Fotonovela / Grindwallow, the Shadow Ballroom, 1 May
Well, you all know the Shadow Ballroom by now I suppose. Under the old Finsbury Docks Town Hall, or what became the town hall when Aldous Kring made his rather bizarre bid for power way back in ‘98. If anyone had noticed he might have been dangerous. The Ballroom itself is a dark space of mushroom towers and things in the dark corners that might be decorative carvings or something much worse. I suspect the kind of fungi that seeps through my bathroom walls makes it big time in a place like this.
The audience generally was mixed - fifteen to fifty, a curious mix of bright colours and brooding black leather and red; quite a few might have been around for the New Musical Express’s C86 cassette tape that launched Twee / Indie on a punk-jaded world. Because Fotonovela are what is sometimes called Twee Pop. You know, singing about nice things - although in its best examples such as Talulah Gosh, you find punk’s DIY aesthetic, and a political and feminist stance against the excessive knowingness of commercial pop music. Fotonovela’s lyricist and vocalist Karen Chung is 27 but looks about twelve wearing a pink and white candy-striped dress and with her hair in bunches and a pair of oversize red-rimmed glasses on. The band look like they stepped straight out of Grantchester Meadows (the place or the song, either will do; three quarters of the band met while undergrads at Cambridge). Bright noodley goodness follows, with Chung’s clear, somehow passionate voice over the guitar of Gavin Styles, bass by Rebecca Sandiland and the capable drumming of Gaynor Smith. “Echoland” is about as echoey as it possible to get, so after that tale of seaside romance, “My Cardigan” returns home to clear its head and does it very nicely. “Licorice Ice Cream” sees Gavin Styles add his vocals to Chung’s in a number from their new third album “Love in the Title”, followed by the title track.
And after a while you begin to see what they’re doing. Fotonovela are defending the right to the little things of life, the ones you cherish.
We know that the Shadow Ballroom’s organiser Alie Farang has a sense of humour. There had to be a reason for the leather jackets and the black T-shirts among the indiepop people. Who could be about to follow Fotonovela but nu-metal outfit Grindwallow? The boys from Basildon have been around since 2002 in one form or another and lead singer Robbie Oxx still sounds like he has a serious throat condition. “That isn’t singing,” a bemused Tony Blackburn said on first hearing the band, “it’s throat-clearing.” After Fotonovela’s clear if echoey pop, Grindwallow is all solid blocks of music that you could shift around with a crane. There are nine in the band, many playing guitar, along with two bassists, drummer Neil ‘Boxer’ Short, and keyboardist Delvon Sprackley (formerly of X15 Down). Guitarists Redd Finger and Jackson Hole, when not simply bringing the noise, use eBows to produce bowed string effects on numbers such as “Article of Faith”, “Distortion” (from 2010’s “Overhide” album), the very short “1:1”, and “1:14” which with “Motherlode” allows the band to slow down (relatively) and dispose of some trippy, weirdness-filled moments. Then it’s back to the full-on assault. It is in fact all good cheerful (and very fast) stuff but my head hurt afterwards, as indeed it should.
I still dreamed of cardigans and slow walks by the river, though.