"Such A Beautiful Day As This”: Even As We Speak, Action Painting! Boyracer and Secret Shine @ the Lexington, July 2018

Welcome back to in love with these times, in spite of these times, the fanzine whose disappointment at Santa Coloma's late capitulation to Valur has been more than offset by the excitement of F91 Dudelange's fantastic Europa cup run.

Our pic this time around is Le hetre pleureur, a majestic weeping beech tree, planted in the 1860s and the centrepiece of the fine botanical gardens of Bayeux, Normandy. You might say “hang on, that’s not a sculpture”, but (1) since when did we promise to come up with one of those every time and (2) to be fair, the tree represents a considerable design and engineering achievement: the structure supporting the branches is sculpted from some 1km of ropes and cables (and four 10 metre-high masts).

So why go on about mighty things of great longevity? Well. In 1993, ‘the Beat Poet’ (tBP) and yours truly went to see a clutch of Sarah bands at the label’s Thekla Xmas party. Nothing too unusual in that – we savoured Sarah nights aplenty at Bristol’s Fleece & Firkin, or up at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford – but the novelty is that we scribbled down our thoughts on the evening’s entertainment at the time, and (more remarkably) the bit of paper somehow survived the decades until we typed it up, here. Quality music criticism it isn’t. But its youthful zeal hopefully still captures the essence of a memorable night out.

And now, nearly 25 years later (cripes), it was time for tBP and I to see no less than three of those bands again, this time at the Lexington on Pentonville Road, a whole M4 away. With the substantial bonus that this time we would have Even As We Speak as our headliners. Again, the last time we saw EAWS – that one was a Jericho night – we were poorer, skinnier and rakier, to the tune of a quarter-century.

Sadly, longstanding readers will know that tBP has an occasionally flaky approach to the big occasion, and has not really been forgiven for once forsaking an all-ticket crunch relegation clash between Bristol Rovers and Darlington in favour of ‘going shopping for curtains’ in London’s West End. And so it was, on the eve of this spectacularly promising POP! reunion, that he bailed out again, citing unconvincing heatwave-related reasons. “Here I go again on my own”, I thought, “just like Whitesnake. Or the Remote Viewer.”

"you know I love you, always will do”

After the telling trial of a massive queue to get up the stairs into the venue, I missed the very first sparks of Secret Shine’s set, but joined the fray in time to see them launch into a blissful rendition of lost classic “Temporal”, which carried the same tender ferocity it had when they played it last century. Seeing them tonight really turned back the clock, not least as age doesn’t seem to have withered them at all (gosh, especially Scott), but “Perfect Life” (from “The Beginning And The End”), the catchy-as-fcuk “Falling Again” (from “There Is Only Now”) and a sparklingly crisp take on brand new tune “Only” confirmed that Secret Shine are anything but a period piece (& it was lovely to hear “Only” with a vulnerable live vocal, unencumbered by studio effects). That said, it was a thrill to see the gang wrap things up by heading back-catalogue for a winningly extended canter through their increasingly seminal “Loveblind” single. Erm, more recent thoughts on this top Bristol band here.

"when you have friends / you’re the richest person in town”

Boyracer – sadly minus Jen for this their European jaunt – were next. And guess what, quite a bit of what we said in 1993 still applies: this was indeed “a no-frills, exuberant set full of the staccato punch of guitar and pained shouting that has come to epitomise their records.”

Actually, we knew things would be gravy from the very start, when the four-piece ‘racer assembled for the purposes of this tour launched into Zero Hour single and classic compact punk-pop pearler “West Riding House”. It really is a song that encapsulates Boyracer and their precious oeuvre: a rush of verse, chorus, angst, heartache and instrumental break, all wrapped up within 45 or so furious and breathlessly near-perfect seconds. Other standouts from a swiftly-executed dozen-song set included the boys frantically ripping through “I’ve Got It And It’s Not Worth Having” and “Black Fantastic Splitting” (both from ‘B Is For Boyracer’); a wonderful version of “Yr Unspoken Desires” (p’raps the highlight of “Racer 100”); and a further trip down the Turntable Friend end of memory lane with “The Useless Romantic”. We’re also reasonably sure they played “Small Consolation”, but can’t be 100%: in our considerable excitement it was easy to lose track as ace short song blurred into ace short song. It wasn’t all nostalgia, mind, because we got the exuberant gallop of chaotic newie “Tally Ho!”

Happily, we definitely did clock “He Gets Me So Hard” – still one of the best tunes to have ever happened, ever – even though it couldn’t quite match up to the glory of its recorded incarnation (tonight made us realise just how much the female backing vocal on that contributes, as well as every fleck of feedback that Tim R coaxed from the speakers at Southside Studios that day). No matter, though, because the grand finale, with original axeman Simon in tow, saw Boyracer hurtle through the unspeakably urgent and vital “Doorframe”. Another spellbinding song from the awe-inspiring canon of this energetic, prolific, utterly fulfilling, endlessly adjective and adverb-exhausting band.

