Spandex Ballet, The Stuart O’Connor Band, Lady d’Bavardage plus Doggett and Ephgrave

Venue : Club 85, Hitchin
Date : Sunday 7 March 2010
Date of writing this review : 10 March 2010
I blame Tinyfish.  If they were not such a brilliant band and a great bunch of guys with a thriving and entertaining online forum, then I may not have found myself at the Club 85 in Hitchin on a Sunday night to see a band whose name conjures up horrible visions of a clashing mixture of glam and new romantics.  But here I was, for the album launch from Spandex Ballet, one of the side projects from Tinyfish drummer, Leon Camfield, and I was in good company because Bo was here with Robert Ramsay, and we were just a small part of a large, enthusiastic audience.
Oh.  Parental advisory – due to the nature of the performances, there may be some rude words in this review.  If you think you might be offended, please do not read on beyond this point.
The evening began with comedy duo Doggett and Ephgrave, our comperes for the night, and very funny they were too.  They started with epic intro music, projecting pictures from their childhood on to the screen at the back of the stage, and supplying a voiceover against the pictures by way of introduction, before demanding that we “give it up for the finest double act you’ve probably never heard of”.  They combined together very well, resisting the stereotype of straight guy/funny guy, instead trading very humourous banter and living up to the description of being “a bit like Cannon and Ball, only younger and not shit”.  They ran us through a selection of their favourite headlines from the magazines you find alongside supermarket checkouts, with the number 1 headline quite appropriately being ‘My boob burst in Morrisons’.
Next up was Lady d’Bavardage, with some spoken word.  Now, I had no idea what was to come when this delightful and pleasant young lady got up on stage, but any friend of Leon has got to have at least one screw loose, right…well, if she does have then it did not show.  What actually followed was a natural performance using ‘normal’ language, nothing especially fancy for the sake of it, nothing forced, simply poetry more in the form of a stream of consciousness monologue with extended and customised rhyming couplets, never allowing the form and structure to get in the way of the flow.  The words she uses are those we would use in everyday conversation and this allows the listener to easily relate to what she is saying, and even more so given the personal feel of her delivery.  She dealt with a variety of topics, including Richard Jobson, her little brother, Anthony, and one for Leon called An Exception To Your Own Rule because it “is the Spandex Ballet album launch, so what could be better than to embarrass half the band”.  She introduced her final offering with “this is my best attempt at comedy – it’s about cancer”, and proceeded to deliver a verse which was both funny and poignant, with a cutting edge at the end.
Doggett and Ephgrave returned to talk about tribute acts, share some photos of lookalikes who clearly did not lookalike, and then focused on a Wings tribute act from Japan, called Flying Horses, comparing the actual renditions of Live And Let Die and My Brave Face with those as performed by the tribute, and finishing with reference to the actual location of their 26 May 2007 gig (take a look at Live Histories on their website).
Next we had some music from The Stuart O’Connor Band, featuring Leon on a bass which seemed to be bigger than he is, together with Dave Smale on keyboards and Vicky Flint on trumpet and flugelhorn (and given that this is part of a Spandex Ballet review, I know the level of person who will be reading this, so, no, not both at the same time).  They open with The Distance From Ear To Ear from Stuart’s second album, The Distance From Here, Stuart slapping on his acoustic, creating a deep, resonating sound, an upbeat tempo as he sings above it and continues to play the body of his acoustic, producing some rounded, powerful vocals as the track bounces along.  The keyboards roll in with the trumpet giving a jazzy sound, and Leon adds to the sound with his sampler box of tricks.  It shuffles along and then pauses before rumbling on in bursts, picks up a flow and kicks away, before floating on with Leon playing gently on bass.  The trumpet sound is smoother, but then adds a piercing edge as Stuart’s vocals go very high and it pushes along, really picking up the tempo and racing along as the trumpet comes screeching through high before the track fades to a sharp end.Stuart introduces the band, and makes the point that they are a double bass player down tonight, and leaves me thinking that is certainly a sound worth getting to hear.  