|see all the photos from this concert here
Faith And The Muse
Sunday October 12 2003
~review and photos by Uncle
'First UK Show For Five Years!' says the
strapline on the ticket. Yes, really. It's been half a decade since we
last saw Faith And The Muse in our funny little island. Half a decade,
during which the band has released three albums, played almost 100 gigs
and festivals all over the world, changed the on-stage line-up more times
than I've had Linda McCartney's veggie pies for dinner, and has generally
and upwards. It's been a busy and successful five years for Faith And The
Muse - but, in all that time, they haven't played in the UK. After their
first (and, up to now, last) visit in 1998 they never came back. Now there's
an irony. A band which came to include Olde English folk songs in their
repertoire never actually played those songs in Olde England!
But then, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised
that F&TM eschewed any further UK shows after that 1998 visit. As I've
remarked before in other contexts, we in the UK have become accustomed
to being permanently at the bottom of the priority list when tour schedules
are arranged. Our scene is small, and run on the thinnest of shoestrings
by an ad-hoc bunch of (mostly) enthusiastic amateurs. Contrast this with
the bigger audiences, greater professionalism, and - yes - larger sums
of money on offer elsewhere on the international circuit, and it's no surprise
that UK shows are seldom considered when bands draw up their touring plans.
It's not like nobody wanted Faith And The
Muse to return to the UK. Quite the reverse. The band won many fans and
made many friends during their '98 go-around, and they enjoyed some successful
gigs. Their London show - promoted by some nerve-wracked idiot called Uncle
Nemesis, as I recall - was a marvellous, celebratory affair, and the audience
was only a spit away from a sell-out. Not bad going, when you consider
the band was on a full-scale UK tour *and* playing the Whitby Gothic Weekend
that year. Normally, these factors would result in a much reduced audience
for a London gig, but Faith And The Muse effortlessly bucked that trend.
As a fan, I was captivated. As a promoter, I was impressed. This lot can
really do the business, I thought. Next time round maybe we'll be looking
at a bigger venue. Next time, I can *really*
push the boat out for this band.
Alas, as it turned out, there wasn't a
next time. Faith And The Muse's subsequent outing to Europe - the 'Evidence
Of Heaven' tour of 2000 - didn't include the UK. Perhaps naively, I'd assumed
that the band, or their booking agent, would contact me at an early stage
of the arrangements and invite me to pitch for a London date. Well, that
didn't happen. The first I knew of the tour was when I glanced at the band's
website - and was confronted with a list of tour dates from which the UK
was pointedly excluded, an experience which put me in my place in no uncertain
fashion. More in hope than expectation, I fired off a few emails to see
if a London show could be added, but, after some frustratingly inconclusive
to-ing and fro-ing between the band, the booking agent, and Nemesis Head
Office, it became apparent that this one was heading straight into the
'It ain't gonna happen' file.
Later that year, when F&TM returned
to Europe for some festival dates, I tried again to persuade them to slot
in a London show while they were in the area, as 'twere. Everyone seemed
keen in theory, but, to be blunt about it, trying to get all the practical
stuff confirmed was like trying to nail scrambled eggs to the wall.
In the end, another chance to see Faith And The Muse in the UK slipped
through our fingers.
About a year after all this, I gracefully
retired from the glittering world of showbiz - but I've still got some
of the emails from those abortive negotiations. I keep them just in case
I ever want to remind myself how pleasant it is not to have to jump through
these logistical hoops any more; how much of a relief it is not to have
to negotiate from the position of the outsider, the underdog, the promoter
who represents a city where nobody *really* wants to play in the first
place - not when much better deals are available elsewhere. Am I being
unfair to Faith And The Muse here? Well, maybe - after all, they're hardly
the only band to blip over the UK on their tours. But then again, the mocking
evidence of my failure to bring the band back to London is right there
on tonight's gig ticket: 'First UK Show For Five Years'. Dammit, that *hurts*.
They said yes to Flag Promotions when they wouldn't say yes to Nemesis
Promotions! Give me a break here. I'm only human. I'd have to be a saint
not to feel a little miffed by this situation. I tried, I really tried,
and I just couldn't make it happen. And then Frank of Flag Promotions gets
'em on a plate!
OK, enough of this. I'm supposed to be
writing a *review* here, not giving you an extended dissertation on the
loneliness of the long-distance promoter. Faith And The Muse are in town
tonight, so let's cut the crap and go to the show. But at least now you'll
understand that this is one gig that I attend with somewhat mixed feelings.
