Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Monochrome Set

Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms
Lester Square - Edinburgh 2013

October 19th 2013

I have been in love with The Monochrome Set for decades: over three decades in fact, ever since I bought the Eligible Bachelors album.  Those eleven perfectly crafted pieces of pop, laced with witty (and occasionally, caustic) lyrics still sound daisy-fresh today.  The brooding Midas Touch was always a favourite.

Delight at the album elicited a bit of archaeological digging back then, me coming up with the band’s two earlier albums Strange Boutique and Love Zombies.  Both were intriguing if rather patchy affairs, but still a significant cut above most of the dross which was selling big, back in that post-punk era.  What puzzled me was why so many other folks did not think so too.

1983’s release entitled Volume, Contrast, Brilliance (great title, Lads) I thought was just wonderful – probably the perfect example of how to put together a compilation album, bringing together a heady mixture of singles, rare B sides and excellent John Peel sessions.  I played the thing to death, and extolled its many virtues to anyone who would listen - and to a fair number of friends who would not.  Why not??

But then things seemed to go awry for TMS; charismatic guitarist Lester Square (Tom Hardy on a school day) quit the band, and the group’s next effort was the rather insipid Lost Weekend.  I tried to like this one, I really did, but ultimately beyond the tracks Jacob’s Ladder, Wallflower and Cowboy Country there really was not a whole load going on, I felt.

The next release: Fin – an almost wilfully sloppy collection of live recordings reeked of contractual obligation, with the title suggesting the band were indeed finished.  And so did TMS drift out of my consciousness, although those first four albums were never terribly far from my record deck/CD player/Mp3 player as the years past.

‘Twas only when cruising the web earlier this year did I learn TMS had in 2008 reformed for some 30 years of Cherry Red label celebration gig, and were dropping into Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms soon to promote a new album: Super Plastic City.

The Voodoo Rooms are a collection of smallish yet ornate rooms above the CafĂ© Royale in Edinburgh’s East End, and we and perhaps 200 or so other folks squished into one sporting a small stage.

We caught the last couple of songs of support act Rapid Pig, and an oddly disorientating experience it was.  Four clearly talented musicians clattering away making the sort of noise The Soft Machine may have got away with, but fronted by an eccentric chap who, as if acknowledging he could not sing a note compromised by just shouting over the music.  His stage presence an odd cross between Ian Curtis, John Otway and a drunken waiter.

TMS came onstage to the rhythmic tom-tom beat of The Monochrome Set (I Presume), guitarist Lester Square sporting a wonderfully silly suit, compiled of images from TV test cards (anyone remember test cards?)  He was thankfully free from those extraneous facial hair encumbrances he has occasionally sported over the years. 

Vocalist Bid I noted had filled out a touch over the preceding decades, and I have to say had I met him in the bar beforehand, I do not think I would have recognised him from the beautiful almost elfin creature I recall from the early 1980s.  But then again, I am probably equally unrecognisable from my halcyon days.

Bassist Andy Warren, by contrast, looked utterly untouched by the ravages of time.  With barely a spare pound on him, and still bearing a faint resemblance to Charlie Nicholas, he frowned and scowled his way through the performance, looking at times almost bored with proceedings; only cracking a smile when Bid stopped mid song to mischievously accuse him of “playing the wrong fucking notes”.

Clearly the band are taking this comeback business seriously, and were confident enough to play a total of eight songs from their two most recent releases; the bizarrely titled Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome and the latin-influenced Waiting for Alberto being the pick of the newer uns, IMO.

OK, so perhaps Bid’s vocals wobbled a touch at times, and Lester’s guitar seemed buried rather too deeply in the mix for my particular tastes, but this really was a fine, fine show.  The Devil Rides Out (from the Eligible Bachelors album) was a particular highlight........BTW, do those latin-sounding mumblings which pass for lyrics actually mean anything, does anyone know?

The main set climaxed with the (nearly) hit-single Jacob’s Ladder then Eine Symphonie des Grauens – the latter having a lengthy outro bolted on, which I briefly (and quite surreally) thought was going to morph into a rendition of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.  Now that would have been worth hearing.

All in all Great Fun, and a deal more entertaining than I had expected.  Am already looking forward to the next album and visit to Caledonia by TMS.


The Monochrome Set (I Presume)
Jet Set Junta
Super Plastic City
Strange Young Alien
Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome
The Time I’ve Spent Doing Nothing
The Devil Rides Out
Waiting for Alberto
Cowboy Country
Jacob’s Ladder
Eine Symphonie des Grauens

Goodbye Joe
He’s Frank

They Call Me Silence
Cast a Long Shadow

Lester Square - Edinburgh 2013

Bid - Edinburgh 2013

The Monochrome Set - Andy Warren, Bid, Steve Brummell & Lester Square

Lester Square

Bid and bassist Andy Warren.

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