromises here; this is a ‘negotiation’ I will win by sheer bloody-mindedness.

In truth it wasn’t much cooler down in the basement of the Sebright Arms. Another new London venue, these trips out are delicious. The Sebright is a spacious and busy pub; upstairs the piped music is loud as it dwarves any commentary from the football being shown on the big screen. Nobody seems bothered by Bury vs Portsmouth anyway. 

The basement venue for music is functional, dark and sticky. Tonight, I’ll be watching The Lottery Winners. From oop north, I’ve been aware of the name for a while without paying them much attention. Initial pre-gig impressions are strong; two of them, beardy giants both, shake my hand as I enter the room. They’ve got a slightly blurry, fuzzy backdrop pinned to the wall behind the drum kit announcing the band’s name and some flickering old black and white TV sets dotted around for the same purpose. You suspect that The Lottery Winners mean business.

But first it’s the support for the evening, Depression, Baby. An initial sense that they might be trying a bit too hard to be cool gives way to a general feeling that they’re bloody good and that they’ve got fabulous tunes. It’s swathed in the past with bits of rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop and country coming to the fore. But, there are also cinematic sweeps and velvet flourishes that give this a decadence not unlike Father John Misty or The Last Shadow Puppets. They’ve got a fine vocalist, an interesting turn of phrase lyrically and a neat way of harmonising. New single, No Strangers, still has less than 1,000 Spotify plays and the band are keen to bump this. It’s a travesty that more haven’t listened. Give it time and their listens will surely rocket.

 

It’s also something of a travesty that more don’t know about The Lottery Winners. From the off you know that this is going to be a hoot. Larger than life singer, Tom, choreographs a last-minute band entrance to Push The Button by the Sugababes. He’s an effervescent ball of energy for a 20 stone man; always wise-cracking, corrupting and being mischievous, it’s a bit like watching Johnny Vegas front a band. The joking around and tomfoolery never gets tiresome.

That’s partly because The Lottery Winners have the material to back them up as well. Quite why this quartet from Leigh are still playing free London shows when, by rights, they should have hit the jackpot and be charging for the privilege, is anybody’s guess. The loyal fan base here tonight are already aware of their brilliance but they pick up other converts (including me) en-route. 

The offer is a sort of best of British pop; singalong choruses (‘a publisher’s dream’) harking back to Britpop highs, they freely comment on and criticise the state of life for young people today. Recent single ‘That’s Not Entertainment’, channels their anger about reality TV through a saucy-seaside postcard lens and ending up sounding like the Northern spit of Blur circa The Great Escape. 

Long-standing followers urge for The Lottery Winners to eventually release their album. “We thought we’d cut out the middlemen and put it straight into the charity shops”, quips Tim. “I wrote this one about my Mum, it’s called I don’t love you”, he states before playing a heartfelt lovely number. 

Loud Northern bastards they might be but they’re also the complete ticket. They have the tunes, the stagecraft and the girth. By the time that they get all baggy on us and recall what it’s like to be 21 again, the knowing lyrical nods towards the Inspiral Carpets (This is how it feels) feel almost throwaway. But one suspects that this cleverness is no accident. They encourage a crazy dancing chap to join them on stage, their very own Bez in the making. 

The room is less sauna-like when I eventually arrive home yet the sweat from the venue still lingers. I mightn’t have won the lottery but I’m winning my thermostat battle – and seeing great bands in the process.