In true Flag Promotions 'pick the names
out of a hat' style there are a motley bunch of support bands propping
up tonight's bill. Misnomer, our opening band, are at first glance an incongruous
choice, being an indie-ish bunch of popsters who run the gamut of styles
from introspective, almost trip-hoppy stuff to Chumbawamba-style romps,
interspersed with robust rockers featuring Sonic Youth-like guitar thrashing.
It's almost as if Misnomer have deliberately decided to make it difficult
to get a handle on what sort of band they are. Just when you think you've
got them nailed, they go off on another tangent. There are six people on
stage (including, on drums, Caroline from Seventh Harmonic), three of whom
take lead vocals at different times. That, I think, contributes to the
musical mish-mash. If every song had the common factor of the same principal
voice, the band's style would instantly become more consistent. As it is,
watching Misnomer go through their paces is a bit like watching three different
bands having a joint jam session. Not at all a bad experience in itself,
I hasten to add, but when you're the opening band at a gig, and you've
got a brief half-hour slot to get your point across to a bunch of people
who've probably never seen you before, I think you really need to stomp
on the Instant Recognition Factor pedal. Misnomer have a lot of good ideas,
but they fire those ideas in all directions like a musical blunderbuss,
when the straight-to-your-head precision of a sniper's rifle might work
a little better.
Who on earth would think of the Scary Bitches
as a suitable support band for Faith And The Muse? I mean, c'mon - can
we say 'from the sublime to the ridiculous' here? Yes, I think we can.
The Scary Bitches' tub-thumping
pub rock and novelty pantomime dame humour is the kind of stuff that's
mildly amusing once, and gormlessly annoying ever afterwards. If Misnomer
suffer from an excess of ideas, then the Scary Bitches have entirely the
opposite problem. They're a one-idea band, and that idea is starting to
wear rather thin now. I've seen their wacky costumes and heard their clunky
'comedy' lyrics and scripted between-song patter too many times now to
be impressed - not that I was particularly knocked out the first time,
you understand. This also seems to be the view of a substantial chunk of
the audience, who make a dash for the bar as soon as the band comes on.
But the Scary Bitches do have fans: there's a bunch of enthusiastic people
bopping away down the front, all wearing goofy grins, as if the band's
patent brand of 'zany' humour is the best thing they've seen since ITV
cancelled Russ Abbot's Madhouse. I suppose, if a band which combines Chas
'n' Dave style knees-ups with a kind of Hallowe'en take on Hinge And Bracket
is your thing, the Scary Bitches represent the realisation of all your
dreams. But I'm going to the bar, and I fully intend to remain there until
Killing Miranda come on.
It's a bit of a surprise to find Killing
Miranda on this bill. After all, this is a band which can get a good crowd
in to the Underworld as a headliner - what are they doing here as a support
band? What's more, they were added to the gig at a very late stage - they
aren't even mentioned on the ticket. Do I sense some sort of last-minute
panic behind the scenes? Apparently so. It seems Frank of Flag Promotions
neglected to check out Faith And The Muse's technical rider until rather
late in the day, and was thus unaware that he was under contract to provide
backline and drumkit for the band, who were travelling light, without their
own gear. When the penny finally dropped, Frank's solution was to hastily
recruit Killing Miranda - one of only a few 'full line-up' bands on the
London goth scene - so that F&TM could borrow their equipment. (I suspect,
if Killing Miranda had been unable to do the gig, we'd have ended up with
Altered States or The Faces Of Sarah instead). I can't help feeling rather
pissed off on behalf of F&TM. If this had been a Nemesis gig, I would
have rented exactly the gear mentioned on the tech sheet, and had it set
up and waiting at the venue when
the band arrived - and I would've probably spent less money on the rentals
than Frank paid Killing Miranda to act as impromptu equipment providers!
So, it's all a bit of an eleventh-hour
scrabble-about, but what the hell. Killing Miranda stomp out and launch
themselves into a set of riff-heavy rockers, big, grinding, thumping tunes
which shake the stage. There is, apparently, a new Killing Miranda album
in the works, and a good chunk of tonight's set is taken from it - although
the band's recent virtual hit single, 'Enter The Dragon' doesn't appear.
Of the old faves, we get the goth-club anthem, 'Discotheque Necronomicon'
and the irreverent cheese-fest that is 'Teenage Vampire', and the crowd
down the front leap around in a suitably manic manner. It's interesting
to note that Killing Miranda seem to attract a bunch of younger fans compared
to most other Brit-goth bands around today. As I try to get a good angle
on the band for photos I'm jostled by a couple of teenage nu-metal girls,
all half-nervous, half-excited giggles, who are keen to push to the front
to see their heroes. Possibly this indicates Killing Miranda's unique niche.
