Chain Street & 4th, Greg & Chas, Leon & Phil, The Flavenoids

No, I don’t know why these Unlabel spin-off shows are called “Dog Ego Company”, just in case you’re wondering. And you quite might be, because I know I’m not the only patron curious as to whether it is supposed to mean anything. However, I can reveal why these individually numbered Dog Ego Co nights appear to be going backwards. This is what, number 29 or something like that? 28’s next week and this is allegedly because UnBob has decided to treat them like his birthdays in that after 30 they’ll go in reverse. Sound thinking I reckon, although Bob does risk growing into the only teenager in Tunbridge Wells drawing a pension, but there you go. Age affects us in different ways, and even if it doesn’t make us fret about our physical decline, if nothing else, increasing age causes us to view the world with a more jaundiced eye. Call it bitterness if you wish; I won’t argue.

As I sat in the car listening to the news this evening (as is my want), I found myself watching (with considerable curiosity) the local wildlife which thrives around the back of The Forum, going through their rather charming mating rituals. Well, we all feel that way inclined when springtime is upon us, and it’s strangely sweet to see these delightful examples of regional fauna so well-practiced in the fine arts of courtship. If I were a wildlife spotter, I may have paid more attention to the finer details of the rituals and therefore may have been able to eventually identify the precise sub species of these peculiar rodents, but since I’m not, I can only provide a generic description in that they were a modestly sized pack, scuttling southwards towards the courtship grounds near the roundabout.

At a distance, as any observer will agree, the sexes are difficult to determine, due to the nylon branded sportswear coats adopted by both, plus a shared habit of blowing smoke from thin white sticks, which may have once been an exclusively male privilege but in recent generations has evolved into a practice commonly adopted by both genders. As they passed closer by, I could determine what I could only assume were three males (identifiable by shorter hair, an aggressive stance and a red and white canister carried in the hand and swigged from intermittently) and 2 females (identifiable by slightly longer hair, a disproportionately oversized rear end, a glass bottle in the hand and the more obvious fact that their mating cries are higher-pitched and louder than those of the males).

The male seemingly has to demonstrate his excellent genes by impressing the female with his physical superiority, but risk minimal harm to himself, so a great deal of posturing, spitting and loud grunting towards other species is required to attain the female’s interest, with the other two males ready to show support in the event of real danger by joining the alpha male in a pack attack. A loud shriek from the larger female seems to be the signal to proceed to the next courtship level which involves impressing her with his athleticism, and this seems to be best demonstrated by hurling the metal canister (still full of liquid) with great force at a parked car, with the intent of shattering the glass. A failure, oddly, is met with the enthusiasm of a success, and joint cackling screams of “Naaaaaaaaagghh!! Gaz yorra faaakin men’al kaaant!” from the females and appreciative laughter seem to show that trying is the main thing, although a great deal of importance seems to revolve about the idea of treating the car like a vanquished enemy, so it is often attacked afterwards to inflict further damage and perhaps remove part of it as a trophy of the hunt. This particular missile did not cause much damage however, and pausing only to kick the driver’s door, the pack soon disappeared from view towards the bright lights that beckoned them.

As I watched these creatures on their way to play, the latest details in the trial for Sophie Lancaster’s brutal murder were being broadcast. For those of you that don’t follow current affairs beyond which bands have broken up today, this was the case of a young girl beaten to death by such feral youths for “being a goth”. It’s arguable that being a goth had nothing to do with it, as these lowlife bits of barely-human chav detritus were vicious violent vermin that would have started on anyone seemingly weaker than them and unfortunate enough to have been in their vicinity at the time, regardless of how they dressed. For once though, the tabloids have got closer to the truth than they usually do, because as sickening as it sounds, such attacks by Neanderthal pikeys on “grungas n gofs” happen virtually every weekend in this town. Whose turn it is tonight to receive a kicking is impossible to say, but it’s a fairly safe bet that it won’t be another cowardly shell-suited thug ending up in casualty, unless it’s to have their stomach pumped. And you can tell that someone or something is going to receive the wrath of the underclass tonight, because the Fair is in town and it’s attracting scurrying rat boys like some drum ‘n’ bass version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, so as sure as night follows day, some kind pack of humanitarian peasants, perhaps even those I observed earlier, will stagger from it soon, vomiting Stella Artois and candyfloss as they search for someone to batter or a parked car to destroy on the way back to their holes.

If you’re a young person, you’ll be worried about yourself or your friends, and quite rightly so. But if you’re older, with children of your own, you can’t help but worry about their safety when you know the sort of scum that are out there looking for someone to bully or rob from. These same scum share the same schools and the same streets, so a teenage daughter seemingly impressed by these monkeys in tracksuits is a parent’s nightmare, and it’s for this reason that I’m not going to slag off The Flavenoids and refer to them as a ridiculous and agonisingly awful bunch of clueless schoolgirl bints, whereas in the past I wouldn’t even have hesitated to do so. It’s age again, you see. You start to realise that there are far, far worse things for kids to do with their time than being in a diabolically bad band, and on the whole, no matter how ghastly they were, if it were my own daughter up there I’d be proud and pleased as punch about it when I consider potential alternatives to her and her mates making a brain-aching racket in the garage and pissing off the neighbours.

