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March VioletsMarch Violets
Ulterior
Islington Academy, London
Saturday November 13 2010

 

 

 

Stick 'The March Violets' into Wikipedia, as I just did (now who says I don't do my research?) and you get this: The March Violets are an English goth rock band of the 1980s. Yep, that's them, all right. But maybe someone needs to remove that 'of the 1980s' bit. Because now, they're back.

The March Violets never quite made it to the 1990s - the band split in '87, after an unconvincing AOR makeover failed to deliver any hits. (I remember that stage of the band's career. Trust me, it was unconvincing. Search on YouTube for the band's final single, 'Turn To The Sky' - I mean, c'mon, one Pat Benetar is enough, you know?)

But these days, no band splits up for ever. The March Violets have rejoined the party, and, encouragingly, the present line-up has a lot more to do with the band's earliest incarnation as spiky tyros of the 80s Leeds goth scene than the latter-day smoothed-out pop-rock crossover version.

I don't know what prompted The March Violets to return now, rather than five years ago, or ten years ago (when I could've given them a gig!), but right now is a good time to be spiky and gothic: much of present-day alternative music has a certain post-punky noir-ish glamour about it, and any band that can claim a genuine connection with the source has got to be in with a chance and a half.

UlteriorAs if to illustrate that very point, here come Ulterior, spiky tyros of twenty-first century post-punk-noir, and a band whose CV boasts a European tour support with The Sisters Of Mercy - who themselves were The March Violets' old muckers in the 80s Leeds goth scene, and who now feature the March Violets' Simon Denbigh as Doktor Avalanche's nurse. Now, if all that doesn't prove the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, I don't know what does.

What Ulterior prove tonight is that they've got all the ingredients necessary to make an impact in the here and how: songs like big black bulldozers, thundering forward, fuelled by drum machine pandemonium, and with all the uber-stylised leather 'n' shades attitude to make you sit up and take notice.

Ulterior knowingly employ the key tropes of rock 'n' roll to construct their art: they're a post-modern rock band, essentially, and while they never quite cross the irony line you can bet they know it's there.

If there's anyone in the venue tonight who actually remembers Leeds in the 80s - that post-punk urban jungle, the Gang Of Four's trail still freshly blazed, The Sisters busily positioning themselves as a proto-techno Stooges - I reckon they'll 'get' Ulterior immediately. And even if you don't remember 80s Leeds, what the hell. Ulterior still make a fine racket.

And now, The March Violets, who have clearly pushed the showbiz boat out a bit for this one. There's an immensely long intro, all smoke and lights and anticipation, and then with an eighties-tastic splat and clatter from the drum machine they're away, pitching in to 'Crow Baby', first song of a set that leans heavily on the spiky Leeds years. Co-vocalists Rosie Garland and Simon Denbigh parade in giant featered head-dresses, as if they're witch doctors about to work some voodoo. Tom Ashton is on guitar - the only March Violet to have been present through all the band's incarnations - and, on bass, Jo Violet, previously of The Screaming Banshee Aircrew, who probably wasn't recruited because of her name, but I'm sure it helped. The fundamental interconnectedness of all things, remember?

Feathers discarded, Rosie emerges in a glittery top hat - post-Violets, she's carved out a career as a vampish cabaret performer, and the stage is clearly her natural home. Simon Denbigh looms incongruously in a voluminous overcoat by her side. He was always the wild-card element in The March Violets, and tonight his burly, bearded figure, gesticulating and The March Violetshollering sepulchrally like an Old Testament prophet who's seen doom around the corner, provides a gloriously surreal counterpoint to Rosie's glam grandstanding.

Mind you, it's easy can see why, when the band had their AOR makeover, he was politely but firmly shown the door. He'd put the frighteners right up the MTV generation.

This audience is made of sterner stuff, however, and greets each vintage smasheroonie like an old friend. 'Religious As Hell' perhaps relies too heavily on that eighties-tastic drum machine - what sounded thrillingly edgy in 1982 just sounds a bit weedy now. But 'Fodder', equally a period piece in its way, works rather well as a reminder of how minimalist and weird The March Violets were in their early days.

By contrast, 'Children On Stun', with its almost discordant guitar, sounds bizarrely contemporary, while 'Walk Into The Sun' is plenty strong enough to work in any guise - interestingly, the song was originally recorded with the band's latter-day singer, Cleo, on vocals. It's the nearest the present-day, old-school style, March Violets get to acknowledging the later history of the band. It was after 'Walk Into The Sun' that it all got a bit Pat Benetar - but that was another time, and another line-up, and we're not going there tonight.

'Snakedance' brings the show to a crescendo, as well it might - it's the band's big anthem, the one song everyone knows. 'Snakedance' has been a guaranteed club floor-filler for over twenty years, and more than any other factor it's probably the reason why The March Violets can stage a comeback now, in the twenty-first century, and find an audience waiting for them. What they'll do with that audience is anyone's guess - there are new songs in the works, and plans for a new album. But then, who knows? Anything is possible, everything is to play for, and the omens are good. Spiky tyros of the 80s Leeds goth scene, your time - strangely enough - is now.

The March Violets

 

 

 

The March Violets:
Website | MySpace | Facebook

Ulterior: Website | MySpace | Facebook

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

Find an Ulterior album review here,
an interview here, and more live reviews here.

 

 

 

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