Got a little confused around the Cirencester one-way system, but parked up in Market Street, relatively unencumbered by other traffic – so far Ciren was living up to its’ “sleepy” reputation! This was underlined further as I found The Golden Cross down a pedestrian side street, inhabited by a dozen or so locals being assailed during their evening meals by Familiars’ soundcheck! I grabbed a chat with Familiars’ frontman and keyboardist Steve Skinley after they’d finished soundchecking, happily discovering somewhat of a kindred musical spirit with a shared musical heritage (Bunnymen, early Simple Minds, Throwing Muses, 80’s Bierkeller nights etc.). We also lamented the turnout tonight, which literally promised to be one man and his dog – the dog being a lolloping old golden Labrador who (I shit you not) actually wandered up onto the raised back-bar stage area a time or two during their set, and the man being me!
Nonetheless, I took a seat in front of the stage as Familiars eased into their opening set at 9, the chiming, elegiac opener “Landscapes” initially slow burn, Steve’s vocals low and mournful and again favourably recalling The National’s Matt Berninger, then the song picking up a head of steam, galloping into a more dramatic crescendo. Thus was and is the band’s modus operandi – dark evocative songs which more often than not are built around a repeating keyboard refrain, with a hint of underlying menace recalling open, windswept landscapes and dark threatening clouds, then building to impressive climaxes, more joyous and often anthemic in nature. A number of different threads and moving parts to the intelligent song construction as well; “Battle Stations” featured an almost “Terror Couple” Bauhaus opening drumbeat and some slashing, Wire-like fretwork from guitarist Rick Morton before the typically soaring chorus, and “Tooth And Claw” threw in some almost Summery C86 jangle amidst all the high drama. A real melting pot of disparate, often juxtaposed elements, yet working in perfect harmony, and I enjoyed them all!
And the man can sing – despite, like last night’s host Jim Kerr, suffering from flu after effects (at one point he asked me to grab him a brandy from the bar – “purely medicinal!”) – Steve Skinley’s voice was again a standout feature; haunting, sombre and mournful when required, mostly as their songs eased into life, but also soaring, the “whoa-oh” harmonies often driving the numbers along to their impressive finales. “Call To Arms” required a restart due to a swarm of angry bees infiltrating the monitors, but the subsequent, faster paced and rockier “Techa” had a “Pearl And Dean” style “ba-ba ba-ba” crescendo, which Steve happily acknowledged!
The band took a break after a fine 40 minutes opening set, and I joined Steve, Rick and bassist James Thring for some entertaining muso chat in the smoking yard before set 2, which was basically more of the same! Second number “Half Life” was a highlight with a fluctuating bassline courtesy of James, “Ticker Tape” almost ventured into Scott Walker territory with its’ rich balladry, then the final double whammy of the excellent, haunting “Ballyhoo” (“a sad song,” announced Steve) with its’ “Killian’s Red” keyboard riff, and “Bottleneck” (“a silly song to finish”) rounded off a consistently splendid and impressively committed performance from this intelligent band. Shame really, that there were so few people taking notice.
Some more rock’n’roll chat with my hosts, who were grateful for my support and attendance, before I reluctantly hit the road just after 11. I’ll be back for more Familiars though, and so should you!