Like A Firefly: The Flatmates, live at The Miller, London Bridge, 24 August 2013
"They don't get many fireflies in Bristol, I'll be bound" - John Peel
The last time I went to see the Flatmates... well, I didn't actually get in. It was 1988, when me and my mate were both 15, and when we got to the front of the queue at Camden Dingwalls the bloke looked at us and said "you're not 18, you can't come in". When we demurred, he said, "OK, what year were were born, then?" Before I had time to do the maths, my friend replied, quick as a flash: "1968", he said, cockily. I was mightly impressed by his quick-thinking improvisation, and didn't actually realise that the maths was wrong until doorbloke shattered my briefly-raised hopes by coming back with a pithy "That would make you 20 then", followed by a withering stare, and a "Get out". (For those of you who remember the Harry Enfield sketch with the barman who instantly clocks, and dismisses, underage drinkers, it was basically like that). Our dreams of seeing the Flatmates shattered, I suspect we settled for an afternoon of hanging out round the Market instead, a depressing thought at the best of times. And we never had the chance to see the band again. Or so we thought.
For now, the Flatmates are BACK, although have cued up slight controversy as whether or not they have really "re-formed", given that many punters would have Martin Whitehead, Debbie Haynes and Sarah Fletcher down as the core band, and that Martin is here joined neither by Debbie nor Sarah (nor, for that matter, by Jackie, or Kath, or Joel, or Tim) but instead by the great Rocker (founder member, ex-drummer, sometime Rosehip and composer of "You're Gonna Cry": albeit now on keyboards, rather than drums) plus three others - bassist Verity, drummer Brian and none other than Lisa Bouvier on vocals - who had no part in the band's previous incarnations. It's hard to find an exact parallel, but if Johnny Marr purported to re-form the Smiths, with no Morrissey or Andy Rourke, but with Mike Joyce on keyboards, well that might or might not be a band worth seeing, but it wouldn't be the Smiths. So - for us, personally, this *isn't* quite the Flatmates, but with the main songwriter and musician still on board, it's not not the Flatmates, if you see what we mean. We'll settle for calling them the New Flatmates for now.
The first piece of good news for us was that nobody was going to mistake us for being under 18 any more. Indeed, we're more likely now to be refused entry, turned away for being too superannuated for the whole going-out-on-a-Saturday-night thing. Luckily, had the door staff been turning away everyone as old as us, there would have been nobody in the venue at all (apart, perhaps, from a couple of the New Flatmates).
We sadly missed Simon Barber's new band, Design, but after a somewhat striking set by Flowers, which deserves (and will hopefully get, from somebody better qualified to write it!) its own review, the New Flatmates appeared on stage a little after half past ten, and as soon as the opening chimes of "Happy All The Time" rang out, we knew it was going to be a stirring night, especially as it was followed by both sides of the belting new single ("You Held My Heart" and "One Last Kiss") and then fine former glory "Shimmer".
The other new songs that followed suggested a band picking up extremely effectively from where they left off, but our heart was captured most of all by two older songs tonight, plucked from opposite ends of the "Old" Flatmates' discography: shelved final 45 "Trust Me", and first single B-side "So In Love With You". Both of these revealed themselves so completely to be timeless songs, the sort of songs which we cling to and cite whenever we have to explain that yes, we really do prefer the Flatmates and the Rosehips to the Ramones and the Ronettes (and that shouldn't be seen as reflecting badly on the older bands, because they existed in a time before true punk happened, which meant they simply never had the tools to write songs as simple and catchy, yet as growlingly guitar-driven, as the Flatmates' singles canon).
There was time, too, for a crashing cover of Cinerama's "Comedienne" before the band closed their set with the ever-delicious debut A-side "I Could Be In Heaven", zeal in abundance. If, like us, you've ever found yourself wondering what happens live at the point when "I Could Be In Heaven" fades out on record, the answer of course is that it turns into its other B-side, "Tell Me Why", as the Flatmates acknowledge the fact that all three tracks on their first single were basically the same song. And why not, we say.
It seemed over so quickly, and as we filed out, past the stall boasting "more merch than Iron Maiden" (Lisa's phrase) and down the Miller's wooden staircase, I was almost disappointed in myself for not having "savoured" my favourite songs properly, but the reason I hadn't was, quite frankly, because I was enjoying myself far too much. Which can hardly be a bad thing. And my companion (ook, I sound a bit like a colour supplement restaurant reviewer here) enjoyed it even more - as he said, we just hadn't expected the New Flatmates' enthusiasm to shine through quite so much - but, thanks in no small part to Lisa, it did.