The keyboards walk in very deep to begin Good Times With Evil and Leon adds percussion as a higher sound echoes through from the guitar.  More looped percussion sounds and Vicky adds a floating sound from the flugelhorn as the whole track eases along, drifting dreamingly.  Stuart’s vocals flow in soulful and push it on with the keyboards and percussion, high notes sliding through, echoing, producing a haunting atmospheric sound which flows on airy, now pushing through in waves before Stuart picks out a part on the acoustic and the keyboards roll with it.  The flugelhorn is weaving into the sound before pushing out of it, and the vocals come in with the percussion sound and rise high as the flugelhorn slides back in with the keyboards, and the track eases on with the vocals high, the percussion working under them, before the flugelhorn screeches through and the keyboards become pointed, then it drifts on to fade to a close.  A wonderful song, brilliantly performed – there is clearly talent within this band.  Stuart asks, “can I have a room full of people giving me the international sign of rock ?” and arms in the air, we are happy to oblige.  He strums in hard on the acoustic to start You Know The Score, again from The Distance from Here, and the keyboards roll as the bass thumps through.  The flugelhorn drifts in and the track rumbles on as the vocals come in with a stacatto feel as it now pushes on hard, with the flugelhorn again drifting in.  The acoustic strums hard before the track breaks open with bursts from the flugelhorn, and Leon now on his sampler keypad as the track rocks along hard, a chaotic sound, sharp, pointed, before it settles and drives on with the vocals crying out, the flugelhorn sound growing, pushing the track into a big, hard stacatto part with more bursts from the flugelhorn.  Then the guitar strums through hard and deep, the keyboards flow into it and Leon adds keypad sounds as the keyboards develop, looping percussion as Leon goes on with the bass, and the flugelhorn comes in sharp, flowing on top with some tremble to it as Leon slides his hand up the neck of the bass, adding some tremble to that movement as well, as the whole sound grows and swirls hard.  High notes pierce out and echo as they float, encountering sharp, fast riffing on the guitar, a maelstrom of sounds piercing high, before Stuart changes suddenly into fast strumming and the sound grows again into that, stopping into powerful vocals and then rolling on, heading into the maelstrom again, pushing into an extended end with a sharp finish.  Stuart dedicates the next song to Lady d’Bavardage, though he admits he does not know how to pronounce that, and the bass thumps into Misfit Theatre as the trumpet floats and then rolls away with a sharp edge.  The keyboards roll into it and Stuart plays the side of his acoustic for percussion as the trumpet shrieks, then the vocals push in fast and the track moves along upbeat into sharp bursts of sound, then flows on again, a jazzy feel as it rolls on into more sharp bursts, with piercing trumpet, and it thunders on with a Brazilian feel to the sound, into vocals which have a hip hop feel, and the keyboards roll under it all with the trumpet now floating along as it strums to a stop.”Thank you to Spandex Ballet for having us”, says Stuart and they push on with an upbeat, airy feel into Shi Buya, with Stuart picking out a circling part on his acoustic guitar as he sings, and the bass gently rumbles under him as David joins in on xylophone and the flugelhorn flows through gently.  It is bouncy as it continues to roll along with that airy feel, before the flugelhorn comes through again and swirls around, the vocals pushing through that sound as it floats, pushing through powefully, crying out, and the bass circles with the vocals and the xylophone rolls along, the flugelhorn still swirling.  The track settles and then bounces on, the vocals crying out again, the flugelhorn swirling in as Stuart adds percussion using the body of his guitar, and the bass rumbles as the xylophone sound circles until David moves back to the keyboards with the guitar echoing through.  Leon is adding sounds from his box of tricks and the whole sound holds, then circles, still holding as Stuart and Leon retrieve individual xylophone bars to play them, the sound looping, with a high part scratching through, the keyboards rolling with it and the flugelhorn echoing in as it fades to an atmospheric end, with Stuart saying, “thanks very much, cheers”.

That was a very accomplished and enjoyable set, and I will be looking out for more from The Stuart O’Connor Band.  They are playing The Flag in Watford on Saturday 13 March before supporting Hayseed Dixie at The Albans Arena on Thursday 18 March, and there are regular gigs thereafter, so get along and see them.