Can somebody give me some water, my voice is about to go…” croaks lead lady Jessamy as she steps nervously up to the mic, her face rigid with anxiety. It doesn’t bode well. Like everyone playing in support tonight, The Flavenoids haven’t had a chance to rehearse or even prepare because they’ve stepped in at the last minute after cancellations, so a lot can be forgiven. To agree to do this when they clearly aren’t ready is exceptionally brave of them, but sadly shows them in their worst possible light, which is 4 teenage girls (well, they qualify as such), 3 chords (E, A and G), 2 speeds (all over the place and stop), and 1 idea (lets form a band and try not to be too terrible).

From a strictly critical viewpoint, they could be regarded as portrayers of ghastly, excruciating, plodding schoolchild jamming that helps cement the stereotype of girl bands being fucking rubbish, as they’re devoid of cohesion and unable to listen to each other until the set’s nearly finished. Stylistically it vaguely evokes the Yeah Yeah Yeahs being jammed by apes wearing mittens, and I doubt you’d find any disagreement even from them. The Flavenoids know that they’re shit and make no apologies for it. They don’t have the ability to bring out a fraction of their ideas at this stage, and as such they come across a bit like a parody of themselves as they try in vain to hold the bare bones together, playing alongside but never with each other as their timeslot ticks away.

Blond vixen Jessamy might have an indistinct voice (or a bloody awful one, depending on your personal tolerance levels) but even with a sore throat she uses it confidently, avoiding any temptation to go beyond her limited range and power levels, because it’s enough of a struggle with the basics as it is and there’d be no sense in embarrassing herself. Simple trashy rock ‘n’ roll is the name of the game with The Flavenoids, and perhaps it’s their gritty determination to come through unscathed that somehow makes them slightly endearing, even a little cute as they rasp away at what could well be a cover if it was vaguely recognisable.

But let’s not forget that experiencing this kind of embarrassing episode in those formative years before they can drink and buy fags legally, is part of an essential learning process and has to be endured. It’s cruel to slate ‘em simply for being inexperienced as everyone has to start somewhere and stepping in to do this at the eleventh hour shows guts and moral fibre, but it’s nothing more than courageous heartfelt fun at this stage, untempered by practice, patience and time, which are the factors that will determine the The Flavenoids future, if they have one. Until then its valuable experience, so watch them closely and they may even end up tolerable.

Blimey, I reckon I’m getting soft in my dotage.

Another problem with being old though is that whether you want to or not, you eventually mellow your musical tastes as everyday life limits your listening time to things you know you like. Sure, lots of other new exciting stuff drifts across constantly and there are fewer keener pleasures than discovering something that revolutionises your own tastes, but if you want any sort of life at all, you have to accept that there are things that you simply aren’t going to ‘get’, no matter how eclectic you’d like your musical tastes to appear. I know for a fact that I’ll never properly understand or appreciate hip hop, electronic dance, or most jazz, so in the knowledge that I only have limited time in the average day for selfish pleasures, I’ve given up trying. Hey, I’m middle-aged, shoot me. The point is, I also don’t get a lot of what Unlabel finds appealing. Sure, some of it is fantastic, but I really can’t appreciate instrumental noise which sounds like endless droning feedback punctuated by vague guitar strums and randomly plucked strings at an earsplittingly high volume, while someone screams unintelligible nonsense now and again. In a post rock universe (or ATP), it’d be atmospheric lo-fi noise art, but in my day they’d call it tuning up while the soundman’s absent. Ignorant idiotic philistine that I am, I have as much chance of enjoying or even adequately describing Headquarters’ Leon and his buddy Phil’s experimental random headfucking as your granny, so I won’t even try as I take no pleasure in having my eardrums ruptured by something this fundamentally ugly and pointless. Maybe there is a point, I dunno, but it’s lost on me whatever it is, which thinking about it is probably a positive endorsement. OK, to be fair, they aren’t a band, a project or anything tangible really, just two geezers filling in by improvising a doomy din for a while which is great in spirit and appreciated by many. Just not me. Sorry.

Slightly less arduous on the senses are ex 9-Volt quad-stringer (and winner of the 2008 ‘Bloody Nice Bloke’ award) Greg Cheney and his acoustic associate Chas, who haven’t got a name for their enterprise yet but are open to suggestions, so please feel free to post yours at the bottom of this page and if they use it, I’ll give you a prize. They haven’t had a chance to prepare either, but at least there’s a vague resemblance to a workable unit going on, no matter how sloppy it might be. Well, I say that it’s a unit, but it seems to be pretty much whatever Chas wants to do, and what Chas wants to do is make emasculated folk pop pitched somewhere between Damien Rice and Jack Johnson that would probably give James Blunt a momentary stirring in the trouser department, while Big Greg sits there smiling, acoustic bass on his knee, not intruding on Chas’s limelight as he chirpily plucks out a lazy backbeat, trying not to look like a giant backing up an elf.

