Well this is fucking inspiring innit, eh? It’s not as if we’re talking unknowns here as both bands in our “Fuck Off Big Bollocks Double Headliner” are having their turn on the media machine at the moment, the pinnacle of which might just have been reached as they celebrate winning the viewers vote on that triple-nippled skank Lily Allen’s er, ‘chat show’, which if the media is to be believed has been trounced in the ratings by the Albanian shopping channel. Perhaps that’s why nobody seems to know that this gig is happening because I’m reliably informed as we open (oh alright then, Baggers told me), that we’ve sold just 13 tickets for tonight. Yes, I know that The Lionheart Brothers were only added to the bill a week or so ago, but even in NME-land and those other peculiarly-odoured places where we are told what we ought to like, Look See Proof are making a big enough noise to justify a pretty decent turnout on their own. What with being Lemaq’s pet lambs , touring with The Fratellis, having their singles praised by all the quality press and being the first band to plug in and play at last year’s Glastonbury Festival, they’ve had all the hype they can handle. In addition they’ve got an insanely dedicated handful of fans following them around the country from gig to gig, which isn’t as common a situation as it used to be, and normally a sign that a band’s on the way up. As it happens though, if it wasn’t for that particular posse, tonight’s audience levels probably wouldn’t have reached double figures.

So, as the people here tonight are mainly here for Look See Proof, it seems that The Lionheart Brothers are rather less popular than a hog-roast at Ramadan, which sounds a bit odd considering that they’re the latest bunch to have been championed by everyone from MTV to XFM, they’ve sent Wossy all spoony, they’re pulling ‘em in all over the place and are practically enforced listening if you get your record recommendations from The Guardian, so you would think that in a nice middle-class Radio-2 loving town like Tunbridge Wells there might be some casual interest for want of anything better to do in on a Friday night. Even the fop Randall bought their album and rumour has it that he hasn’t opened his wallet to buy music since 1986.

Promotion then, or the lack thereof, will probably be blamed. Truth is, I haven’t a sodding clue of the extent that this gig has or hasn’t been promoted, so let’s assume that it has had sufficient exposure given the speedy circumstances, which leaves us with one other possibility: people simply can’t be arsed. Sure, nobody’s obliged to come, and we should all feel free to support our venue as often or as infrequently as we wish, to see whomever we choose to entertain us. We, the public, can do whatever we want with our time and money, so if we choose to stay in with a beer and a video game then we aren’t going to apologise for not dragging ourselves off the sofa and seeing some band simply because they’re there. But that doesn’t make it any less sad when you know that the venue is losing money and the visiting artists have got the impression that playing here is a waste of time because nobody’s interested. So, although it would be inappropriate and unfair of me to turn this into yet another load of “use it or lose it” bollocks, I can’t really help feeling a bit peeved because a turnout like this is, well, embarrassing. Fuck knows where the club regulars are, as even their idle presence would make it less of a disheartening experience for everyone. But, like, whatever.

When you have this few bodies in a cold room, even when more dribble in to make it 20 or so, everyone sits or stands passively, waiting for a band to impress them but denying them the opportunity because nobody wants to be the lone nutter that everyone stares at. There’s “the line” for a start, and crossing the line simply isn’t the done thing. You’ve seen the line of course, and almost certainly you’ve helped to form it: that invisible area at the front of the stage occupied by empty air and floor space which no human being dares enter without the accompaniment of at least a few dozen of their peers, even when encouraged to come forward by the bands who find the line as pointless and irritating as the rest of us. And this is the doozy: the line only exists when there is almost nobody to mark it out, therefore less people to be embarrassed in front of. Even when a band successfully manage to bring people forward, the line seems to magically re-establish itself shortly afterwards, because for some reason, a couple of dozen people would rather space themselves out as far away from the band as they can, than enjoy themselves collectively at the front, so although nobody wants the line to happen, we can’t stop ourselves from standing there and forming it. Behind the safety of the line, a few girls might do a strange huddled-together dance if drunk enough, and a few boys may sway with lagered looseness before self-consciousness kicks in, but this seldom lasts for more than a song so tonight’s headline bands quite understandably wish to get it all over with as quickly as possible, politely suggesting participation but not labouring the point to the brink of humiliation. This ain’t intimacy, it’s a failure, so tomorrow they can forget this empty smelly place where they’re nobodies, to enjoy a bit of human warmth in Cardiff or Northampton or some other such godawful place on the tour schedule, where they can feel as if they matter and women might be willing to take their clothes off.

