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Healthy Junkies
Maid Of Ace
The Unkindness Of Ravens
Partly Faithful
Bubblegum Junkies

Unicorn, London
Saturday March 9 2013

Five bands in one night, and they're already running late. Soundchecks are still going on as the audience mills about, waiting for the party to get started. I understand the thinking here: load up the bill with the maximum number of bands it's possible to squeeze in before curfew, and even if each band only brings in a handful of punters the cumulative result is a biggish crowd. So there's method in the venue's madness. Alas, it is not accompanied by any particular efficiency. But hey, this is rock 'n' roll, right? Nobody ever went to a rock gig because it was efficient.

Eventually the Bubblegum Junkies are ready to roll. How do they roll? Like an acoustic duo doing new wave hits, that's how. It's the guitarist out of Healthy Junkies and the frontman from Bubblegum Screw kicking their old faves around in amiable fashion, like a couple of buskers who somehow made it to the stage. Nuthin' radical, but fun. Nice version of Blondie's 'Always Touched By Your Presence Dear'', mind.

Bubblegum Junkies / Partly Faithful

Now our first real band of the night: the Partly Faithful, all high-tension drama and guitar as abrasive as a brillo pad giving a saucepan a good seeing-to. An audiience materialises out of nowhere (actually, it probably materialises out of the bar) and all of a sudden we've got a gig on our hands.

It occurs to me that the Partly Faithful are in the process of rising without trace. They're well-positioned to capture that eyeliner-encrusted, pointy-booted crowd who didn't have anywhere to go when Ipso Facto split up, or when Neil's Children decided to get sensible hairstyles and go all dreampop. There's an audience out there for a band who can take post-punk influences for a walk in the too-dark park, and maybe that audience is gravitating towards the PF zone, where tonight the soundtrack is selected from the band's debut album, Lazarus Under Glass.

You'll be pleased to hear that the Partly Faithful have not gone dreampop (nor have they got themselves sensible hairstyles). A scathing vocal fights it out with staccato drum-flurries, the bass clanks like passing tanks, and that park seems oddly enticing in the darknes.

The Unkindness Of RavensHere come The Unkindness Of Ravens, a band who, it seems, divide their time between London and Berlin - which, of course, enables them to be promoted as 'from Berlin' in London, thus gaining extra cool points, while in Berlin they can be 'from London' - für extra cool Punkten.

I wonder if it's the Berlin-therefore-cool factor that's landed the band this slot, one up on the Partly Faithful - even though, on the evidence of tonight, they don't have as big a crowd.

The audience approaches with caution, as well they might, for The Unkindness Of Ravens are an unsettling duo. A bassist looms implacably stage left, chopping out a no-shit bottom-end rhythm over precision-honed machine-beats, while a singer gives the crowd a intense stare as she vogues and slo-mo hand-jives through the songs.

It's all very stylised and slightly disquieting: there are no jolly-ups to the audience, no cheery 'Hello London!' stuff. Just this theatrical intensity, and these otherworldly torch songs that sound like something Iggy Pop might've done if he had continued what he started on The Idiot. And got Deborah Harry to do the vocals and the vogueing. The audience remains a little cautious, but I like The Unkindness Of Ravens' high-concept weirdness. I like the way they push the bounds of rock 'n' roll while still being entirely rock 'n' roll. A neat trick if you can pull it off - and they can.

Maid Of Ace, are, apparently, sisters. I say 'apparently', because this fairly essential fact completely passed me by until after the gig. Mind you, I'd wondered why they all seemed to do the same sort of concentration-face during the twiddly bits. Not that there are many twiddly bits in Maid Of Ace's songs, for what we've got here is a kind of punk rock version of the Von Trapp Family Singers, all noise, attitude and definitely no Julie Andrews.

They play it fast and hardcore, more Distillers than The Damned, and in that they're a very modern punk band. It's all raw and gutsy with a big, solid two-guitar sound, twenty-first century punk rock. But the songs are accessible and catchy; every one rises to a rousing chorus. Sure, it's not wildly radical stuff - the band never strays from the familiar big 'n' boisterous punker blueprint - but they do it right. And, just to clinch it, the guitarist has 'Wanker' etched on the headstock of her guitar where 'Fender' would normally be, showing a healthy disrespect for furrowed-brow muso-ism. Ten points for that, right there.

Maid Of Ace / Healthy Junkies

And rounding off the festivities, Healthy Junkies, who have to squeeze in a fast 'n' frill-free set before the curfew-guillotine comes down on us. It's never a great experience, being the headline act at a late-running gig, because you inevitably end up having to make a run for it: rushing through a truncated set in an effort to make up for earlier delays. Still, Healthy Junkies have been touting their rumbustiously chunky glam-punk around the gig circuit for a while now, and I'm sure tonight's situation ain't nuthin' they haven't dealt with before.

They tumble into their set of well-honed slices of the guitarslingers' art, keeping the tempo up and not taking prisoners. 'Manifesto' actually sounds rather good in tonight's pedal-to-the-metal version, its collision of T. Rex guitars and powerpop vocals nodding to the kind of classic London rock 'n' roll that's been bouncing off the rafters in venues such as this for at least four decades, and still coming up fresh and unrepentant every time. It's a sprint to the finish, but the Healthy Junkies hit the line on time. Who needs efficiency, anyway?


Healthy Junkies: Website | Facebook
Maid Of Ace: Facebook
The UnkindnessOf Ravens: Website | Facebook
Partly Faithful: Website | Facebook

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

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