They almost have it from the offing, as an opening cover of Eagle Eye Cherry’s “Stay Tonight” snaps together pretty damn snugly to the point of suddenly receiving enthusiastic cheers. Beginning with a cover is a risky move and they both know it, but the warmth in the crowd’s reaction seems to have taken young Chas by surprise, leaving the duo unsure of where to go next. While the audience are perhaps expecting more singalong pop as a lightweight interlude after the previous noise terrorism, perhaps they weren’t expecting something quite as lightweight as what they were served with, but it doesn’t dampen anyone’s spirit, least of all Chas’s.

He’s got a slick David Gray-ish voice too; a little lacking in power perhaps, but nice enough to listen to for a while if you like that sort of thing, which he does if the next few tunes are anything to go by. He even starts to get a bit Newton Faulkner on us, experimenting with guitar-body percussion while crooning twee nonsense like “oh come to me, dreamy melody…”, but it’s a fine tune regardless, and they at least have the luxury of being the closest to ‘cuddle music’ that the evening’s going to get, and the couples seem to take advantage accordingly.

Greg & Chas make a pleasant, if not entirely thrilling attempt at contemporary acoustic cool, and with luck could find themselves entertaining punters in wine bars before too long, because that seems to be the most fertile ground in which to sow the seeds of popularity when you have tender songs of heartbreak and holding hands to deliver. “We’re gonna do a Bob Marley type thing…” warns Chas, and a fairly simple calypso ensues as they explore Caribbean clichés in the way that Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” does, before leading the couples into a “one love” chorus. They adore that sort of bland bilge in such places, and should keep it for them because doing it somewhere like a pub in Brixton would probably get them shot.

Age, or maturity if you like, has caught up with Chris Hoad too. The demise of 9 Volt a year ago may have been a sad occasion for those of us that followed the Crowborough mosh-merchants with fanatical zeal, but the absolute necessity of it becomes blindingly obvious now that this solo project has reached fruition. Unrestricted by petty internal politics or the rigid confines of accessible metal, the driving force behind 9 Volt is back, and this time it’s personal. Chain Street & 4th are the embodiment of Choad’s own private fantasies and fears, his inner demons, frustrations and torments come to life. Sure, the Choadlet’s onstage persona is still geared around smutty innuendo as some things never change, but style-wise it’s as far removed from the traditionally raucous metal of 9 Volt as a standard porn flick is from 2 Girls & 1 Cup; musically this project is darker, deeper and scarier than a cave full of vampire bats.

From the opening guitar blast of “The Sentence” to the twisted acid-gargling fury of “Litigation Machines” it’s clear that Chain Street’s modus operandi is to create challenging gritty post-grunge that’s tight, explorative and terrifying, like a grimier, slimier Bring Me The Horizon, fused with the epic anger of Tool, leaving you to marvel at the unhinged toothgrinding moodiness of it all. Tangled blistered guitar squeals, spurting progressive rhythms and intense mathy cool abounds, full of light and shade, loud bits, quiet bits and bits that are just plain weird. It ain’t pretty but it’s immensely heavy and satisfying as they riff out in a flurry of sweaty feedback and distorted, epic, constantly mutating, grinding grunge. And of course, if we want to extend the Chain Street experience we’re all encouraged to buy their new debut album “Devices” (out now on Unlabel) for a mere £8, which as Choad helpfully reminds is around the same price as a prostitute from Glasgow, although slightly more costly and certainly a better investment towards a good time than one from Slough.

Although a clean break from 9 Volt personnel would initially seem to be the obvious choice for such a personal endeavour, having fellow ex- 9 Volter Jamie Straker sharing guitar duties certainly seems to be a wise choice, if only for reasons of comfort as they understand each other’s ideas better than anyone else could, but there’s no doubt at all who’s leading the way. Choad moves like a flailing scrawny bag of hair and bones, thrashing and waving that guitar about like a b-move axe-murderer on prom night, but more remarkably – considering his recent sinus surgery – he’s seldom been on better vocal form; that roaring, phlegm-rattling, tarry-lunged growl is so loud and powerful, it’s a wonder it needs amplification at all.

Chain Street & 4th aren’t easy listening, it has to be said. If 9 Volt was your limit for angry energy, and the Slinty mathiness that’s so popular ‘round these ‘ere parts doesn’t altogether melt your Magnum, or you’re simply plain old, then frankly, you might be better off with your memories. No hard feelings. For everyone else, who might enjoy the feeling of having their brains sucked out of their lug‘oles, they’ll have you grinning like a stoned hyena. And you’ll still get lots of cock jokes too.

Paul Mills

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