Sunday, April 17, 2011
The Mummers / The Bluebeat Arkestra / Evil Alien @ The HMV Academy, Friday 15th April 2011
For many bands the sudden death of one of their key members signals the end of it all and, after The Mummers lost their chef composer Mark Harwood to suicide in 2009 you wouldn’t have blamed them if that had indeed been the outcome. But, to their credit, they decided to carry on, partially it seems in tribute to the man who’d helped shape their unique sound. This is a very, very good thing.
First up though another very good thing in the shape of Evil Alien, a relatively new group tonight making (I believe) their surprise live debut. Already tipped by Q Magazine as a ‘next big thing’ they feature, amongst others the lovely Gemma Quarterman, an artist I particularly rated in her solo incarnation. In stark contrast to her former life as an acoustic singer/songwriter Evil Alien has echoes of Underworld, Tricky and FSOL. Brooding Trip Hop meets euphoric early 90’s dance (they’ve even got a track called Higher Than The Sun...no...not that one) in an inner city soundtrack to the post millennial meltdown. The interplay between Gemma’s voice and the male lead works really well and the often intense sonic backdrop provided the perfect setting for it all. One comment I would make is that Gemma was set back from the front of the stage a bit, I’d like to see her upfront sharing the limelight, especially as she sings lead vocals on the set highlight for me, called (I think) The Best Days. A predictably impressive debut though, from a band that has potential scrawled all over it.
Next up and holy cow...how come no one’s ever told me how awesome this lot are? With more than a gentle nod to Sun Ra in their name you might expect some serious sonic experimentation...and, whilst they never threaten to blow your frontal lobe out of your eyeballs, tonight The Bluebeat Arkestra put on one of most enjoyable shows I’ve seen in years. Fusing funk, ska and dub and with a pair of irrepressibly bubbly female vocalists out front it was a half hour lesson in just how much fun great music can be. Kicking off with Won’t Be Waiting (think a funkier version of St Etienne) and ending with a simmering cover of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang in between they managed to draw inspiration from everything from The Beat and Fine Young Cannibals through to Kool and the Gang and Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft. Brilliantly fusing genres like there’s no tomorrow, which, given the state of the world these days there might well not be, The Bluebeat Arkestra might well be one of the best live acts around right now.
On then to The Mummers. Lead singer Raissa had some solo success back in the 90’s but then, as is sadly so often the case in the music ‘biz’, things fizzled out and she ended up waiting tables to make a living. Remember that next time you’re in Pizza Hut...the person serving you could be musical genius. I heard tales of Syd Barrett flipping burgers in Wimpy back in the 70’s (actually I didn’t but that would’ve been kind of cool eh?). Anyway, The Mummers produce the kind of lush, orchestral show tunes that you might expect from Hollywood musicals of the 40’s and 50’s (think Bjork’s It’s oh So Quiet meets The Carpenters in a circus big top)...as rich and warming as a mug of hot cocoa and one of those blanket bodywarmer thingies that fat people sit in when they’re watching Jeremy Kyle (whoever he is) on the telly. It’s tear jerkingly beautiful stuff. I was a little apprehensive about how they’d make it all work in a live setting and, to be fair, it’s impossible to do it full justice without a 50 piece orchestra but the more stripped back feel doesn’t diminish the emotional impact of the tracks one iota. Tonight, Raissa informed us, was their first ever gig ‘up north’, which must’ve been scary for the poor lass. We’re savage beasts at the best of times. Happily she’d soon climbed down from the stage and was wandering amongst us, serenading lucky audience members with that lullaby voice of hers. Music can stir up all kinds of emotions and doubtless the sad passing of Mark Horwood adds an extra layer of meaning to it all but, even without the tragic back story this is simply beautiful stuff. Wonderland was fairytaletastic, on Top Of The World symphonically stupendous and March Of The Dawn somehow managed to fuse military band music with Bjork at her best to produce something truly unique. After this last track Raissa sank to her knees and seemed to be overwhelmed...either by the rapturous reception of the crowd or perhaps the emotions that the song conjures up for her and the rest of the band.
It was the cover of Todd Rundgren’s Fade Away (off the band’s new EP Mink Hollow Road) that really did it for me though. Again mixing the sounds of military brass bands with soft as a babies bottom lullaby lyrics it was just, to borrow the old cliché, heartmeltingly gorgeous. Suitably enough the last number of the main set was a track called ‘This Is Heaven’. You know what? I couldn’t agree more.