review archive

BMX Bandits / Eugene Kelly / The Starlets – Bush Hall 4th October 2003

Ooh, state of this place! Very swish I’m sure. Bush Hall has got chandeliers! And a red carpet! And plasterwork creeping in ornate curlicues round the walls. And not-that-good-but-they’re-blacknwhite-so-it-must-be-art photos of musical instruments taken in blown-up close-up! Best of all there are chairs. Feeling a bit of a sickly Kitten and enfeebled by the trek to West London, I’m mightily grateful for the opportunity to have a bit of a sit-down.

The Starlets should be grateful too, ‘cos although it brings a somewhat incongruous rarefied hush to proceedings, arranging the audience in seated rows as if they’re about to witness something magnificent makes them shut up and listen. Cannily, the band starts off with a Go Betweens cover, planting the seeds for an evening of lovingly crafted pop.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about The Starlets for aages. About how they reference early ‘80s whiteboy soul a la Orange Juice and the ear-caressing pitch-perfect pop of Prefab Sprout. About singer Biff’s sweetheart vocals and penchant for rocking the 80’s cuteboy look with flat-top, t-shirt, ripped turned up jeans and brothel creepers. About their first album ‘Surely Tomorrow You’ll Feel Blue’ with it’s glimmering melancholy melodies like ‘Rocking In A Shy Way’ and ‘We’ll Go Driving’. About how a bunch of blokes from Glasgow have shone up a glittering bucketload of fuzzy-guitared pop gems with strings and horns and glockenspiel.
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rocking in a hungover way
Biff about to shimmy
The plush surrounds of Bush Hall allow the sound to shine, so the violin gets to do its stringy shimmy and the brass glows warmly like freshly baked bread. Hang on, that trumpet man looks familiar. He was in Camera Obscura last week! Scottish bands and the tangled webs they weave eh?

Last night was the launch of new Starlets album, ‘Further Into Night Forever’ so they’re feeling a little tender and start off at the gentler end of their repertoire with songs, like ‘All To Make You Feel Brand New’ that demand to be described as ‘swooning’. Later, hangover receding, Biff throws off his guitar to shimmy about gleefully to the fizzpop of ‘I’ll See You Sometime’ segueing into ‘Hypercool’ with it’s oddly ‘Making Plans For Nigel’-esque riff. By now, we’re all huddled round The Starlets warming our hands on their chiming songs of loneliness and dislocation. Its mightily cheering on an autumn night, especially when closer ‘Firestorm’ builds a campfire in our hearts, shining like a lamp glimpsed through dusk windows.

Having been in The Vaselines, Captain America/Eugenius, BMX Bandits etcetc (told you it was a tangled web) Eugene Kelly tells us he’s now trying out for the position of new Man in Black. He’s got the guitar and the harmonica in place, but no way is he going to cut it if he keeps complaining about how hot the black shirt is. Never mind, he spins out some mighty fine tunes anyhow, like ace swingalong ‘You’re Having My Sex’. There are of course perennial faves ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’ (the bloke next to me cleverly mouths the words, he looks like an arse) and ‘Molly’s Lips’ (apparently written about a woman who used to be on telly after the news and before ‘Crossroads’???)
Eugene wants you for a sunbeam
Blokes busking solo like this can get tedious after a coupla songs, but Eugene is in excellent voice and the tunes are charmingly earbending. Between songs we get some curmudgeonly banter, ‘So who won Fame Academy then?’ Silence ‘C’mon someone must have watched it, don’t all try and pretend you’re too cool, you’re at a BMX Bandits concert fer fucks sake!’ We’re told the last song is about when you have a great record or book shop near to where you live and a terrible coffee company comes and takes it over. The chorus goes, ’Destroy Starbucks today.’ Too bloody right. Why does their coffee taste of dishwater and not, for instance, coffee? And why does it have four inches of bubble-bath on top?
you’re at a BMX Bandits concert fer fucks sake!
After last year’s ripsnorting return to the popkid fray, BMX Bandits have decided to hang around and release a new album, ‘Down At The Hop’, and tonight they walk amongst us again with their delirious, sparkling poptunes and the delirious, sparkling Duglas. Opening up their big ole hamper of Glasgow Beat which is filled with a heaping helping of songs from supernew LP ‘Down At The Hop’, BMX Bandits thrill our wildly beating little indie hearts. There is the chiming chugalong of ‘Back in Your Arms’ and the lilting AM radio splendour of ‘Love At The Hop’. ‘Little Kitty’ gets its live debut and promptly falls apart after 3 bars, when it gets going again it’s oddly reminiscent of ‘Kids In America’. Okay the bits that go ‘Miaow! Miaow! Miaow!’ (ahh true poetry) aren’t.
There are cock-ups on the vocals front again for plinky Carpenters haze ‘Death and Destruction’ with Duglas ‘Oh I forgot the first line but I remember it now’ grinding to a halt a couple of times in his own inimitably charming way.‘I’m In Such Great Shape’s crunchy boogie conjures up chilling memories of Kitten school-days and having to do some kind of primary school version of aerobics to that terrible old song ‘Blue Jeans On’ (‘When I wake up’ (stretch arms). ‘In the morning light’ (wave arms). ‘I put on my jeans’ (put on imaginary jeans). ‘And I feel alright’ (feel humiliated, wonder when it’s lunchtime)). Brrrr.
‘The Road of Love Is Paved With Banana Skins’ is frantic-fantastic and has a guitarry bit exactly like JAMC’s ‘Everything’s Alright When You’re Down’ only its obviously endearingly Banditsy and not all black-clad and scowly and features piping keyboards and added kazoo action. As Duglas says, ‘The kazoo makes a welcome return to rock ‘n’ roll’. Indeed it does, not least during encore ‘E102’ (yay! Kitten’s 1986 self does cartwheels and buys an icecream) when Duglas throws a handful of kazoos out for audience participation. Those without kazoos join in the ‘do, do do do do do dos’ anyway, it’s a wonderous sound to behold.
Argh! What's with that guitar?!
The kazoo makes a welcome return to rock ‘n’ roll
Other oldster tunes include a lollopingly lovely ‘Serious Drugs complete with a loungey laid back guitar solo from Gabriel and his terrifying headless geetar; ‘Little Hands’, (Duglas says it was rechristened by Norman Blake, ‘Little Hans’, thus becoming a song about a small German); ‘Green Grow The Rushes’ (‘This song’s even older than ‘Molly’s Lips’’) and ‘Disco Girl’. Before the latter, Duglas embarks on a sensational piece of entertainment derring-do, just like what U2 did when they phoned folks up Live! Onstage! This involves trying to phone the aforementioned Scotpop superstar Mr Blake. At home! In Scotland! He’s not in!
Oh well, there’s always a scurrilously gorgeous version of Beat Happening’s ‘Cast A Shadow’ to marvel at whilst hoping that you’ll be the one to take home Duglas’s polo which he has taken out of his very own mouth ‘Someone might like to get that later’. Final encore is old B-side of ‘Come Clean’ and cover of the Harpers Bizarre version of a Jim Pepper adaptation of an old native American folk song (got that?) ‘Witchi Tai To’. Eugene comes back on (in stripy top having ditched the Man in Black caper already) to add extra trembling guitar strings and it’s all heart-meltingly fabulous.