Friday, 25 May 2012

846 THE POPGUNS, Joanna Gruesome, London Islington Buffalo Bar, Thursday 24 May 2012

A 2 month gig hiatus is finally over, and as feast follows famine, this gig heralds a hectic run of 5 in 16 days. It also heralded the return of 90’s female-fronted Indie popsters The Popguns; although I confess I preferred the streetwise suss of the later period Heart Throbs and the sheer class of “my darlings” The Parachute Men, The Popguns nevertheless carved a niche in my memory with some effervescent brain-hugging tunes, particularly the stupendous “Waiting For The Winter”. Also hosts of a couple of early 90’s Link Centre gigs (one good, one less so), this was another unexpected yet welcome reunion. So let’s see how it works out…

Tim was particularly keen on this one, so I decided to join him and Tracey for a Thursday jaunt oop The Smoke, to the Buffalo Bar, scene of one of The Sheila Divine’s triumphant London gigs a decade (!!) ago. A smooth drive up on the hottest day of the year, passing Harry Ramp the tramp and his latest proclamation (“Vile Repressive 100% Intolerant Brutal Country”; the man has a way with words…) at the Chiswick Flyover, saw us park around the corner from the venue at 8.30. We met Tim’s siblings in “The Old Cock Tavern”(scene of a Gigolo Aunts drink-in many moons ago), missing first support act Owl And Mouse but hitting this scuzzy downstairs rat-hole in time for second support, the punnishly named Joanna Gruesome. Their set seemed intent on reviving the mid-80’s anorak flexi fanzine movement, with fey whimsy and seriously understated vocals backed with ramshackle noisy guitar, and passed by innocuously, apart from a couplet from Galaxie 500’s classic “Tugboat” and their last, best, number, which was a driving laze-fest recalling very early Teenage Fanclub.

The venue looked like it hadn’t had a lick of paint since that Sheila Divine show (!), and was seriously stuffed; this was a sell-out, and disappointed punters had been milling around outside as we entered! We found a place by the bar stage left, unfortunately partly obscured by a pillar, for the Popguns’ arrival at 9.45. Determined to make an impression on their first London crowd,“for 16 years!” as vocalist Wendy indicated, they kicked off with an impressive double salvo of the spunky, lovelorn “Where Do You Go” and a bouncy, driving “Because He Wanted To”, Wendy’s strident vocals already the key feature. It’s been awhile, but the girl still knows how to belt out a number. Fair play! “Someone You Love”, despite an understandable lyric slip-up, kept the momentum going, and “Star” featured a surprisingly powerful mid-section, before the pace inevitably slackened with a nevertheless haunting, Heart Throbs-like “Gone”.

“I’m a proper Indie Girl now,” declared Wendy as she grabbed a tambourine for “Over Your Head”, nearly being sideswiped by a guitar neck in the process – it was a tight squeeze onstage for this 5-piece plus extra backing vocalist! The jangly, Smiths-influenced wide eyed innocent pop continued, drifting a little for me mid-set, although the guys – hey, we’re all 20 years older, there's no point denying it - nevertheless put in a solid shift, before roaring back with a final double-punch of the excellent, set highlight “Bye Bye Baby”, and “Going Under”, by which time I was down the front, stage right, bopping away.

An acoustic encore of “Put Me Through It” preceded the night’s closer, the supreme – and inevitable – “Waiting For The Winter”, as feisty, fresh, forceful and fun as 20 years previously, capping a fine return, which was overall much better than I’d even hoped. A few words, shared memories (that 90’s Swindon set-list!) pix and signed set-lists backstage afterwards was the icing on a sweet, effervescent and entirely delicious cake. Despite the very late homecoming (1.30 a.m. – yikes!), this was well worth the effort. Welcome back, The Popguns!

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