A View from the Trenches...

REPEAT 10th birthday
Cambridge Junction

An eyewitness report from our official war correspondent

First of a veritable multitude of bands tonight are Pilots of the Sixth, the new project of Jordan Hammer Ramone and recent releasees of Big Badger Recording Co. A Libertines-esque outfit with an occasional 60s slant and more of a snarl on their faces, they're remarkably tight, self-possessed and assured and the odd flash of inquiry and unrest hints at a suitably bolshy attitude. However… they really are rather derivative. In fact, they're to the extent that they pretty much limit their display of talent to proving that they can do what other people do. "Good at what they do" is, of course, pretty much the ultimate in damning with faint praise, and I'm very loath to write this band off with that chilly summary when those occasional flashes of attitude hint that Pilots of the Sixth could do so much more. So, will they push against the boundaries and risk stumbling? Or will they continue to play it safe on the beaten path? We await the answer with bated breath…

Next up are the Horse and his Boy, whose delicate acoustic sound proves unexpectedly well-suited to this larger venue. Managing to fill the available space without sounding stretched or lost, it simultaneously manages to preserve a sense of empty melancholy behind the sound. An emotion which compliments their lyrical themes of a sort of forward-looking nostalgia, singing of how bad it will be when you get old and look back on where you are now, of inevitable, unavoidable regret, rather well. Dickon's fantastic, emotive voice and the alternate force and delicacy of the guitar accompaniment make for an acoustic act which, while not exploding onto new ground, follows old footsteps in a very winning way.

Speaking (kinda) of nostalgia: funny old thing, ain't it? Even the worst of times may well have some dusting of glitter on the top - and The Saffs were part of a music scene which provided my soul-salvation for a while. Having had the decency to split up before they tarnished themselves with loss of energy, soul and believability, they still shine in my memory - and because of that retrospective glow, tonight they were perfect in all their rough edged punk-pop-sleaze-glamour glory. They still made sarcastic comments, still baited each other and the audience between songs and still wore an excessive amount of eyeliner, and the front row who'd pushed their way to the front specifically for the sake of this one last stand were still fittingly, if nostalgically, enthusiastic. And yes, I do indeed still know all the words…

"Good hair and kinda poppy, like a cross between Busted and Kinesis eating cake off my navel." Such was honorary guest-reviewer Julia's take on politico punk popsters Johnny Panic. My take? Loud, thrashy and tuneful with more emphasis on drums and vocals than one might expect - and also making it quite clear that they have the ideology side of things down pat. For this we salute them; although musically they weren't what floats my boat, their righteous energy was nonetheless impressive.

But yes - returning to that nostalgia theme… The past and memory work in strange ways. Sometimes nostalgia preserves things under glass along with the emotions they once evoked, so that when looking back at old times you can still tap into the state of mind of a version of you who lived so long ago that they're practically a different person. Even if you now feel utterly separate from that old you, their old loves can still stir some vestiges of feeling in you. It's an odd state of affairs, really, to be a conduit for the past in that way - leads to guilty pleasure and some weird state of regret for the death of a version of yourself whom you might no longer even wish to bloody be.

But aspects of the past don't always fade in tandem with the era they inhabit. Sometimes, songs and bands which evoke those old times grow as you do, changing as they do so - or maybe fossilising to the extent that it feels like they've changed even if they haven't, because they're so out of step with the world they still claim to represent that you can no longer see them as still filling the same place in that world.

When this happens you can't preserve those old songs under glass because they're still there, still alive and demanding to be heard and reassessed by your current self. And the band still singing those old songs add new songs to the set list, and these new tunes may or may not allow the band to retain their dignity and credibility in your mind in their present incarnation. And if they don't… well, you're in a strange position. Because if a band continue long after their original meaning and appeal has, from your point of view, departed, you find yourself obliged to include that band's new incarnation in the continuous re-evaluation, development and refinement of taste and opinion which is a fundamental part of living in and experiencing the world. And then a rather disconcerting and not entirely pleasant thing may well happen: you may well find your old opinions, the memories of good times which are supposed to be pinned down in inviolable, laminated sepia in the photograph album of the mind, being tainted by your assessment of the current situation. Your current disappointment and disillusionment may seep backwards through the strata of years in your mind… until you can no longer even believe that you ever did believe. Until the meaning you once found fades till you can only make it out by squinting - and even then, it seems blurred, ill-defined and full of holes which just beg to be picked wider.

And this, my friends, is a rather long-winded way of explaining why there're two bands missing from this write-up. C'est la vie.

You've got Bewitched stuck in your head now, haven't you? HA!

By Dodecahedron Ramone

Pix © Copyright Mark Moughton, 2006 www.myspace.com/phototrope.

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