Sunday, April 06, 2008

Clash Club presents The Guillemots at 93 Feet East was well worth the £8 cost of admission. They're not a band I would ordinarily have discovered had it not been for a birthday gift from T. two years back, who felt that it would be something I'd enjoy. He, as usual, was right. There aren't too many people whose musical tastes I would trust, but T., M. and M. are right up there when it comes to knowing good music when they hear it.

Anyway, when I heard the news that the secret headliner of Clash Club Returns would be The Guillemots, I immediately went and purchased advanced tickets just to guarantee entry. London's quite a bit different from Singapore in that everyone buys tickets way in advance here (mostly scalpers and touts trying to arbitrage the tickets, I suspect) while in Singapore, everyone seems to wait until the last minute, just so that they can confirm that they are indeed free to see the gig. Both are annoying in their own way, as the London way means that waiting for someone to confirm whether they can go with you may result in tickets being sold out by the time that person confirms (*grumbles* Turnmills' The Last Dance being one which I sorely regret not purchasing when I saw tickets available as they were sold out in 24 hours) while the Singapore way means... well, not knowing for sure whether you'll be going at all.

Owing to a prior commitment, I got to 93 Feet East at 10.15 pm, a little fearful that the club venue would be full up and that I would be forced to spend the rest of the night in the DJ room. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and I managed to get a spot in the middle of the room. Thanks to my height, standing close to the stage isn't encouraged as I'll get a neckache from looking up at the stage after 10 minutes, not to mention the hazard of potential spontaneous moshing that tends to break out in the front of the crowd.

I proceeded to wait, all by my lonesome, a bottle of Sol in hand until 11 pm for the band to come on. I hate waiting, but it's a necessary evil. And while I had the feeling that the gig, especially in such an intimate setting, would be good, waiting over half an hour in the hot, stuffy, crowded room slowly began to erode the good vibes I had about the gig. This wasn't exactly helped by the first song of the The Guillemots' set. It was decent, but it wasn't great. The woman beside me evidentally felt so, as she yelled, "That was shit!" and promptly left.

The second song wasn't too good either but again, it was decent. By this time, I was wondering whether I'd made an error, and whether all the fantastic reviews I'd read about their new album, Red, were horribly wrong. Then they launched into Made Up Love Song #43 off Through the Windowpane and it was absolutely wonderful. It's got a great, happy, instrumental melody which goes from quietly simple to nicely jangly, which I'm sure regular readers will have noticed I so love, and incredibly quirky lyrics (totally catching my attention with the opening lyrics "I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do"). If only I could find a guy who made me feel the way this song captures...

This was followed by another song about relationships, Words (off Red), which is nicely listenable, and definitely a little more mainstream and commercial than the three tunes played previously, and should be one of the hits off the album. Words is a sad, poignant song about how miscommunication contributed towards a break-up (with lyrics such as "I think life would be so much easier if I was half-drunk and mad"), and stood in stark contrast to the celebration about being in love which preceded it.

The Guillemots' next track was Get Over It, their first single off Red, which struck me as being rather reminiscent of James - Sit Down and Blur - Song 2 (if that sounds odd, then let me clarify by saying it's more 80% James, and 20% Blur). It's really big in an anthemic kind of way and infectious as hell.

I suppose, given the order of these three tracks (being in love, breaking up and then getting over it) that one could almost see some kind of theme. Deliberate? Who knows these days?

At this point in time, I can't for the life of me figure out what song they played. I jotted down a couple of the lyrics I heard, but can't seem to find out what it is, which really annoys me because it's the only song missing in the set list I noted from when the set got really interesting. You'll just have to bear the frustration of missing out on what song #6 was until I manage to track down a set list.

Song #7 - Trains to Brazil, off Through the Windowpane - was most definitely the highlight of the night for me. Like most of the band's great tracks, the song makes great use of various instruments, starting off improbably upbeat with a great drum snare and kick, a hauntingly poignant theremin which grounds the bounciness of the tune, and has a great jazzy saxophone-led break in-between. Lyrically, the song works quite nicely as well. Written in the wake of the London bombings in 2006, Fyfe just exhorts the listener to enjoy life ("Can’t you live and be thankful you’re here? / See it could be you tomorrow, next year"). It just made me want to dance. In fact, it sounded like a great song to lindy to. Maybe I'll get the chance to try that out some day.

The last track of the night turned out to be an epic, Sao Paulo, again off Through the Windowpane. It's 12 minutes long and, with the variety of instruments, melodies and moods present in this tune, could have been two songs. In fact, I thought it was it was two different songs and that they had thrown in the second part as an encore, that's how different it sounded. It's an epic which starts off quite classical with shades of Sigur Ros but much better, before turning into an indie rock album in the second half. Sao Paulo demonstrated the vast range of the band's musical abilities and was definitely a good choice to end off the set with (although, given the length of the song, it would be difficult to put it in any other part of a concert, to be quite honest).

So, by this time, you might be asking, "Who the heck are the Guillemots?", as well as "What kind of a name is the Guillemots and how on earth do you pronounce it?". Let me answer the second question first. Apparently, guillemots are a kind of sea bird. And it's pronounced "gi-le-mots", exactly how it looks, and not at all French-ified as I originally thought. The Guillemots is a quartet, led by the improbably-named lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield. Fyfe is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist who has perfect pitch, according to The Independent. Other members of the band include MC Lord Magrao (a former death metal guitarist), Aristazabal Hawkes (a classically trained double-bass player) and guitarist Greig Stewart (who used to play with trad-folk bands in Scotland). The wide range of musical backgrounds and abilities plays a large part in the band's songs, and it is a real pleasure to see them live, watching them swap instruments effortlessly and seamlessly. Yet, in spite of the ridiculous amount of talent the band clearly possesses, they never let it get in the way of the song. It never feels as if they're trying to show off, and it's just wonderful.

The Guillemots play at The Forum in London on June 4, 2008 (way too close to my exam). If you're free, go catch them. If you're not, cancel the conflicting appointment and go any way. Get your tickets through Sandbag Tickets for £16.50 + booking fee (Ticketmaster and See Tickets charge an astounding £21.25 and £24.50 per ticket respectively after adding on all the various fees).

Related Links
La Blogotheque #25.2: The Guillemots - Made Up Love Song #43: Amazing French site La Blogotheque makes featured artistes play live on the streets of Paris as part of its Concert a Emporter series (Take Away Shows). Watching Fyfe Dangerfield walking down the streets playing on his guitar, and then meeting up with the rest of his bandmates... it's so beautiful I almost cried. Check out #25.3 - Annie Let's Not Wait as well.
The Guillemots - Trains to Brazil (acoustic): As you can tell, I absolutely loved Trains to Brazil when they performed it last night. The acoustic version tops it, something which I didn't quite think was possible. Without the bouncy, jangly melody provided by the usual instrumental accompaniments, it sounds quite different. Add to that, it's beautifully mesmerising seeing how engrossed in the music Fyfe is.
The Guillemots cover The Streets - Never Went To Church: At Mike Skinner's request, the band covered his incredibly personal tribute to his father following his father's death. I quite liked The Streets - Dry Your Eyes, which talked about a break-up (and got a lot of airplay in my household when I went through a break-up the year after), but somehow, couldn't quite get into Never Went To Church. I acknowledge the pain Mike feels, but it does seem a little too sappy for my liking. In the hands of Fyfe Dangerfield though, it gets turned into a piece of orchestral majesty, so much better than the original version.

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