Not HOUR HANDS though. While still a work in progress, Brighton‘s most intriguing new band are happy to be anywhere that indulges them whether busy or not, and what a bunch of moptopped beauties they are. Every now and again you see, you can find a band who do things that you wouldn’t even consider, and Hour Hands are as delightfully surprising as unexpectedly coming across Modest Mouse and The Thrills jamming Flaming Lips tunes in a basement cafe in the north lanes, or to use a more local analogy, they’re like Spilt Milk but twenty times better; a gaily coloured jamboree bag of screwy geek-pop that doesn’t just want you to love it, it practically begs you to thrust your hands into it’s open ribcage and play with the squishy bits.

What we have here, with the enthusiasm of children who know the rules but have more fun making their own up, are 4 distinct misfits grafted together to create an unruly, undisciplined, bizarrely behaved teenage mutant. And although I’m probably alone in feeling this, they look and behave like a random selection of comedy characters: guitarist and frontman Liam with his woolly hat, retro styling and floppy fringe is Mike Nesmith from The Monkees, bassist Sam is Neil from The Young Ones (and damn he’s one ugly dude. I thought he’d been attacked by bees or something before I realised it was actually the shape of his face) stixman Gabriel is Chris from Family Guy and guitarist Fifi is, well, probably Phoebe from Friends for want of a better alternative. The point is, Hour Hands inspire the sort of thoughts that people spend a lot of money on drugs to achieve. They do strange things to your head even if you’re sober and straight, ’cause with their skewed perspective on rock ‘n’ roll art, you can’t watch them without your mind consequently leaping in all sorts of entertaining directions as different things become possible. When they write a song, they ignore all that nonsense about structure to make bendy, indescribably invigorating garage pop that flicks playfully between psychedelic lullabies and fingers-in-the-eyeballs indie savagery, and by gum it makes you feel good to be alive and grinning at it. It’s unsettling, bold stuff, yet done so flippantly, almost disposably, as if they have some unique viewpoint of what music can be and it’s given them limitless scope for mischief.

The fact is, Hour Hands are interesting and wouldn’t know how to spell ‘cliché’ let alone use one. Their ideas are leftfield, fresh and creamy, fitting the rudimentary pigeonhole of experimental indie-pop but only just, like a naughties interpretation of the sounds and attitudes that we left behind in the C86 era. Sure, they can behave too, and fit seamlessly into your indie disco playlist with such examples of twisted mentholated cool as “Wooden Screw”, but Hour Hands seem to have a sense of freedom and detachment from the norm which allows them to take their jangletastic clatter and sneering harmonies, put ’em together any old how and just go with it, because they’re distinctive and different and all the more enthralling as a result.

Sure, they’re out of tune frequently. Out of time, occasionally, and the harmonies are off too. This is after all, very embryonic teenage stuff. But it’s not a bunch of vile youths getting gobby, because regardless of the lack of gloss they make damn good think-pop; it’s inspiring, honest, rivetting, puts a sparkly slant on lo-fi post-whatever and it’s cool as fuck, so there. They’ve got something special in their care and haven’t quite worked out how it functions yet, only that it’s there and needs feeding. Lets hope it stays healthy and grows fast because Hour Hands might just have struck along at the right time.

Dontcha just love “technical difficulties”? Kinda makes you glad there’s hardly anyone here because THE GUNPOWDER PLOT are probably feeling a bit sheepish standing with their guitars-in-hand for 10 minutes. All down to a wonky battery apparently, but we politely leave them to it, as the sparse crowd knows that they’re embarrassed enough. It’s worth the wait though because in the last two months, TGP have come on astonishingly well. Tight, clean, semi-acoustic pop rock with oodles of sunshine swagger, the Bexhill 5 piece take all kinds of influences creating a who’s who of summer pop, and guess what? They aren’t much like an acoustically enhanced McFly any more. Just a teensy-weensy little bit, but not so you’d notice unless it was pointed out. They’re just, well, better. With Jonny Fitzpatrick in fine voice for once, they’re considerably more confident and bold than even a few months ago, and are making orgasmic, virally-catchy folk pop like Jack Penate without the ego, looks or shoes. Like The Waterboys and Levellers beating each other with glowsticks. Sod it, it’s still girl’s music no matter how you dress it up but it’s uplifting, cruising, wave-surfing, tyre-squeeling, toe-tapping, open-topped, breast-enhancing, cock-hardening, low-cholestrol, fat-reduced, buy-one-get-one-free, organic girls music with knobs on and if they choose to get kitsch as hell with the jazzy stomp of “Why Do You Do Those Things You Do” like bringing out a fucking big cabaret cheesecake, then they’re all the bloody better for it. Anyway, ain’t it all supposed to be about fun?

