Cardiff Barfly
February 5 2009
Words : Bones
Pix : Richard Walker

Have you ever considered the role of glasses in rock'n'roll? I don't mean the obligatory "shades" that most aspiring bands think give them that certain element of "cool", but the real bottom-of-a coke-bottle, National Health type bifocals that the nerd at school used to wear. Apparently two days before this gig marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly who was a paid up member of the blind-as-a-bat club. Then the 60's had Hank Marvin who provided the guitar solos for Cliff Richard's Shadows, and from the 70's onwards Elton John has sported a myriad of different types of "goggles" (along with even more bizarre toupees). Damn, even punk rock had the odd four-eyes (Elvis Costello) and,for effect only, Manchester's finest Morrissey occasionally sported them in the 80's. Of late they seemed to have died out, but what with The House of Lords from the Young Knives, Sam Sparrow and tonight Matthew Swinnerton from the Rakes, perhaps they are the new "must have" item of the rock fraternity. Which brings me in a very meandering way to tonight's gig.

I first saw the Rakes in this very establishment about 4 years ago, just after their first single "Retreat" had been released. They were getting good press ,and although the turnout was considerably less than tonight, they put on a good show and I think most of the 200 audience had them down as a band that definitely would go further.  Later that year I took in Franz Ferdinand at the Cardiff International Arena, where the audience was over ten times as big, and whist the Rakes were well enough thought of to be one of the support acts (along with the Editors) it was apparent that they were not used to playing such vast arenas as they all huddled together centre stage and frankly looked a bit lost.  Whilst the debut album was well received and spawned the "hit" single of "22 Grand Job" their second long player was neither critically, or commercially, successful and they disappeared off the radar until earlier this year. I think that they have learnt a lesson similar to the Futureheads, in that if your second album departs too far from your initial sound, then you run the risk of ostracising the fans who first gave you success without picking up any new admirers.

So tonight's set list contained only one track from their second CD "Ten New Messages" in "When Tom Cruise Cries", and the remainder was a good mix of their older numbers from "Capture/Release" or fresh tunes from the upcoming album "Klang". Given the snow that has engulfed the country for days previously I was unsure if the gig would actually go ahead, but was reassured to find that on entering the pub across the road from the venue several of the band were in residence. Whilst Alan Donohue was wearing a parka at this point, by the time they took the stage he had changed into a shirt & tie and pretty dapper suit, albeit that this effect was somewhat ruined by a gaudy pair of red woollen mittens he insisted on retaining for the first few numbers. The band had seemed to be augmented by a new guitarist, although I could hear no discernible difference in the band's sound.

I notice that they seem to have virtually the same set list every night, and so it was no real surprise that the next hour contained renditions of "Retreat", "The Light from your Mac", "We are all Animals", "Open Book", "Terror!", "Violent", "The world was a mess but his hair was perfect", however I did find it somewhat worrying that apart from new excellent single "1989", the crowd only really came to life in old numbers "22 Grand Job" and encore "Strasbourg". 

Whilst the Rakes may contend that they were only "road testing" the new album, it is worrying to think that in four years they have not progressed and find themselves back in a small (albeit sold out) venue of 350. It is difficult to see where the band can go, as the longer they tread water the more other bands will overtake them. However they seem like affable blokes and hopefully the new album can give their career a shot in the arm and not having to take 22 grand jobs in the City to make ends meet !


See more of Richard Walker's pix here