It’s a strange and sobering thought when you look around a music venue and realise that you are literally double the age of everyone else there. That none of them were even born when OK Computer was released, and that for a pretty hefty proportion of them that this may well be their first ever gig. This is the first day of Freshers’ Week at Imperial College London and I’m here, surrounded by the nervous chatter of a group of eighteen year olds thrown together for the first time in a room full of strange sounds, alcohol and rampant hormones, to cover the debut tour of The Portable Indie Show, a concept put together by Duncan John (whose band, The Jaw, are also playing), with the noble aim of revitalising the UK’s largely dormant live music scene by taking a line-up of bands and comedians on tour around the student unions of the land. And quite a line-up it is too, including Joyzine faves Tankus The Henge, Vienna Ditto and David Goo as well as one time Edinburgh Fringe funniest joke winner Rob Auton.
Kicking things off, Vienna Ditto ply us with their intoxicating mix of surfy guitar, sultry jazz vocals and sci-fi electro. A small core of dancers at the front are loving it from the off, and the huddled ranks mixing at the bar are gradually coaxed forwards as the set reaches its crescendo. Nigel takes a momentary break from sawing at his guitar strings to nearly decapitate the third row by frisbee-ing a 12″ of their recent album Circle into the crowd and they leave the stage to a rousing reception.
Over on the acoustic stage the acts are faring less well – without the advantage of the main stage’s giant PA system, and with a seating plan featuring picnic benches that face half of the audience away from the performers, David Goo is struggling to be heard over the excited chatter of a hundred teenagers on their first weekend living away from their parents. It’s a shame as he has a great repertoire of light-hearted funky indie-pop that in better circumstances could have gone down a storm. Comedians Sam Rhodes and Rob Auton suffer a similar fate to the extent that it’s hard to judge the quality of their acts in the face of the constant babble.
Back on the main stage festival organiser Duncan’s band The Jaw are belting out an artful glam rock stomper. They’ve a strong stage presence and a good line in sparkling girl-boy vocals, but their genre-jumping style that veers from straight-up fist-pumping pop rock to death ballads and post-punk, accompanied by stark shifts in mood from tongue in cheek humour to gloomy introspection, leaves their set a little disjointed. There’s plenty of promise here though and with the band’s recent name change (before this tour they were known as I Am The Id), suggests that a more cohesive direction could be in the offing.
They’re followed by The Bulletproof Bomb, whose swaggering indie rock sound seems tailor made for radio playlists and jumping up and down at festivals. It’s not entirely my cup of tea, but with the confidence and blood alcohol levels in the crowd gradually creeping up, there’s a chance for a spot of anthropology. The crowd tonight is quite unlike any that I can remember – veering wildly from energetic exuberance to almost complete disengagement from one moment to the next, shoving to the front for group selfies with the band in the background before heading back to the bar and dancing in circles, night club style, rather than facing the band. As a gig going veteran it’s slightly bewildering, but they seem to be enjoying themselves and getting more and more into it as the night progresses, so who am I to judge? I’d probably have thought the same about my teenage self had I been in the crowd at my first gig (which for the record was The Dandys at Tunbridge Wells Forum back in 1997).
If there’s one band guaranteed to get a crowd going, it’s the travelling jazz punk circus that is Tankus The Henge, and it’s not long before ring master Jaz Delorean has them in the palm of his hand, conducting the audience from the stage to sway, clap and pogo themselves into a sweaty mess as his band blast out a fevered set of firebrand rhythm and blues. Perhaps this was what was needed all along – a bit of guidance and a hearty helping of showmanship? Or maybe it’s just the infectious nature of Tankus’ dark tales and bright tunes. Either way, as Jaz unleashes one more blast of smoke from the lid of his piano and wishes us goodnight, they leave to a raucous reception.
So, an interesting night with a great line-up – has it saved the UK university music scene? Well, no of course not. Has it turned some people onto live music that might otherwise have missed the opportunity? Almost certainly. Do I wish someone had done the same during my time at uni? Absolutely. We wish Duncan and crew the best of luck in their quest.
Review & Photography by Paul Maps