review archive
BMX Bandits / Melys / Dudley Corporation / Airport Girl The Spitz, 16th November 2002

The fourth night of Strange Fruit’s fourth anniversary festival is kicked off in rousing style by Airport Girl, all 101 jangling strings. It’s an old formula, but my how I still love it. Fizzing and fuzzing guitars with clear as a bell jangle iced over the top, complete with teetering on the flat deadpan vocals. It’s the sort of the thing The Primitives did splendidly whenever Paul Court got a chance near the microphone. See ‘Laughing Up My Sleeve’ for the best ever example. Anyway, Airport Girl, have terminal stage-presence, but the songs make up for that. There’s a sprightly ‘Downtown’ vibe to song two, with added keyboards and shaky tambourine. Then out comes the inevitable melodica, in accordance with indie band ruling, for a velvety Velvetsy number which wades similar waters to Baptiste. The blank-skied guitar sound also conjures up Crash, who were 80’s forebears of this kind of thing, and were a-tinkling on the turntable chez Kitten just before I came out tonight.

101 jangling strings

We get a switch of pace to a thumpy belter complete with tootling trumpet and lyrics involving knowing one is a moron and something about teenage boredom. Cheers. Pretty much all indie bases covered, then, especially when the slow-burning epic number appears, a repeated mantra of ‘Love Runs Clean’, a charm in the flickery candlelight.

Between bands, we realise the place is chocka with gonky, shabby indie-blokes. What we need is wall to wall Neil Buschs and Conrad Keeleys. Not only would this bring some much needed dapper Texan dash to the place, but it would be really easy to see.

Dudley Corporation are full of stoppy-starty exuberance, warm crunchy guitars, a large man with a roller-coasting voice and over-thunderous drums. Sometimes it’s a bit like Foo Fighters’ ‘Floaty’, softness against hardness. Then it kicks in all Dinosaur Junior-ish, open wide guitar against the drum battering.

a rude blast Melys are a rude blast of swirling, churning Welsh synth/guitar pop with icey-sweet girl vocals. Their powerful sound rushes the audience along by sheer force of will. The first song ends in a spinning coda with singer Andrea ferociously beating a road sign with a stick, as all the gonky boys strain to see. ‘I Don’t Believe in You’ is synthtastic, veering alarmingly towards ‘Temple Of Love’ by The Sisters of Mercy. It’s true! Overblown and absurd, but compelling nonetheless. Madder still, guitar bloke (the one with a mini megaphone strapped to his mic, oh yes) attacks a metal beer barrel with a hammer by way of percussion, just in case you weren’t getting the point.

Melys make a fantastic boisterous sound that fills every dead corner of the room. There’s a gap in the market for berserker blonde girl singer fronting a tricksy catchy pop band now Catatonia have curled up and died. Don’t forget they made ace mental pop gems before the corporate airbrushing and towering irritation factor kicked in (see ‘Way Beyond Blue’ lp). Here’s a nice line in dementedly soaring delirium.

Yet again, the Strange Fruit gang are trying to mess with my mind by bringing my youth hurtling back. I’m waiting for the BMX Bandits (name engraved on pencil-case and school-bag, lyrics detailing wearing of anoraks copied out on Biology folder), listening to ‘Turning Japanese’ by The Vapours (dancing aged 10 at the village disco). It’s six years since BMX Bandits last played and twelve since I last saw them.

I never really got to grips with who was in the band, it seemed to change on a regular basis and every musician in Scotland seems to have played alongside the legendary Duglas at some point, including various Soupdragons, Teenage Fannie Norman Blake and Vaselines/Captain America/Eugenius er, genius Eugene Kelly (not ‘Eugene Edwards’, as suggested by silly old ‘Time Out’). This time around, I realise how important Francis MacDonald seems to be to the whole set-up. Mainly stuck behind the drums, Duglas constatly refers to him as a songwriting partner, whilst his sweet backing vocals really make the songs sparkle.
legendary Duglas
The rest of the band are new blood, a gaggle of newcomers to the Bandits and thus unable to take random requests for old faves.
Ahh, the songs! Bursts of wistful, sublimely simple jangley pop. There are lots of old faves ‘Little Hands’, ‘Getting’ Dirty’, ‘Your Class’ (with eager audience participatory hand-claps), ‘Girl At The Bus-Stop’ the lovely ‘Serious Drugs’, first ever single (and recipient of much gleeful replaying in the Kitten boudoir circa 1986) ‘E102’. This last is especially poignant, Duglas tells us, as guitarman Stewart was only 3 when the single was released, but now his lifelong dream of playing the song live has come true. Possibly.

Ahh, the tales! Duglas, as ever is a charming, genial, amusing host, regaling us with the stories behind each song. Like newie, ‘I’m In Such Great Shape’ written in response to Duglas’ flab-busting fitness regime (‘I’d become twice the man I used to be’), now taking on an ironic air, as he’s given himself a hernia in the process of getting healthy. This also being his eye-watering reason behind the lack of any James Brown-type hot dance moves we’re told.
Ahh, the hand-jiving! Duglas was always a proponent of the over-literal descriptive hand-movement as accompaniment to lyric, and we get plenty of pointing and flapping and hand clasping, all a bit alarming in a middle aged man. Luckily, or maybe, unluckily, he doesn’t pull out a Barbie doll to serenade, as in days of yore. Putting aside the quirks and jokes and history, this is touching, swinging, bubblegummy, happysad stuff, steered lovingly by Duglas’ unwavering romanticism. It’s nice to be reminded.

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