It's become a yearly, or six monthly, pleasure, to visit Brighton for a night out with Toby and Darren. We saw Cate Le Bon doing her own rather splendid thing in the summer and this time we had tickets for local lads made good Toy and their homecoming gig at the Haunt down by the pier.
I was no expert on the band but I'd heard, and enjoyed, several of their tracks on YouTube and elsewhere. I had slight reservations about them as I do about many psychedelic revivalists. I'm ambivalent about shoegazing, too, and they certainly have elements of that. Krautrock, however, I'm a big fan of and in the drumming of Charlie Salvidge there's certainly traces of Neu. For this he's forgiven for having the haircut of an East German footballer from the early eighties.
I'd arrived in Brighton late afternoon and after a quick, and tasty, pint downstairs in The Pond pub we moved upstairs to the Sing Tong Thai. I had holy basil tofu with egg fried rice. It was the first Thai food I'd had for ages and, onions aside (I'm no fan), it was delicious and had exactly the right level of spiciness. It's a pity I've only discovered this place now as it's due to close in January and I'm unlikely to be in Brighton again before then.
We couldn't glean any information on who'd be supporting Toy or what time the bands would be on so we arrived early, about eight, to find we'd missed most of JC Flowers' set. Which was a pity because the two and half songs we heard sounded highly promising. Darren was so impressed he bought the album on leaving the venue. He managed to resist splashing out £20 on a limited edition Toy 7"!
The oddly named JC Flowers were a studious, vaguely gothic, looking bunch. Guitarist Noel Anderson perched on a chair facing away from the audience making Issie Spurgeon undoubtedly the focus of attention. Her voice haunting and intricate. I'd make comparisons to Liz Fraser of The Cocteau Twins but that's probably crazily high praise. Either way they seem like an interesting prospect and I'm certainly curious to hear what they do in the future and to have a listen to the album next time I'm round Darren's place.
Watching Toy reminded me of countless gigs I'd attended in the late eighties and early nineties, usually in The Boston Arms or The Electric Ballroom. Blokes in black t-shirts making a glorious racket with their guitars whilst the whole thing remains underpinned with a fey sensibility and an aloof, though unthreatening, demeanour.
Charlie Salvidge and bassist Maxim 'Panda' Barron would probably not be permitted on those stages with those haircuts in those days. Barron divided me and my friends. Whilst I'd not want to sport his hairstyle I was actually quite enamoured with his stage antics, mane shaking, and bass hero theatrics.
It both complimented, and stood in counterpoint, to vocalist/guitarist Tom Dougall's more studied cool. A cool of the indie school. On some songs, most specifically, I'm Still Believing from new album Clear Shot, he carries the air, and the voice, of a young Stephen Pastel.
Where they forge ahead of other contemporaries mining C86 and late sixties rock for inspiration is, as mentioned earlier, in the incorporation of a drum style ripped from the Klaus Dinger textbook. It propels their better songs, Motoring for example, with a juicy, impatient urgency.
Max Oscarnold, who replaced Alejandra Diaz in the band last year, also adds Another Dimension to their sound. Not so much in terms of tunes but in texture. His whirrs and clicks giving a band that could sound a little retro a more forward looking feel.
The band didn't seem too happy with the sound throughout the gig. They were constantly asking the engineer to turn the vocals up and, though I didn't notice any problems, I wondered if this meant they were perhaps a tad below par. There were a few songs that dragged a bit and I came out having witnessed a good, rather than a great, gig. Which was a pity as they've got all the elements, the sound, the looks, the attitude in place. I'm fairly confident they'll raise their games and write some more absolute killer tunes in the future. I'd love for them to make their fourth album their classic.
The gig finished at 10 so The Haunt could clear up the crushed up cans of Red Stripe and host an eighties revival night. Having lived through that decade I felt no need to stick around. We retired to the nearby Cricketers pub for a nightcap before turning in. A highly satisfying evening.
Thanks to Darren for picking up the tab on the meal and for Toby, Cheryl, Saffron, and Estelle for putting us up and for the posh chocolate spread on toast for breakfast. Another great trip to Brighton.