10 February 2004

The Broken Family Band

Track and Field Winter Sprinter Night Two – The Broken Family Band, Finishing School, Homescience and the Ladybug Transistor, King’s Cross Water Rats, Thursday 8 January

So here we were again. Night two. More or less the same pubs in the same scuzzy part of London. Again, that need to get to the venue earlier than you’d like because the band you really want to see isn’t the main one. This makes me think I like unpopular music, but that isn’t by choice. I never set out to like music that is wilfully obscure, in the same way that I never decided to support a football team which will never win things – but that’s the way it’s apparently come to be. Anyway, bands and venues don’t keep time like people who have to work for a living do, so we got there before anything much was happening. Having spent over 80 quid on music of varying quality the day before, I resolved at all times to keep my gaze averted from the table with the records on it.

First two bands were Finishing School, who I liked, and Homescience, who I didn’t. Homescience were a wimpy bloke band while Finishing School where one of those nice, melodic girl bands who are pleasant enough to listen to without necessarily being the sort of thing you’ll get excited about. One of the women out of this was also in the Essex Green the night before. How many bands does any one person need to be in?

Both went on a bit long, as I was there, waiting with less than perfect patience, to see the Broken Family Band, with whom I am in danger of developing an obsession. I always say that The Fall are my favourite all time band, and then I allow myself at least one current new favourite band. At the moment, it’s the Broken Family Band. Yet nothing about them makes sense. They’re a country band. From Cambridge. Cambridge, England. It took me a bit of persistence to like them. First response was that I don’t like country music. But the songs got to me. I bought their LP Cold Water Songs last year. First time I played it I thought I might have got this wrong. The first track made no concessions to those wary of country. They even had American accents. But somehow I grew to love it. It stayed in my head, and I played that record again and again and again. Now I’m forced to admit something I resisted: I really do like country music. Perhaps this is a sign of getting older. Certainly no one under thirty should admit to liking country. Now, not only have I hoovered up every Broken Family Band record I can find, but I’ve also got a fistful of Johnny Cash CDs and the recent and wonderful Rough Trade Shops Country compilation. This looks like the start of an enthralling journey. And isn’t that one of the wonderful things about music? Who’d have thought a teenage Smiths obsessive would end up here?

I saw the BFB alongside Herman Dune last year and they were wonderful. The records don’t quite capture how good they are live. The singer’s a little chap but he brims with charisma and menace and commands the stage. It helps that he has an extraordinary voice that covers high and low, quiet and loud, sad and funny and all points in between – sometimes in the same song. Aiding and abetting is a moustachioed hulk on bass and other things. They might have started as a joke, but they’re far too good to be treated as one now. Of course the set was frustratingly short – squeezed as they were in that insidious spot between the main band and the earlier bands who’d overstayed – but very sweet. I Don’t Have the Time to Mess Around and Don’t Leave That Women Unattended were particular thrills, but then they always will be. Encouragingly, the audience loved it, and before you knew it, they were gone. I needed at least an hour more.

For the second night running the best band had been on in the wrong place. Again, we might as well stick around and hear the supposed headliners, who couldn’t hope to match this. Don’t know anything about the Ladybug Transistor, apart from that this is no name for a band. What allusion am I missing? They were adequate. But surely that was the same guitarist from the Essex Green leaving his Byrdsian fingerprints all over the place? How incestuous is this? Anyway, I thought the singers were interesting and it was perfectly alright, but it couldn’t help but feel anticlimactic.

Bed was calling, and I answered.

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