They've staked a claim to the crossover zone where the underground goth
scene and mainstream-friendly metal meet - and where, importantly for any
band with an eye on the future, it's possible to reach a younger fanbase.
Having mentioned this, maybe it's some sort of 'gotta be down with
the kidz' notion that prompts vocalist Rikky to shout 'Let's see your hands
in the air!' - and, sure enough, a forest of hands erupts from the crowd.
Well, there's proof that the band have the audience in their pockets, but,
cantankerous old curmudgeon that I am, I'm unimpressed by this tiresome
gimmick. Surely only cheesy EBM bands resort to this kind of desperate
jolly-up. If *every* band is going to start trotting out the same old crowd-pleasing
schtick, I'm outta here.
Then, at last, it's time for Faith And
The Muse. No great ceremony, no dramatic intro: they simply stroll out,
pick up their instruments, and play. And, against the odds, it's a gloriously
flawless performance, delivered with such casual, good-humoured professionalism
that you'd never guess the band was riding out all manner of last-minute
behind the scenes shennanigans, and using another band's equipment, upon
which they hadn't even set eyes until that afternoon. I hereby hand Faith
And The Muse the 2003 Uncle Nemesis Award
for grace under pressure. My annoyance at the rather half-arsed arrangements
at this gig is tempered by my appreciation of how well the band handle
it all. The very first song sets the assembled company on a roar. It's
the sudden thunder of 'Bait & Switch' which, just like it does on the
album, seamlessly segues into 'Sredni Vashtar', Faith And the Muse's rolling-with-the-chaos
anthem: 'I am here to reassure, we never really had control'. A useful
philosophy when dealing with Flag Promotions, I'll warrant. Then it's straight
in to 'Shattered in Aspect', and it's noticeable that the band are pushing
things forward with a distinct no-messing-about approach. Although William
never loses an opportunity to tweak his equipment in any convenient lull,
the frequent intermissions for technical adjustments which were such a
feature of the band's Leipzig show have been ruthlessly expunged from this
revised set. It all powers ahead like a train, the old songs and the new
songs dovetailing so neatly that I'm bemused by all the fuss surrounding
Faith and The Muse's 'new direction' - in truth, all they've done is polish
up the chrome a bit, and I for one am very happy with the way it gleams.
There's a break in which Monica gives us
a solo number - this is the cryptic interlude noted on the set list simply
as 'M Vocal' - during the entirety of which, I notice, William busies himself
with technical tweaks at the side of the stage. I half suspect that this
aspect of the set has been deliberately included to allow him to spend
quality time with his appliances. A bit of showbiz subterfuge, perhaps,
but it works, because directly afterwards the band go full tilt at 'Running
Up That Hill', the bass rumbling like loose floorboards, and it's a gloriously
gleeful sprint. Now this is more like it: I confess I was rather worried
about Faith And The Muse after seeing them play at the Wave Gotik Treffen.
Then, they seemed oddly hesitant, unsure of themselves, one band among
too many, failing to thrive. But here, they're clearly on a roll. This
is a vintage performance; my faith is restored. It's an effortless dash
to the finish with 'Scars Flown Proud' and 'Sparks', and 'Anwyn, Beneath
The Waves' as a lap of honour. Then it's all over. I can hardly believe
the one-hour set is over already. It seems to have gone so quickly.
So. Was it worth a five-year wait? Of course
it was - although this does not, however, excuse the band from making us
wait that long in the first place. They're not getting off *that* hook
so lightly! As I wander out of the venue, exchanging almost post-coital
grins with other fans who are, like me, clearly on a post-gig high, I'm
still a little frustrated that it's taken five years for this show to happen.
Five years just for the band to come back to the very same London venue
that they played in 1998, when they should have been - *could* have been
- playing somewhere bigger and better by now. But we are where we are.
Back with a bang; now let's move ahead. And let's *not* leave it five years
until the next gig!
see all the photos from this concert here
Faith And The Muse: http://www.mercyground.com
Killing Miranda: http://www.killingmiranda.com
Scary Bitches: http://www.scarybitches.com
Flag Promotions: http://www.flagpromotions.com
Uncle N's baffling cultural references
Russ Abbot's Madhouse - Would-be wacky
TV comedy show which was never as funny as they'd have you believe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/r/russabbotsmadhou_7770010.shtml
Chas 'n' Dave - loveable cockney minstrels,
who inexplicably had a string of hits in the 80s with novelty pub-singalong
Hinge And Bracket - deliberately over-contrived
comedy of manners, featuring a couple of drag stars as two musical ladies:
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to