“everywhere that I have worked / the manager’s a f***ing jerk…”

And then it was time for Action Painting! A few were left speechless by this lot, but if you’re looking for the best word, it might be… blimey. For this set was an art-punk explosion that divided opinion: the two geezers in front of us (cough *fairweathers* cough) took flight after the first song, an zealously pugilist “Collapsing Cloud”, but I have to own up to finding the Action Painting! performance tonight mesmerising, brilliant, properly punk, totally Sarah. Indeed (*spoiler alert*), despite the later brilliance of Even As We Speak, Action Painting! had a damn good tilt at stealing the whole show.

Our 1993 account had them down as “entertaining and exhilarating" and – just like Boyracer – our past words work equally in 2018, right down to them playing “six songs, including the whirlwind singles "Classical Music" and yob anthem "Mustard Gas"” tonight. Right down to the Beat Poet having clearly rated AP! at the opposite end of the satisfaction scale to me. They obviously split the room that night too.

We couldn’t have wished for a tastier set list this evening, either, what with AP! blessing the dilettantes of N1 not only with the singles above but also “Laying The Lodger” and, by way of a properly rumbustious shakedown denouement, “Art Student” (the guitarist by now strumming seven shades of scheisse from his strings, like a man possessed). Throughout, the ever-charismatic Andy Hitchcock, still wearing shades and – despite otherwise being dressed as if he’d escaped a middle management conference – ruling the stage with acidic volleys of shouted lyric, rockstar swagger, and a brief rant about houmous on the rider. After such a tour de force, we swiftly legged it to the merch stall to nab the last Action Painting! t-shirt.

“the flowers in the window are still there…”

Gratifyingly, there was one other AP! t-shirt on display: it was being worn by Even As We Speak’s drummer, Anita, for EAWS’s inevitably stellar headline set. We could swear that, perhaps aside from the laptop on stage, EAWS were set up exactly as they had been when we saw them in the 90s (at a gig later reviewed in the student paper as showcasing “the best Australian band ever” – that seemed hyperbole in 1993, but we’re not sure it is now): a beaming Mary up front, flanked by Julian on her right and Matt on her left, and bassist Rob hiding in the shadows behind them, only emerging into the house lights for a choice one-liner and for the Japanese drinking song interlude that so gloriously punctuates “Beautiful Day”.

As is a headliner’s job, Even As We Speak naturally and effortlessly brought the audience together and reminded us just how many truly excellent songs they have, many tucked away on EP B-sides or halfway down the generous “Feral Pop Frenzy” tracklist yet every one, in their skilled hands, surely a potential hit. They also know their setlist craft well enough that they kicked off with the sparkling “One Step Forward” and concluded with a smackdown, none-shall-pass brace of “Falling Down The Stairs” and the warming ripples of “Best Kept Secret”. In between, we got a cavalcade of pop gems including “Stay With Me”, “Must Be Something Else”, “Getting Faster”, “Blue Suburban Skies”, “Blue Eyes Deceiving Me” and recent wonder “Clouds”, the standout from their recent Black Forest EP (ooh, and the temperature lowered for Mathew leading a starkly lugubrious but simply ace “Nothing Ever Happens”).

It was pretty much all you could ever want from the fulsome fivesome – only if you were being especially picky might you have sought the swimsuit shimmy of “Drown” or the luscious EAWS resurrection of “Bizarre Love Triangle” – and it ensured that we could depart into the unseasonably warm English night utterly satisfied. However, astute punters did not depart immediately, because the evening had one more turn to take: a Sarah All-Stars XI ascending the Lexington stage to blast through a surprisingly coherent – and to this boy, surprisingly moving – rendition of the song that started it all, the Sea Urchins’ “Pristine Christine”. All to a delighted, smilestruck audience of politely middle-aged punters and avowed indie-pilgrims, an audience that included Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes, to whom all is owed.

We'd be the first to acknowledge that, in stark contrast to the Even As We Speak show in 1993 (at which they successfully cajoled us the audience to surf on each other’s backs), the atmosphere tonight was rather more restrained. No surfing, no stagediving, no moshing. But even the finest bands can hardly work such miracles as to reverse the ageing process which turns a roomful of early twentysomethings then into a roomful of late fortysomethings now. And, as we happily pondered on the 476 home, that didn’t make the night any less magical. Far from it.

And I fantasised of other possible dream ex-Sarah reunion line-ups – settling eventually for The Wake / Tramway / The Rosaries / Christine’s Cat, although not without a lot of soul-searching – but I also felt, on the 476… “I’m a sentimental fool, but I don’t care”… a tinge of sadness in knowing that there is a price to all those years rolling by, and that some groups – Blueboy, Heavenly, Gentle Despite – won’t ever be re-forming. All these bands, these bands we’ve grown up with and who soundtracked our most anxious, awkward years… we’re determined to savour them while we can.


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