First up was a surprise. Francois and the Atlas Mountains were a lovely, ramshackle collection of frequently-shuffled musicians fronted by a Frenchman, but apparently they’re from Bristol. The clue was in the guitarist and occasional drummer, by whom I was driven mad for about five minutes trying to figure out where I knew her from (apologies for the grammar there, but you know what I mean.) Then it struck me that I normally see her in the mornings, on a different boat: she’s one of the regular crew of the ferry I sometimes take to work. It’s funny how it sometimes takes so long to place someone when you see them out of context. They ranged between a bit school-bandy and very good indeed; the newer numbers, such as the splendid “Stolen Shoes”, which they played last, were best, so I reckon they’re heading in the right direction. The French front-man (I’d only be guessing if I called him Francois; you know what band names are like) had a good stage presence and an interesting voice, too.
Next up were The Tiny, an odd but good Swedish two-piece (from their website it looks like there might be three of them, but only two played tonight.) The female vocalist’s voice and style begged comparison with Bjork, Tori Amos and Kate Bush, which isn’t a bad thing, really. And again, good presence and connection with the audience. The songs were good, if not entirely my cup of tea, and the lyrics were far better than you get with a lot of bands who claim English as their first language, too. My gold star of the evening goes to the bloke, though, who switched between playing cello and saw, and did both exceptionally well. Very impressive indeed. Not sure about his yodelling-style solo at the end, though, when he switched to playing keyboards and singing wordless melody over it for the last song, but hey...
Then came Camera Obscura. I can’t even remember why I wanted to see them now. I know there’s a Monkey Swallows the Universe (still my band of the moment) connection somewhere; I think they got mentioned on the fan forums. Camera Obscura were very good at playing their instruments, they were very together, they’ve been around a few years, and they were really quite dull. Six of them came on stage, and maybe one or two of them actually looked like they were enjoying it. Special mention goes to the dresses the two girls were wearing, which looked homemade. They looked like the kind of thing you’d normally only put up with wearing if you were bridesmaid at a wedding where the bride’s bedridden and blind great-great-grandmother had used her last ounce of terrible dress-making skills to stitch something together for you. And even then you might take the risk of never being talked to again by refusing.
The songs were plodding at the start, and unfortunately I couldn’t make out more than about one in ten of the words (the previous bands’ acoustics were pretty good; I think Camera Obscura just had lots of people playing instruments which were covering the range of the singer so much that they drowned her out quite successfully.) This is a shame, as often the lyrics really make it for me, when it comes to folky-type music; they can certainly save an otherwise-moderately dull song. And these songs could have done with some saving. They did pick up a bit in the middle, when they played an obviously-popular-with- or-at-least-recognised-by-the-fans number, and things got a bit more rocky and jangly. But even then, it was still very much “oh, look, a song which alternates I-IV, and sometimes throws in V just to make things a bit more interesting. And repeat.” fare. And even then, several of them were just C, F and G, so they weren’t even messing about with different I-IV-V numbers that much. Yawn.
On the plus side, the Glaswegian guitarist did have a bit of banter and the occasional good connection with the audience, and the jack-of-all-trades guy who was on percussion, trumpet, occasional guitar (and even keyboard at one stage, maybe? I can’t remember) was pretty impressive.
I mean, I had an okay time, but I did look at my watch towards the end, and I was hoping they wouldn’t bother with an encore, because I wanted to get to the loo, and I was right at the front and it was a bit packed. They did, though, but when I saw one more song start with C and F I threaded my way through the throng and nipped to the loo before the rush, then headed home.
It might not have taken much for me to like them. Being able to make out the lyrics, or if they’d smiled a bit more or put some energy into it. Maybe I just caught them on a bad night. But I don’t fancy giving them a second chance much.
Anyway. I slept like crap last night, so it’s off to bed for me now. And I always feel better for a night out at a gig, no matter what the bands are like, so I think it’ll be a good night’s kip.