And there is just time before the interval for Doggett and Ephgrave to urge the audience to “buy a copy of the Spandex Ballet album so we can see Leon and Chris go down.  Not in that way.”  They return after the interval and appear to have some problems with the remote being used for the picture projections, prompting Leon to ask, “is that the same remote control I’m about to use ?”  They make an interesting observation that a wall at the Cavern Club in Liverpool is covered with bricks bearing the names of the artists who have played at the venue, but now there is a plaque which gives full details of the two bricks which have been removed – get along to see them if you want to appreciate the full irony in that.  If you are lucky, they will also read you the gay porn letter in a Star Trek style, and you too can enjoy the deep musk smell of William Shatner.
And so to the main event, Spandex Ballet, once a disclaimer from a robotic voice about a pair of simpletons was out of the way, and Leon and Chris Hollis come on to the stage for the most eagerly awaited album launch in Hitchin that evening.
“It really does mean a lot to us that this many of you want to see us go to prison”, and they introduce their opening number as “one of the more innocent songs on our album.  It’s about wanking”.  They are both on acoustic guitar, and the sound gently circles in, with the vocals rolling in with that sound, melodic and upbeat, and it eases away nicely, but that is largely irrelevant here.  The fact is that these are two accomplished musicians who clearly know how to construct a decent tune.  And that sits as a strong structure for their words, the vital segment of their numbers, the satire, criticism and social commentary, which is biting at times, always very well observed, excellently written, and brilliantly delivered.  They know precisely what they want to do and they do it very well.  Here, in the first song, Freak You Out, what appears to be a touching love song with a glorious melody includes the line ‘of all the girls I’ve ever known you’re the only one I’ve felt the need to stalk’, and it brings the whole thing together.  Of course, if you know Leon even slightly, you would expect an irreverent side to it all, and he says they had thought the song needed a better finish, had come up with the idea of using as many idioms for ‘wanking’ as they could think up, but had never been able to perform it without laughing, not even in rehearsals earlier that evening.  They get to that part, the crowd (yes, it has now descended from an audience to a crowd, in line with what is being performed) clap along as they chant it out, and there is huge applause as they bring it to a successful climax.  Yes, I know.  They continue with Knightrider, Leon on bass, Chris on acoustic guitar.  And kazoo.  And they do exactly what it says on the tin – they play the theme from Knightrider on guitar, bass and kazoo.  Leon says they put out a carefully worded press release to accompany the album launch, but the Hitchin Comet decided instead to go with ‘Duo Defy Lawyers To Release Album’.  They make the point at this time that they have dropped songs “because they grew out of date during the writing process”, but I’m Not Sure is one which survived, and very clever it is too.  They strum in fast on the acoustics, giving it a country feel, and then play around on .  Chris circles in on acoustic, with Leon on bass, to start I’m Of A Positive Frame Of Mind On The Occasion That Pre-Ordained Agenda Concludes Satisfactorily, which is “about writing to the A-Team to try and get your girlfriend back”, (presumably why it is also known as ‘Dear A-Team’)including such wonderful lines as ‘spray bullets, hit nothing’ and ‘give milk to Baracus, add drugs so he’s unconscious’.
