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Mon Gala Papillons – Bush Hall 10th December 2004

Stylishly groovy magazine ‘chickfactor’ sure know how to programme a poptastic weekend, but their sense of timing leaves a little to be desired. Having checked their web site for tonight’s opening time, we arrive at Bush Hall fifteen minutes before the alleged showtime of 7.30pm. Hmm, the bar’s a bit empty. Ah, that’ll be because everyone’s inside watching The Aisler Set’s Amy Linton playing solo. We go in as she comes off stage. Cheers for that. Having squeezed around the lavish Christmas tree and ensconced ourselves in our seats, we admire the paper-cut-out butterflies adorning the room and wait for whoever’s up next.

Classy joint or what?
A girl stands onstage apparently playing her violin along to a recording of a girl singing and a piano swirling. ‘Oh, that’s a classy way to fill the gap between acts’, I think. Er, no, it eventually becomes apparent that this is in fact cute Manhattan lady band Mascott, and chief Mascott Kendall is singing at a piano but is obscured by the audience. The two ladies (there’s something prim about them that makes me want to call them ladies – it’s not a bad thing you know), swap between piano and guitar with the violin adding a country tinge here and there. The songs are simple, sparse and wistful, like The Would-Be-Goods sipping tea on an icey New York morning. I sit in a dreamy, half-listening haze, admiring the tree’s decorations and breathing in its ace Christmassy smell.
Geek love Belle & Sebastian’s gentleman mod Stevie Jackson, or Action Jackson as we’ve taken to calling him, turns out to be a bit of a star and all round entertainer. Looking like a groovily geeky lecturer circa 1966 (hey, it’s a great look) he quips and banters his way around a set full of slyly charming pop tunes. He quickly wins us round by playing Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ on the harmonica before whipping out his guitar and strumming through a Lee Hazlewood style song, complete with deep lilting voice.

Most of Stevie’s songs tonight (sorry kids, no Belle & Seb here, move along) are “About girls. Because I like girls. That’s just the way it worked out." So there’s strummy acoustic loveliness and the gorgeous folky swing of ‘Portland, Oregon’ about having a crush on a girl, to which everyone sways along happily. There’s the bossonova shimmer of ‘Scandinavian Something’ (can’t read my notes – looks like ‘Crispie’, er…’Groupie’ maybe?) during which Stevie swaps guitar for a shaky orange (a percussion instrument - what did you think I meant?) At strategic points, Stevie gets his band to bow on cue, even the legend that is Bill Wells, who’s playing bass. Half-way through Stevie says, ‘Bill why don’t you go and entertain us on the piano?’ So Bill tickles the ivories and Stevie puts on his best lounge singer voice for ‘Phone In My Head’.

‘I Took A Long Hard Look’ features Margaret from Mascott and has a maudlin country twang a la ‘Wild Horses’, which is handy as it’s apparently about heroes “like The Rolling Stones”. There’s added violin for the cowboy pop of "Lonely Pop Star", which starts off sounding exactly like ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’, a cruel trick that sends a frisson of excitement round the room. We get a ramshackle tumble through ‘Frosty The Snowman’, which loses it in the second verse with Stevie appealing to Duglas BMX Bandit in the front row (for ‘tis he!) to help him out, he doesn’t know the words either though. The snappy, thoroughly beguiling set is brought to a close with “A touching ballad” (as voted for by the audience) in the form of “A song I learned from Alex Chilton. Not personally y’understand”. This turns out to be ‘A Lot Of Living To Do’ (Duglas shouts out the title first) from ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ played sparse and simple with Stevie’s vocals and finger clicks against Bill’s wine-bar chords. It’s been a pick ‘n’ mix assortment of delights. Utterly charmed, we go and buy rather pricey vodka and oranges.

The Pipas, a boy, a girl, their computer and their guitars are their usual lovable, shambolic selves, running through a selection of swoony tunes and delicate beats. A typical song involves them shimmying along, tripping themselves up, giggling and abruptly turning off the backing track to denote the end. That’s not to say they can’t write songs, these are cute electopop anthems for the kids who like to rave in the privacy of their bedrooms, analogue and digital fizzing together merrily. ‘Bitter Club‘ begins with a scratchy recording of an Internet dial-up tone, before Mark’s fragile heartbreak voice sings a tale of unrequited hanging about, “Waiting for your email”. Butterflies of loveliness

One song called maybe ‘Adios’ fair stomps along with Lupe maniacally gabbling the words. This is the first time I’ve seen Pipas on a large(ish) stage and they suit it, although the ‘electronic mayhem’ that ‘Time Out’ suggested they’d whip up is maybe stretching it a bit. I’d go for ‘electronic shivers’.

