Having recently moved into the Hare and Hounds permanently (got myself a sweet little spot just beneath the bar in the back room...no more nightmare journeys on the bus of the damned - aka the Number 11 - for me) tonight’s gig was just a mere stumble away.
First up Fryars (formerly known as frYars) who I first heard back in the day (2007 or so) via an intriguingly oddball track called Chocolate (look it up if you can find the original, it’s rather great). In the intervening years he’s clearly smoothed out some of the oddness in favour of a more conventional and, let’s face it, commercial sound. Can’t blame him for that, fellow has to eat. Ancient readers may be aware of singer / songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan who was pretty massive in the 70s. Well, at times Fryars has a similar feel this evening albeit it with a dash of electronica here and there.
Opening with the sleepy On Your Own pretty much the whole set’s a lesson in classy and atmospheric MOR, the fruits of several years’ labour which should be properly unveiled in an album sometime in 2014. In between songs Fryars (aka Ben Garrett) revealed he has a pretty good sense of humour too, jokily mentioning that he’d only sold one of his t-shirts so far and, as a result, musing that the unit cost is currently £158. Whether anyone bought one at this price after the show is still unconfirmed. Unlikely, especially as it fails to mention the band’s name anywhere. After the pretty chilled out feel the last track, Cool Like Me lifted the pace considerably. It’s been used on a TV show apparently, probably in a scene featuring a teenage girl gyrating in a nightclub somewhere. It’s that kind of tune. Personally I miss the more experimental off the wall feel of his earlier stuff but you can see the newer material going down a storm.
Sadly the world’s littered with underrated bands. In the days when such things existed they ended up in the bargain bins of records shops whilst lesser groups sold by the bucket load. If anything it’s even worse these days. Pretty much anyone can record entire albums in their bedrooms right now, resulting in some brilliant and not so brilliant stuff coming out of the unlikeliest places. Since 2009 Summer Camp (husband and wife Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey) have been producing some absolutely classic slices of pop perfection that should’ve been huge. For some reason the kind of success that they deserve has, so far, eluded them giving anyone clued up enough the chance to hear arguably one of alt pop’s finest in relatively modest surroundings. Summer Camp shows are a treat for the eyes as well as the ears though. Clearly they’re huge movie buffs as every song is accompanied by a series of carefully selected film clips – everything from Gene Kelly dance numbers to Footloose (movie anoraks will have a ball) – projected on to the back of the stage. It’s a simple idea but I dread to think how long it all took. Probably as long as it took to craft the 16 or so pop gems that formed the set. As you’d expect new album Summer Camp provided the bulk of the songs, adding a little extra disco gloss to the sound first unveiled on their debut Welcome To Condale. Sankey (resplendent in a rather fetching pair of silver block heel shoes) and Warmsley (tweed jacket...button hanging on for grim life) were accompanied tonight by two thirds of post rockers Brontide...it's a long standing arrangement but still a curious gig for them I guess. What’s the best song to start the show with? How about a track called The End? Genius.
It really is genius too, the kind of clever disco dusted pop that relaunched sexy Kylie back in her golden hot pants days (in fact can't you just hear her singing this?). Next up, Down, from the debut album, an anthem for anyone who’s...well...feeling a bit down. It’s anything but downbeat though, with Sankey defiantly belting out “This is my life” whilst Warmsley provides the comforting refrains. Capping off a trio of Camp classics comes Fresh, first single off the new album. Is this the best song they’ve done so far? Heck yes. If Busby Berkeley hooked up with Chic this would be the soundtrack. Lush strings, funky basslines, lyrics dripping with romance and Sankey at her seductively theatrical best...find me a better, classier pop record this year if you can.
I Got You brings a bit of an oriental flavour to proceedings with Sankey and Warmsley exchanging adorable little glances at each other during the “For always, forever you and me” bits. Awwww bless ‘em. It’s a wonderfully intimate little moment, sweet without being saccharine...not an easy thing to achieve in these deeply cynical times. Keep Falling is as instantly catchy as anything you’re likely to hear, a glorious song that, were he still with us and making movies, John Hughes would surely snap it up for one of his soundtracks. And so it continues, one glorious track after another culminating in the delicious coupling of bitter break up anthem Better Off Without You and perhaps it’s polar opposite (musically and subject wise) the sublime Two Chords.
With a soundtrack currently in production for a documentary called Beyond Clueless there’ll be plenty more new Summer Camp material pretty soon, but the world really needs to wake up and smell whatever hot beverage takes their fancy right now. Summer Camp are a glorious reboot of pop’s golden ages (the 60s and 80s) and if you miss out on them while they’re this great, trust me, your regret will be more than ‘in-tents’.