Selfish Cunt in Cheltenham? There's something almost surreal about that combination of band name and gig location. Confrontational modern punkers versus agreeable and elegant Cotswold spa town? It shouldn't work...but, somehow, it does. A steady stream of eager punters is decanting itself into tonight's venue, the stripped-out pub that is the 2 Pigs (a name that probably sounded like a good idea at the time). Looks like we've got a gig.
The Computers have scrabbled up from Exeter, doing their screechy garage-band version of Devo's geek-punk, and it's not a bad way to kick things off. Dressed in white, lurching around the stage in a variety of choreographed moves, they're quite a sketch, and although the audience hangs back a little nervously (particularly when the vocalist descends from the stage and takes his art to the people, gurning hideously and poking innocent bystanders with scratchy guitar riffs) the band gets a decent burst of applause when their set shudders to a close. I think we can call that a result.
The Machiavellis seem to be chanelling some sort of geezer-with-a-heart-of-gold post-Pete Docherty thing. The singer's got a comedy trilby and a barrow-boy manner, and the songs are lively, art of the street indie anthems. It might work in London, but here in Cheltenham - where, despite of their city urchin schtick, the band actually come from - the overall effect is of contrivance coupled with a distinct air of trying too hard. By way of a novelty interlude, the band stop the rock long enough to warble their way through the old music hall singalong number, 'Your Baby Has Gone Down The Plughole', a song which would seem amusingly apposite if delivered by, say, Ian Dury at the Hackney Empire, but delivered by The Machiavellis in a pub in Cheltenham...look, lads, I think we're going to have to file this one under close, but no cigar.
Time to crank up the guitar and bust some moves. Selfish Cunt are a headlong rush of noise, over which vocalist Martin Tomlinson stalks and pirouettes, as if demonstrating the latest in callasthenics. It's the contrast between the band's churning, ragged-edge Stooges grind and the singer's manic ballet and almost-falsetto wail that makes Selfish Cunt a unique proposition that and the songs themselves, which are improbable, baleful, wide-screen melodramas somehow compressed into the confines of rock 'n' roll. 'Feel Like A Woman' is all over-enunciated ejaculations - 'BBC! ITV! Sky TV! ME!' - which tumble into choruses that are never less than controlled freak-outs as the band churns it up like butter.
Compressed into the confines of the small stage area of the 2 Pigs, it all ramps up quite gloriously. Guitar overload, everything overload, and a frontman who can pull showbiz out of his pocket. The band are on form, and it's turning into a bit of a good one. The post-punkers of Cheltenham certainly seem to get it - although there might be a bit of good old pop star worship in there, too. Down the front, some girls are very impressed. 'He's lovely, isn't he,' I overhear one say to another, indicating Martin Tomlinson, who is in the middle of a particularly atheletic bout of shape-throwing to the heady howl of an overdriven guitar. 'Even though he's so gay!'
Cunt in Cheltenham? It's a crazy idea, but it works.
For more photos from this gig, find Selfish Cunt by name here.