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Batcave FlyerSpecimen
Sexbeat

Batcave @ The Embassy Club, London
Sunday July 19 2009

 

 

At any given moment, there are four hundred clubs called the Batcave operating somewhere on planet Earth.

Actually, no, I just made that up. But, in the years since Specimen launched their glam-punk disco in London's Soho back in 1982, gave it that spooky comic-book name, and inadvertently helped to invent the goth scene, 'Batcave' has become an all-purpose synonym for 'something gothic this way comes'.

Today, there is a Batcave in Bratislava, another in Los Angeles. There is a goth radio show called the Batcave on Total Rock Radio in the UK; the B-word has even become an all-purpose synonym for anything to do with the early goth scene. The bats are everywhere these days.

All of which must make Specimen wonder what they started - and it also makes it slightly odd that the band themselves waited so long before re-entering the cave themselves.

Specimen had a very brief original existence. They never even got as far as making an album; they split up after a handful of singles and before the 80s were half over. As goth developed into something very different from its early, knockabout, cartoon decadence, Specimen sat it out.

Until, that is, July 2008, when London's fetish-industrial club Antichrist revived the Batcave in collaboration with Specimen, and although that particular club was more or less an Antichrist night with Batcave branding, it was obviously successful enough for Specimen to decide to have a go themselves.

So, here we are, down a Mayfair side street, in the wannabe-posh surroundings of the Embassy Club, paying too much for our drinks and quailing beneath the glare of besuited bouncers. Back in the 80s, the West End of London was Specimen's stamping ground, but nowadays the scruffy clubs and drinking dens that gave the original Batcave a home have given way to sushi restaurants and designer bars. The club's original location, Gossips in Dean Street, is now a block of luxury flats.

SexbeatThe subterranean action has moved east these days - Hoxton and Shoreditch are where the weirdo tyros of today are to be found. But Specimen were always West End, not East End, so it's appropriate in a way that they've found a venue in their old home area to bring the Batcave back, even if it seems like the place is trying too hard to convince us that it's really, really upmarket. One thing's for sure. The Embassy Club's dress code has certainly been relaxed tonight.

Sexbeat, in the 80s, were a new-wavey outfit with a neat line in snappy, rhythmic, glam-punk dancefloor fillers. And, although the band we see on stage tonight is a revised line-up put together by vocalist, guitarist, and original Batcave DJ Hamish, the sound and the songs have survived the decades. In fact, it's odd to hear just how glam Sexbeat sound - but then, this is a band which, like so many others of the era, was influenced by T-Rex, David Bowie and early Roxy Music - the essential trio of 70s glam-rock artists that inspired much of what happened in the 80s.

A PA breakdown adds an impromptu intermission to the proceedings, but Sexbat crank things up again with amiable grins and much chunky guitar. Hamish himself, sporting a glam fan's feathercut hairstyle that is itself a period piece, is an endlessly cheery frontman, and in the song 'Sexbeat' the band have a genuine classic, with its insistent, never-give-up beat that snaps up to the chanted chorus like a coil spring on the rebound.

This performance, it seems, is a pure one-off - the band has no plans to take things further; they don't even have any web presence aside from a Last FM page put together by a fan. But you know what? If they wanted to chance it, I think the twentry-first century would take to Sexbeat rather well.

SpecimenLooking like a collection of pantomine dames as styled by Ziggy Stardust, Specimen are the glam-rock grandfathers of goth - and, although they've waited longer than most to make their comeback, they're clearly making up for the delay by having lots of fun. Jon Klein looms lugubriously on guitar; Jonny Slut strikes poses behind his keyboard - he may no longer have the extravagant mohawk that inspired a thousand deathrock hairstyles, but he can still throw shapes with the best of 'em. And, up front, Ollie Wisdom leers and gurns like Doctor Frank N. Furter at the office party, a vision in straitjacket and slap, very much the master of ceremonies.

All of which would make Specmen a fun but flimsy proposition, if not for the fact that the band has a collection of nifty little glam-pop gems in its songbook, and they duly get hauled out for a kickabout tonight. 'The Beauty Of Poison' is all arch melodramatics; 'Hex' a chopped-up meta-funk workout. And there's a thing: Specimen make a surprisingly funky little combo - hear how the bass pops and twangs in 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang', its staccato, hip-twitching rhythm a world away from the grimly workmanlike heavy metalisms that seem to be most people's idea of what goth music should be all about today.

The band are clearly having fun, gleefully playing up to their legend even as they reveal a little cynicism about their status as goth pioneers. Jonny Slut calls for lots of smoke on stage to please the goths - 'They like that', he remarks, sardonically. It's a cheap shot, and inappropriate, too, for tonight's crowd is up for a party - and getting one. Hardly a bunch of stereotypical gothic gloomcookies, intent on skulking in graveyard mists.

Tonight it's all about having a glammed-up good time, and while today's goth scene might indeed need to be reminded of that on occasions, everyone in the Embassy Club has got the message. It's been a long time, but it's nice to have the original Batcavers back to show us how it should be done.

 

Essential links:

Specimen: Website | MySpace
Sexbeat: Last FM
The Batcave: MySpace


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

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.