Whores is about the materialistic world of professional endorsements, where ‘celebrities’ are used to market products which have nothing to do with them at all, or, as Chris puts it in respect of a professional footballer, “you’re a dirty, stinking, pen-hocking whore”, or in respect of a rock vocalist, “you’re selling us insurance, you’re a whore”.  You’re not really reading the bits when I tell you that it’s a lively upbeat number with Chris on acoustic guitar and Leon on bass any more, are you.  You’ll like this next one then, because it turned out to be less a song (in any way, shape or form), and more a rant on Leon’s part.  MAOAM centres around the suggestive pictures on the wrappers of the Maoam range of sweets, and Leon leads us through a range of slides illustrating his contention that the central character is indulging in a form of sitophilia.  Look it up, then take a look at the wrappers.They continue with a cover version, Ballroom by David Devant & His Spirit Wife, both strumming in hard with a Spanish feel, big singing, pronounced, deliberate, and then it holds.  Leon continues, “this tosser went to Barcelona for 3 days, then came back and thought he was Paco de Lucia, who, if you did not know, is a flamenco guitarist”, and Chris responds, “and what I learnt is if you make it loud and stamp at the end, people think it is authentic”.  Chris stands on a raised platform at the back of the stage to demonstrate this style of play.  Leon is not finished, though, and as he pulls a contorted facial expression he makes the point that “this (the facial expression) does not make it Spanish”.  And they continue on with the song, some audience participation when it comes to singing ‘piping’, a quirky ending to a quirky song, and a cry of “Ole !” from Bo.  They will most likely try to convince you that having Spanish Phrasebook next in the set was deliberate planning on their part, playing it from a backing tape, and including the phrase for ‘my penis is unhappy’, and as Chris says, “we did a bit of our set using a bit of the new album, and had to do fuck all”, so you can relive this part of the evening simply by buying the album.  Leon tells those who have desks in front of them that they will find slips of paper with one line of lyric on them.  And suddenly we are detoured into talk of school because he spoke of ‘desks’ and not ‘tables’ – thank goodness no-one noticed that he then continued talking about people who were “sitting on desks” or the intro to My Boombastic Definition Of A Sex Attack would have been longer than the song title itself (take a look at the setlist in my photos on here for the shortened version).  The premise behind this one is that if you read the single lines…well, I’ll allow Leon to explain – “just read one line.  It’s rape.”, and as Chris says, “it’s also one of our first trips into hip hop”.  Leon sings the offending lines, and Chris provides a hip hop commentary on them as it builds to a frantic, fervent close, and their point is proved.Things You Don’t See Too Much Of Nowadays is bouncy and upbeat, and deals with all manner of ‘things’ from ‘Henry Kelly’ to ‘massive bushes in porn’, before the sound turns all Greek.  Or French.  Next up is Ukulele Girl, prompting Leon to declare, “our album’s got a really rapey vibe to it”.  Chris is playing ukulele and Leon is on bongos for this upbeat, flowing, bouncy track.  Just don’t listen to the lyrics.  They continue with Be A Slut, and Leon saying, “this is really where we get into ‘are there any lawyers in the audience’ territory”.  Well, there is at least one, but I am firmly on their side in any litigation !  Chris strums in on acoustic, Leon rumbles in on bass.  Leon sings, Chris comes in on autotune.  And they produce some cutting social commentary on the current fame game including a reference to being double teamed by Hale and Pace.  Nicky Wire has a lovely tune behind it, the acoustic strumming in, the bass rumbling with it, as it eases along melodic and upbeat, with wonderful vocal harmonies.  The best thing (maybe the only thing) I can say about the lyrics are that they conclude with the rhyme ‘set him on fire’.  We reach the climax (yes, I still know) of their set, although Leon makes it very clear there is a prepared encore and he expects us to demand it.  For the final track, There’s Nothing Sexy About Faeces, Chris is playing a Yamaha EZAG guitar and Leon is on keyboards and sampling through his box of delights.  There are only two samples – ‘no’ and ‘sometimes’, which are used as a response to sexual activities listed by Chris, and thankfully most of the time the sample used is ‘no’.  They end to huge applause and leave the stage.

Before rushing back on for the song everyone has been waiting for.  Take a look at the setlist in my photos on here (and at the door notice) to get a better idea of the subject of Wood Versus Evil.  They take the opportunity to make a comment before proceeding, “we’ve put a lot of money into the album and we’re quite worried”, so look out for them setting up their PayPal account so you can buy it online, or get along to see one of their gigs, and get the full experience at the same time as buying it.  The song itself takes on a reggae feel, makes a comparison with Stephen Gately, ‘he’s dead, you’re not – there’s no God’, before hitting into the essential message of the song, ‘if you fuck with a Beatle then you’re fucking with the nation’, and Leon becomes something of a manic rasta to bring a very funny and entertaining and clever set to a close.

And I have managed to type this up in time to let you know that you can catch both Doggett and Ephgrave AND Spandex Ballet at The George in Hitchin on Thursday 18 March.  Late bar and cheap drinks all night, it says on this flyer.  Which should ensure they get a suitable audience.  Alternatively, you can see Leon playing with Tinyfish as part of the Progeny 3 weekend in Leamington Spa, when they will be playing a Saturday lunchtime set on 8 May from 1pm until 2.45pm at the Robbins Well pub.
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