Finally, a girl comes onstage to announce a spurious set of nominations which include The Strokes, The Pastels and The White Stripes “…and the winner is…The Television Personalities! But they can’t be here tonight, so here to collect their award are the surviving members of Queen”. At which point all plans for sitting demurely on seats are abandoned as folks rush to huddle at the foot of the stage eager for the long lost Dan Treacy and chums to be the TVPs again for the first time in eight years.

The TVPs have always held an aura of myth and mystery for me. I stumbled across them during a night of taping everything and anything from John Peel in 1986. They did a session that included ‘How I Learned To Love the Bomb’, ‘Paradise Is For The Blessed’ and the mighty ‘Salvador Dali’s Garden Party’. I was thrilled and intrigued by this offbeat, innocent yet sinister singsong music. I knew nothing about the band, you never really saw anything about them in the music press. Then I found a copy of ‘Mummy You’re Not Watching Me’ upstairs in the electricity board shop in Lowestoft, the weirdness of the shop adding to the TVPs mysterious charm. I was hooked, but I never saw them play live. Which brings us to tonight.

A Picture Of Dan Treacy Here and now The Television Personalities consist of Dan joined by old ‘comrade’ Ed Ball on bass (complete with ancient mod insignia), Matthew on drums and Victoria on extra vocals and looking fantastic with doll-like curls and groovily demure dress. Then there’s the out-of-the-blue addition of ex- TVPs/Jasmine Minks bloke Dave on piano, who apparently just turned up and joined in unplanned. Hmm. So, things kick off gloriously with a cover of The Velvet’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ which leads us into a rambling mix ‘n’ match set of olde and new TVPs songs.
The new stuff sounds fresh and exciting whilst still very much in the TVPs mould of POP! Art and is seemingly inspired by events of the last few years. There’s ‘The Smack (Get It Back)’ which goes “All the kids on smack/All the kids on crack…they deserve something back” and ‘My Dark Places’ which is naggingly catchy, sticking in my head permanently after this one hearing. Then there’s the extraordinary ‘No More I Love Yous’ for which Dan shushes the rest of the band so that he and Victoria can sing acapella, voices raw in the hush. It feels like a line has been crossed somewhere, like the boundaries that usually constrain emotions within the context of performance have been well and truly breached as Dan leads Victoria through what appears to be a very private conversation in song form (“Forget about them. It’s just you and me”). It’s thoroughly compelling and almost too excruciating to bear, too real. The audience holds their breath until it’s over. To a lesser degree, these sensations could apply to the whole set, which lurches from song to song according to Dan’s whim. The set list is abandoned and Dan mutters an apology for having to read lyrics from sheets of paper, “I’ve been ill”. He appears to be enjoying playing his songs, a bit uncomfortable to be on stage again and kind of disgusted by the adulation his presence has summoned up from the indie massive (all the usual suspects present and correct) in the room, spitting out, “Fuck off!”s in answer to song requests.

Old songs; a funereal ‘All My Dreams Are Dead’, a sprawling ‘My Very First Nervous Breakdown’, a groovily tumbling ‘Silly Girl’, and a ferocious ‘King And Country’ which despite some drum fuck-ups feels like its about to boil over, fizzing through the middle like ‘8 Miles High’. Then there’s the dayglo ‘Salvador Dali’s Garden Party’ with lyrics changed to reflect the times, so we get ‘Franz Ferdinand weren’t there. The White Stripes weren’t. The fucking Strokes weren’t… Guess who was…The Pastels.’ (approving cheers from Duglas BMX).

The set finishes with ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ and feedback hissing across an empty stage. Dan’s up for encores though, so to get round the ‘only time for one more song’ restrictions he lurches into a curfew-smashing "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives" which wanders wildly before metamorphosing into "My Generation". The band is shoo-ed off stage, the house lights go up, and Dan Treacy has well and truly made his mark on our sorry indie hearts.

Victoria Yeulet was there...
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