Tonight’s opening act – and label-mate of the headliners - at a freshly spruced up and about-to-re-open Islington Mill wasn’t even listed on the poster. As Sweet Baboo pointed out: “if it was my poster I would be top”. Taking to the stage after a late-running sound-check from one of the other bands, Sweet Baboo ran through the most cursory of sound-checks of his own and then with a “shall we just go for it?” went straight into the title track of his latest album whilst most of the early doors crowd chatted away. Within minutes the chatting had been silenced by the direct honesty of his bitter-sweet folk-blues. Sweet Baboo was working tonight to a formula of “two slowies then a fastie” so following the sparse beauty we got surreal and knockabout humour.
Six songs is a ridiculously short set but it was worth the admission price alone. In a just world he would top posters nationally and internationally. Unfortunately I was so wrapped up in final song ‘Baby Let Me Let You Sleep’ I forgot how to point a camera properly.
Sweet Baboo Set List:
I’m A Dancer / Yr Lungs / Who Would Have Thought / 12 Carrots of Love / "A Song About Putting A Girl In A Pot" / Baby Let Me Let You Sleep
Unconscious Jungle are a Manchester band but they don’t follow any obvious Mancunian forebears. Instead they switch between choppy music-hall indie, all par-am-pah and trumpet, and then three-part folk harmonies-and-banjo. Add to this three of the four taking on lead vocals and you have a band potentially pulling in different directions.
With niggling sound problems and drawn-out pauses between songs it was difficult to know if this was an identity crisis or a band trying to find its feet and voice. When it all came good on the last stomping banjo number I’m inclined to the latter. However their cover of ABC’s ‘The Look of Love’ – even though they were asked to do it by BBC Radio – is wholly ill-advised.
Slow Motion Shoes deliver a muscular take on twee-pop: Boy/girl vocals front a British version of Tullycraft with all the bounce and fidgeting reined in and slowed down. Early songs in the set were not really crowd-movers and didn’t stop the crowd chatting (including unforgivably members of the previous band) but again once they overcame sound niggles songs started to coalesce into a pleasing if cerebral groove. I found out later this was their first ever gig which ups my appreciation. A band for some more attention at a future time.
If Sweet Baboo stopped the chatterers through his music, Islet did it through noise and physical presence. And this wasn’t presence on stage but off it. The bass player (although he didn’t remain playing bass for long) started playing in the middle of the crowd whilst the two drum-kit set-up was given a hefty pounding whilst the fourth Islet was... well I forget what they were doing because there is such a swift turnaround in instruments, orientation (facing crowd? Facing away from crowd?) and position relevant to the stage.
There was an improvised feel to the clamorous rhythms and shrieks of Islet given extra spontaneity through band members roaming the room looking for surfaces to beat upon. What soon became apparent was this musically was actually well-drilled mayhem– less so the physical choreography as the yanking of instruments across the stage and the repeated sorties in the crowd left a spaghetti junction of cabling and fallen instrument stands littering the playing area.
It was thrillingly chaotic and intensely noisy as Islet delivered their "seven fasties and one slowie" but it didn’t appear to animate the crowd as much as the band. Audience members with a few, rare exceptions looked more like immobile observers of some art installation rather than a gig-goers. Also the band’s performance was never confrontational; it was in and around people but not at them which might have provoked more interaction. So I understand the reputation they have gathered as live performers and would recommend checking them out (take ear plugs) but I think I may be one of the rare people who prefers them on record to live.
Islet Wimmy [BUY]
Sweet Baboo I’m A Dancer / Songs About Sleepin’ [BUY]