The Islington O2 Academy prides itself on being London’s smallest academy. It also seems to pride itself on being a bit shit. Not on its own in terms of academy venues, this is a space that appears to relish in sucking the life and soul out of live music. I find myself wondering, whilst there on Friday night, whether the whole set-up is a great conspiracy, an establishment investment. Make music venues naff and stack the cards against enjoying gigs and then people will come out less – bingo – control and suppression at its best. Thank goodness that London has so many other venues that buck that trend.
I concede that my conspiracy theory is an extreme one. But I have evidence with which to back it up. Expensive beer and an excessively poor range (fine if you like Carling); broken hinges on urine-soaked toilet doors; bands having to accept the less than adequate sound mix they’re given; crazy rules that dictate that once you’ve entered the venue you can’t leave if you want to come back in (despite gigs starting at 6.30PM) and over-the-top security searches. I could go on but I won’t. And in the interests of balance, the bar staff here in Islington are friendly.
I’m here as the afternoon gives in to the evening to see Day. They’re an act that I’ve been keen to see for a little while. Alex fronts up Day and also sings backing vocals in one of my favourite live discoveries of this London year, Fake Turins. (Reviews of them here and here). Alex has enthusiastically promoted Day live shows to me by e-mail but I’ve always had to make excuses with something else on. This O2 Academy gig supporting Life At The Arcade is my opportunity.
Alex warns me that the gig has a hideously early start time. Half six on a Friday might be a challenge for some but not for me living a literal stones throw from this space. “I’ve never played a gig so early”, says Alex to other friends gathered.
Day are an interesting proposition, a work-in-progress that have more than enough about them to keep on moving forward. As the venue manager waves an incense stick around to take away last night’s smells, the four-piece take to the stage. It’s lo-fi hippy; a sound mess of an intro gives way to an off-kilter police siren before a classic rock sound fuelled by Led Zep chords comes to the fore. There are obviously experimental kazoo-bits, cardboard didgeridoo’s and blasts of saxophone.
Alex’s exceptional rock vocal holds it all together. In ‘Chasing Sugar’, his range goes from the bass of a Barry White into the falsetto of a Jimi Somerville in the space that verse changes into chorus. A set highlight for me comes at the end of Day’s set when they launch into ‘I have everything I need’. I interpret it as an instant anti-greed, climate-change classic, delivered in the style of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.
For a work-in-progress, Day have set their bar high.
Still early evening when Day finish, I look to temporarily head out of Islington’s O2 Academy to get a bite to eat. There are still three bands to play and it’ll be a long night without food. “Sorry sir, company rules is that once in we can’t do re-entry”, says the sympathetic guy on the door. After some radio kerfuffle, an exception is made for me. I’m grateful yet the venue has a handful of people within. Their practice is odd.
I return to see Juke Lucid take to the stage. I’ve got a real downer on the venue by this time. Sonic Breakfast in a critical mood is probably not what bands want when I’m reviewing and my notes on Juke Lucid are abrupt. I note that they’re perfectly pleasant if a bit characterless, little more than background music in a shit venue. The bland pop gets marginally more exciting when a chap in a hoodie takes to the stage to rap. Jake Lucid end with a cover of Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’. I suspect that their music would sound better in a different venue.
History & Lore are up next and fare little better than Juke Lucid in terms of grabbing my attention. Perhaps my grumpy mood is crumbling because I do note that the five of them make a decent sound, even if it’s not my thing. The lead guitarist and singer has an arrogance suggesting he’s better then he actually is but their keyboard player sings and is very good. There’s a Los Campesinos feel to some of their work. That’s the extent of my notes.
I feel genuinely sorry for Life At The Arcade. Tonight’s headliner have travelled all the way from Liverpool to be welcomed by a fistful of fans. Life At The Arcade deliver indie scouse melody with charm and theatre. They’re all dressed in black t-shirts and have clearly thought about their show. Some might argue that the world has to many Catfish & The Bottlemen, Blossoms or Circa Waves tribute acts but I’m not one of them. As tough a gig as this might have been for Life At The Arcade, they keep on it throughout. They now just need to stop playing such shit venues in the hope of developing their career.
There’s still time to catch last orders (and more) in a pub around the corner. It’s a pub with nice beer, decent toilets and a bunch of cracking tunes on the jukebox. I can see why it would make for a fun Friday night.