29 January 2009

The June Brides - 'There Are Eight Million Stories...'

There was something so right about last Friday night. By the time it kicked off, we were just about sufficiently intoxicated, via dubious South African brandy, incongruous pints of mild and, at the venue itself, red wine of a somewhat challenging nature. From beloved Hackney we made our way to the venue, a new one to us, a room above a 1960s concrete snooker hall on one of Stoke Newington's less fashionable streets. We paid our five pounds to get in, bought drinks from an impromptu, jerry built bar. The stage area was defined by two semi-circles of battered leatheresque armchairs and sofas in a distressed condition. There were two vacant chairs that we made our own. As we sat back and sipped Chateau Usine, we reflected that the evening had been pretty good already.

We don't do reunions as a rule. I have no wish, for example, to be reacquainted with former schoolfriends - even those handful who have, as yet, evaded Strangeways - from whom I have probably drifted for very good reasons. And in music, it's better, in the main, not to look back. We caught the Pixies a couple of times in the past, largely to try to compensate for missing them the first time around, and I hope The Smiths never reform, but if they do, I'll fork out ready money to be first in the queue. So there I was a few days before on the point of buying tickets for something achingly cutting-edge when some random internet pootling revealed The June Brides would be getting together for one rare night, and I knew, reunion or not, that I had to be there.

You probably don't know this, but the June Brides were one of the most important groups in the history of British music. Ever. Knocking around at about the same time as The Smiths, they were also one of the groups who changed my life and made me realise there was something more out there, something a bit more interesting, something other than what I had been told was on offer. They set a template that was played with by all my favourite bands of my late 80s salad days. They were jangling, shambling, literate and nerdy, loser indie popsters and wringers of wry smiles, and on most tunes there were these ridiculous parping trumpets.

But they burned too briefly, 1984 to 1986, which crucially for me was before I left my smalltown behind and started being able to go to gigs. It has always rankled. About every two years I come back to the music. 'This Town', an achingly happy and sad almost celebration of life in an English Nowhereton, still seems to be about me. 'In The Rain' still has that meaning of life clarity you get from sitting in a pub wondering what you're doing there when everyone around seems to be having a great time. 'Sick, Tired and Drunk' probably wasn't supposed to be a manifesto for living, but that's how it seemed to turn out for me. It would be quite wrong for British music to have anything like a hall of fame, but if we did, the June Brides would need to be in it.

So a reunion should have seen them feted, makers of a black market of soaring ticket prices, diarised by thousands on last.fm. Instead we got a couple of hundred people somewhere handy for the railway station. But there was something bang on about it all. This was no Sex Pistols style latest sell-out because they need the money, man. There were reformed for all the right reasons, because it was the singer Phil Wilson's brother's 50th birthday (ironically nodded to by a Fall song the name of which you could probably guess beforehand) and he fancied seeing a gig. And for once, there was nothing wrong with seeing a bunch of blokes themselves circling a half century and of a certain thinness of hair and growing thickness of waist banging their way through a load of old numbers. Thankfully, there was little of the we have new material to try out nonsense here. In an endearingly under-rehearsed way they made their way through most of 1985's seminal LP, their only, There Are Eight Million Stories, and by the time they had shuffled off after about an hour, had performed every song you really wanted them to play.

It was a perfectly mellow evening, spent with a roomful of the mostly rotund and ageing, and therefore relatively free of the poseuring nonsense and look at me chat that bedevils many a London gig. Normally I go to gigs and look for someone old and fatter than me so I can stand beside them. Here, I found myself at least at the youthful end of the spectrum. Most of these people had been a bit older than me when they realised the genius of the June Brides. Ridiculously, our heroes where not even the night's main band, being merely the support act for some people called S/T, about whom I confess I know nothing. We hung around, hoping for something metronomically krautrocky, but after the faithful three songs rule was applied we found them wanting, not least for some Flight of the Conchordsish thing about being put on hold on the telephone, and ambled off into the night looking for a little more liquid.

You can, apparently, although I have yet to put this to the test, listen to the whole thing here.

Not really a gig review, but then we don't really do gig reviews here. Being pretty forward-looking people, we don't really do nostalgia either. Except when we really want to. I have now heard 'This Town' performed live, so there.

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