The March Violets
The Last Cry
Islington Academy, London
Friday November 22 2013
The March Violets at
the Islington Academy. We've been
here before, haven't we?
Well, yes...and no.
The band's London comeback gig in 2010 did indeed take place at the Islington Academy, with Ulterior supporting, no less - a meeting of the machine beat mafia if ever there was one.
The March Violets, alumni of the first wave of post punk, legendary Leeds drum machinists and all-round pioneers of Proper Goth, in cahoots and in collision with the swaggering new contenders of after-dark rock 'n' roll. The combination of bands was itself a genius move, while the combination of the bands' fanbases ensured decent business on the door. The place was rammed.
Since then, The March Violets have consolidated their comeback with more gigs (including a return bout at the Islington Academy in 2012) and assorted festival aoppearances. There's a new album out; the band are back in action as contemporary contenders. Now, it's all about keeping the pot boiling.
Which makes it slightly worrying to rock up to the venue tonight and find that the pot has apparently gone slightly off the boil. Tonight's gig is upstairs at the Islington Academy - in the smaller room, reserved for bands which can't shift enough tickets to fill the big space downstairs. It's uncomfortably obvious that the numbers have gone a bit south.
What's more, the support bill isn't doing much to help. The Last Cry are worthy stalwarts of the goth scene; reliable purveyors of fast, intense, drum machine-driven gothic rock. Tonight their barrelling racket is performed with plenty of verve and a fine array of impassioned expressions from the singer, who's clearly feeling it.
Not bad stuff in itself - but not great for business, either. The Last Cry draw their audience from the same goth scene punter-pool as The March Violets themselves. It's not like I've done a survey, or anything, but I'd hazard that nobody is here tonight to see The Last Cry who isn't also here to see The March Violets. A band from outside the goth scene - like, say, Ulterior, to mention a likely band at random - might've pulled in useful extra numbers.
Maybe that's what Kirk Brandon - of Theatre Of Hate and Spear Of Destiny fame - is here for. The wild card contender, broadening the appeal.
Well, Kirk Brandon certainly does seem to have fans here tonight. About four of them, by my count, who cheer every song and sing along to every chorus, while the majority of the crowd stands at a respectful distance and applauds in meaured doses.
The Theatre Of Hate massive (assuming there is a massive these days) has significantly failed to show.
The trouble is, Kirk Brandon, as a solo performer, is ever so slightly underwhelming. He sings his hits to an acoustic guitar - or, occasionally, to a backing track running on a laptop, at which points the proceedings become embarrassingly akin to a karaoke night.
For sure, he's still got the voice. But the stage looks very empty and Kirk himself seems faintly embarrassed to find himself so many rungs down the showbiz ladder from his Lyceum-headlining, chart hit heyday. In fairness, 'Original Sin' sounds rather good in tonight's minimal, less histrionic version. But the overall effect is...well, underwhelming.
It's left to The March Violets themselves to crank the whelm levels back up into the repectable zone. Fortunately, they're on form tonight. They launch into their set with plenty of go-juice, machine beats rattling like stones thrown on a tin roof, the yin and yang front-duo of Si Denbigh and Rosie Garland hauling the show forward by the scruff of its neck.
The March Violets
might have made their name as a goth band, but they hail from a time
before the rules of goth were written - a time when the after-punk attitude
of 'anything goes' was the only thing you needed to know. That attitude doubtless
informed the band's splendidly unorthodox exercises in early 80s beatbox
it informs the new songs, too, plenty of which front-load tonight's set.
'Ramming Speed' is a retrofuturistic music hall romp; 'My Demons' has a fearsome kickdrum thump and those trademark March Violets twin lead vocals, intertwined like a helix. 'Tokyo Flow' is introduced by Si Denbigh in impressive Japanese (but then, he could be reciting the instructions for his Sony Betamax video recorder for all I know); the song resolves itself into a slow-build groover that manages to be sparse, uncluttered, and yet still fill the space with sound.
After a burst of new material, a selection of classic tunes are eventually ushered in - somewhat to the relief of the old school element of the audience (which is to say, pretty much all the audience), who I suspect were starting to wonder when they'd get something they could punch the air to.
Fortunately, 'Crow Baby', with its defiantly 80s guitar, turns up just in time, and from that point on the band mix 'n' match the newies and the oldies in a way that keeps the momentum going and tempts even the most unreconstructed 80s-heads to twitch the occasional hip. The grand finale, of course, is 'Snake Dance', an unequivocal anthem which bursts from the stage as if someone's just chucked a match in a box of fireworks.
It's a win on points tonight, I think. The March Violets
successfully introduced their new songs to an audience that was primarily
present to hear the old songs, and it all worked rather well. Contemporary
credentials suitably established. But that still leaves the awkward question
of the incredible shrinking audience.
I suppose, after the novelty of The March Violets' initial return had worn off, and they'd been ticked off everyone's Classic Goth Bands I Have Seen bucket list, there was always going to be a slight drop in numbers.
Tonight's gig suggests that The March Violets can't rely on the old schoolers turning out in force indefinitely - especially now that the band has a refreshed repertoire, and isn't going to be playing quite so many of the old faves.
From here on in, the trick will
be to pull in a new audience.
But that's going to mean mixing it with contemporary bands
on the gig circuit in a way that tonight's cautiously over-obvious support
bill of one goth scene act and one 80s retro act didn't allow to happen.
The March Violets deserve to get ahead. They certainly could get ahead. But the obvious stuff isn't going to work any more.
The Last Cry: Facebook
For more photos from this gig, find The March Violets by name here.