THE GUNPOWDER PLOT could be the best band in this year’s Stable, and maybe when votes are in from The Man we’ll get some confirmation of that fact, but until we do, if you see any of this year’s entrants, try to make sure it’s them, because whether you’re into bubblegum or not, after you’ve let “Wet Yourself In Protest” wrap it’s feelgood yummy groove around your ears you’ll appreciate them for what they are: snappy gorgeous vaudevillian pop as scrumptious as that first sweetie after coming off a diet.

Dammit, the little fuckers probably even smell nice.

In comparison, THE LIONHEART BROTHERS look like they haven’t seen soap and water in a while, but with the Norwegians’ second album “Dizzy Kiss” being lauded as the coffee-table accessory for any self respecting euro-beatnik, they’re probably just trying to fit in with that classic hippy image or something. They do seem rather keen to strike lots of fabulous poses y’see, although it’s no doubt disappointing to have so few adoring women and lenses pointing at them to marvel at Morton & Marcus’ fire-and-ice approach to fronting the band: one glammed-up sleaze metaller guitarist thinking himself rather beautiful (and who’s probably disturbingly attached to a pet cat – he looks the type) having an attention battle with his partner who does most of the hard work but is handicapped by pimples, lank hair, sweat stains and grime-under-his-nails ordinariness. But regardless of how it looks (which is a bit silly, thinking about it) their sheer surging psychedelic power can rattle the fillings out of your teeth, as if My Bloody Valentine, Killing Joke and The Byrds got caught up in some massive swirling aural cyclone and were hastily reassembled by Brian Wilson using ouija-board directions from Vince Crane.

Guitars that cry and vocals that sigh, dontcha know, and even through tonight’s muddy sound they’re gloriously swirly, taking you back to those days of the early nineties and bands like Chapterhouse, Ride and Blur before they were pop stars, when songs were full of shoegazing black-eyed soaring garage ingenuity. The Lionheart Brothers add West-Coast stoner rock, the melancholia of The Fall, a dash of Cherry Ghost and a shot of Secret Machines to make it go down easier, so sit back, relax and let the maddening organ-fed sensuality of “50 Souls & A Disco Bowl” take you on a little trip to a hippy utopia where there’s free dope, limitless sex and no fucking lentils. Just don’t expect a lengthy visit because their set is criminally brief and if you have more than a 20 minute attention span you might feel a bit short-changed, particularly when it’s climax is a five minute squealing whine from the valve amps just so that Glammy Lionheart can throw shapes, chuck his guitar around (carefully though – it’s probably expensive) swig from his beer, flick his hair about and gaze sensitively into the camera lens of the only woman within reach. Fucking tosser.

It looks as if we’ll have to wait for festival season to start before they really show us what they can do. Give ’em low lights, enough adoration and a tent full of people buzzing off their tits, and they might just be more fun than naked mud wrestling. Give ’em a cold stage and a few stragglers, they’ll probably just give up again and put a bit of a downer on your day.

You know it’ll be hard work when all four members of the headline band saunter onto the stage without the merest hint of a smile. It looks as if LOOK SEE PROOF would rather be anywhere than here; scuba diving in a sewer, stuck in a traffic jam, studying accountancy, damn near anything within reason, but they have a job to do and a fee to earn, so they’ll seemingly do the bare minimum and that’s it. A joint sneer from the Sells brothers, a quick whine of feedback and a manic guitar blast later, and they’re viewing the assembly behind the line in front of them with the sort of enthusiasm a jizz-mopper might have for cleaning up after a busy night at the peep show. Grit your teeth, get on with it and it’ll be over soon enough. Try not to look too miffed.

Nevertheless, pissed off or not, when the Hertfordshire hooligans get going, their vibrant indie pop-punk is firey, feisty, clattering dynamite that’s as tight and glossy as a Chinese condom. They’ve got all the good bits of Boy Kill Boy, Foals and The Wombats all fighting together in a battle of grunting whoops and danceable melodies that makes you wonder why on earth utter bilge like Plain White T’s is cluttering up the charts when tunes like forthcoming single “Do You Think It’s Right?” can leave you breathless with jaw-dropping awe.

Look See Proof are perfect fodder for an NME market who can’t get enough of all that youthful decadent emo exuberance and no doubt will be huge because they’ve got the backing, are good looking and sound massive. “Casualty” for example has a hook so big you could use it to anchor down a dreadnaught, but when a band doesn’t want to be there, no amount of quality tunes can hide that they’re rushed, playing for the people that followed them here and generally acting a tad spoilt. We looked. We saw. They proved it.

Paul Mills