Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Monochrome Set / The Chinese Burn Society @ The Hare & Hounds Monday 9th April 2012

Like one of those strangely admirable real ale tickers (you know, those dudes who travel all over the UK taking a sip of real ales then writing it down in an exercise book) I’m gradually knocking off all of the major post punk bands of the late 70’s and, with my metaphorical Wire and Magazine cherry popped last year, tonight was a rare chance to catch the equally influential The Monochrome Set.

First up though a band playing only their seventh (or eighth...they couldn’t quite decide) gig, local boys The Chinese Burn Society. As bands go they’re perhaps not the most conventional of propositions, with a cellist playing the kind of up front driving role seldom seen since the glory days of ELO. Other musical influences include prog rock, 60’s mod, Brit pop, psych and, in pick of the set, Grog Song, the Bonzos and The Beatles. It’s a curious mix but somehow it works. Perhaps it’s the influence of local musical maverick Tim (aka Bom and his Magic Drumstick) who, unsurprisingly given his alter ego, plays drums in the band. Rather impressive he was too, neatly getting the balance right between timing, rhythm, fluidity and power. The two vocalists, one with a Weller-ish twang, the other several octaves higher, worked well together, creating a pleasingly rich multi textured sound (yep, I've been reading Mojo Magazine again).

All in all it was one of those sets that you just didn’t want to end...partially ‘cos you didn’t quite know what the heck they were going to pull out of the bag next. Final track, Bubblegum, included Tim/Bom playing a length of pipe and two of the band blowing kazoos...see what I mean?

The Monochrome Set is one of those bands that have influenced many but failed to have the success that they deserved. You can hear their influence in everything from Orange Juice and Franz Ferdinand through to the lords of all things indie, The Smiths. Tonight’s line up included both original members of the band, Bid and the hairy chopped Lester Square (who was also in the original line up of Adam and the Ants too...blimey). He’s a character and not just because of the mutton chops. Rejecting the conventional guitar pic for the first track, The Monochrome Set (from their 1980 album Boutique Strange), Lester chose a dildo instead, not the most obvious choice I’ll grant you. It’s a choice that would probably appeal to Morrissey though, as this opening number must surely have done. Cop a load of the lyrics “I fascinate, infatuate, emphatically. You’re dreary, you’re base, deary. Your face is weary for me”. Now you try telling me that old Stephen Patrick doesn’t owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bid? Musically there’s an echo of the early Ants in there too, with Lester adding some neat complex post punk guitar noodling in there for good measure.

After a few more oldies (including a fine version of The Lighter Side Of Dating) and having not spoken so far Bid decided to open with “Andy (the band’s bassist) told me to say something nice about Birmingham...then he said, nah...don’t bother” perhaps not the best way to win over an audience eh? Still it seemed to tickle Bid. He seemed to be particularly amused throughout the evening in fact, chuckling away to himself in between songs...and even during a couple too. Later on he decided to have another go at building bridges, informing us that the band hadn’t played Birmingham for 30 years and that the venue they had played all those years ago had apparently been burnt down by us...all of us...the people of Birmingham. A joke, of course, but it did seem a curious way to win friends and influence people. We weren’t here for stand up though...and when he wasn’t smirking away he and the rest of the band blazed through an impressive back catalogue, most of which had, like the rest of the world, sadly passed me by...Alphaville (clearly an influence on Blur), the ‘60’s tinged B I D Spells Bid, The Ruling Class (neatly messing with the old music hall tune My Old Man’s a Dustman)...all hidden gems. Tonight wasn’t just an archaeological post punk dig though, there’s a new album out, Platinum Coils, their first in 17 years and despite Bid asking security to lock the doors all the new tracks stood up well against the older stuff. Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome is particularly strong, inspired perhaps by Bid’s recent brush with death from an aneurysm (“There’s a kitten on my hip and it’s going on a trip up the river to my head”). Hmmm...maybe that’s why he was grinning so much...perhaps he was just pleased to be here...anywhere...even Birmingham.

Quirky, cult, influential...call them what you will, but The Monochrome Set deserve their place in musical history. And your record collection for that matter.

Platinum Coils is out now, available here.


Vanessa said...

Great review, that sums up the band's place in music history as well as capturing the atmosphere on the night.

I'm from Stafford, and Bid is welcome to take the p*** out of my town any time.

(Vanessa - one of the duo on the merchandise table)

The Baron said...

Hi Vanessa,

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. I'm a relative newcomer to the world of The Set but I was impressed. Currently working my way through their back catalogue!