at the 100 Club, 26th February 2011
From our Premier Pop Pundit Stray Photon;
(Photo by Alex Ogg and used without permission)
I make it a rule to see The Monochrome Set at least every thirty years. Last time was at the Wellington Club in Hull in July 1979, and a fine evening it was: the band played in the downstairs hall and under lighting so subdued that we could hardly see them: instead they played the lights on the audience who danced the night away as though the Set were just the best house band ever. A most harmonious atmosphere was generatedm, in stark contrast to some of the more, er, let’s say confrontational bands who graced the venue around the same time, for example the UK Subs and the Angelic Upstarts.*
Their first two albums “Strange Boutique” and “Love Zombies” have been favourites to which I keep returning, along with an early single “Eine Symphonie Des Grauens”. But I must confess to not having made a great effort to investigate further their musical output or live work.
They were the sort of band that just shouldn’t work. They didn’t sing about topics that proper rock groups covered, and made no effort to disguise their intellect and wit. The music seemed to be influenced by just about anything: surf, jazz, Beefheart, country. But somehow it all worked rather well and always ended up sounding like The Monochrome Set.
So to the 100 Club on Oxford Street. I understand the venue is under threat, and it would be a real shame for it to disappear: the smell of hot valves and stale spilled beer as you descend to the basement from an unassuming entrance recalls memories of a hundred previous gigs; good, bad and Legendary...
The Set set came after a number of bands who were playing as part of the Popfest series of concerts. “Bearsuit” preceded them and they seemed interesting enough to justify my chasing them up via Wiki and YouTube; turns out that they are better known than I realised and in fact had done a few sessions for the John Peel. Shows what an out of touch old fart I am.
And then on came the Monochrome Set. Singer Bid very unassuming and charming, and guitarist Lester Square resplendent in a shirt louder than his amp and a magnificent moustache. They started with “The Monochrome Set (I Presume)” and I was surprised at how much of their early material they played. Highlights for me were B-I-D spells Bid, Alphaville, and Cowboy Country.
The sound was frankly poor for most of the set, I imagine at least partly due to the fact that they were the last of many bands and any soundcheck they might have done earlier in the day was no longer relevant. At times they seemed unsure of each other as if they hadn’t played together in a while, and guess what: it was the first UK gig since 1996.
Despite all this the quality and quirkiness of their material shone through and I wasn’t disappointed. They are doing a series of dates around Europe and Japan over the next few months and this should give them a chance to reacquaint themselves with each other, so the gig scheduled for Dingwall’s on 12th July should be well worth a visit.
Next Week: Why I was never in The Red Guitars; Photon tells all.
*Actually the Angelic Upstarts didn’t show up. The promoter Tony Menzies got a phone call from the band that morning to say they were having a dispute with their manager and he had locked up their gear. The Upstarts hailed from Sunderland and were one of the original skinhead “Oi” bands (although I seem to recall their politics were distinctly left wing as opposed to most of the similar groups who cropped up in their wake). They were reputed to rouse their fans by kicking a pigs head around on stage. Blimey. So with them not turning up and there being no way in the pre text/Twitter days to alert their fans to this fact, Tony had to find a substitute band; enter the Defectors who were originally booked as support act and just happened to live in the same building at the time (well two of them anyway) and featured a young Stray Photon on guitar.
We played, ably supported by last minute additions to the bill The Z Men, somehow placated the Upstarts’ followers and no animals were harmed during the evening’s entertainment.