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Anne Marie HurstAnne-Marie Hurst
Rubella Ballet
Nessus Red

Scala, London
Friday February 19 2010




There's a shouty rock bloke stomping all over the stage while other rock blokes impassively manipulate guitars. This is Nessus Red, who have clearly perfected the art of making a kind of RAWK version of the Nine Inch Nails noise without putting in anything particularly memorable. Their workaday industrio-rock slips through my head without touching the sides. Fortunately, their set is brief.

Unfortunately, they're followed by Lilygun, a band that I keep stumbling upon in assorted support slots around London, without ever particularly wanting to see 'em. Fronted by a pleasantly amiable female singer/guitarist in purple plaits, Lilygun make don't-rock-the-boat AOR that's entirely devoid of excitement, or, indeed, much in the way of distinguishing features.

You can't fault the competence of the band - they're all Really Good Musicians, even the guitarist, who's new and clearly unfamiliar with the songs. He gazes apprehensively at his fretboard but never puts a finger in the wrong place. But bland competence and mere pleasantness aren't enough. In my book, the idea is always more important than the execution, and Lilygun's idea seems to be simply to churn out pleasantly amiable AOR.

The band gets a smattering of applause at the end of their set, and seem happy enough with that result. Maybe that's all they want: smatterings of applause and an endless supply of support slots. If so, mission accomplished. Maybe that's the source of their amiable blandness: this is a band which has already achieved its limited ambitions. But me, I want more.

lilygun, Rubella Ballet

Always the colourful jokers in the monochrome anarcho-punk pack, Rubella Ballet now count as old-school punk survivors - but they've lost none of their sparky pop sensibility. Nor have they toned the colours down. Singer Zillah is a dayglo riot, leading the band through what I suppose you could call a Rubella Ballet greatest hits set - 'False Promises', 'Money Talks', and an extended, deconstructed-on-the-hoof version of 'Emotional Blackmail' that winds down and down, instruments dropping out until it's just a rattle of drums and Zillah's dubbed-out vocal.

It's interesting to note how many Rubella Ballet songs are, essentially, dissertations on the crapness of life and the flakiness of human beings - those song titles illustrate the band's preoccuptiobns very neatly. But the music itself is an energised fizz and sparkle, always upbeat and insistent, and it's this factor that has probably enabled Rubella Ballet to outlast many of their more traditionally dour anarcho-punk comrades. It also gives the band a useful 'in' to non-punk gigs such as this, of course. You couldn't really envisage, say, the Crucifucks on stage tonight, now, could you? But Rubella Ballet, fusing genuine punk cred with fairground brightness, fit right in.

Anne Marie HurstThere's an over-enthusiastic bloke down the front who takes it upon himself to shout 'Yorkshire!' at random intervals. This, I take it, is intended as a gesture of support for Anne-Marie Hurst, former vocalist with post-punky goths Skeletal Family and post-goths Ghost Dance.

Hailing from the Yorklshire town of Keighley, just down the road from the UK's gothic ground-zero, the city of Leeds, Anne-Marie was in on the ground floor of goth when it first mutated out of punk in the early 80s. Old goths - and, evidently, patriotic Yorkshiremen keen to support the home team - have gathered tonight to witness her return.

It's a rather belated return, it must be said: Skeletal Family themselves reformed with a new singer in 2002, and made two albums before splitting in 2009, apparently as an indirect result of Anne-Marie's decision to return to the fray. Two Skeletal Family sidemen - guitarist Stan Greenwood and bassist Trotwood - decided to join her, thus precipitating Skeletal Family's demise in favour of a band that therefore looks somewhat like Skeletal Family...but isn't. Tonight's audience are entirely unconcerned by such behind-the-scenes machinations, though. They're just here to cheer Anne-Marie on.

Wearing a delighted grin and a strange white hooded top - she looks like a cheery rock 'n' roll nun - she leads the band through a selection of Skeletal Family numbers ('Promised Land', 'She Cries Alone') and Ghost Dance golden oldies ('River Of No Return', 'Down To The Wire') - all of which which sound crisp and lively and inspire a certain amount of old-school moshing dpwn the front. There's no sense that this gig is a case of giving the hits a run-out for old times' sake. This feels more like the start of somerthing new - and as if to confirm this impression, two new songs crop up, unannounced, in the set. The whole caboodle looks confident and sounds contemporary, and its easy to get swept up in the celebratory atmosphere.

Anne Marie HurstI do wonder, though, how far Anne-Marie can progress in what looks like a whole new career, as long as she's reliant on a fanbase that comprises goths of a certain age and over-enthusiastic evangelists for the greatness of Yorkshire. When the novelty of having one of the 'lost' stars of the 80s back in action wears off, how many of those old-schoolers will keep on coming to the gigs? Somewhere down the line Anne-Marie is going to have to attract a whole new audience. I'd like to see it happen, because she's easily good enough to do it. But what's the strategy?

Anne Marie Hurst: Website | MySpace

Rubella Ballet: MySpace

Lilygun: Website | MySpace

Nessus Red: MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

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