Saturday, 21 November 2015

968 WHITE LILAC, Familiars, Swindon The Castle, Friday 20th November 2015

Two of the best and most promising “local” bands I’ve come across this year – heck, two of the best new bands I’ve heard for ages, local or not   - playing on the same free bill in town? Thanks, I do! Familiars, utter superstars last time out, having played a blinder in support of Messrs. Fij and Bickers, were tonight joined by the ethereal wonder that is White Lilac. Two bands at markedly different stages of their musical journeys (Cirencester’s Familiars all pushing – or pushed over! – 40, and thus more of a hobby band, fitting in with day jobs and the like, plus mainman Steve Skinley’s Vaudeville alter-ego; whilst Faye Rogers’ White Lilac, all not yet out of their teens and therefore in hopes of taking their music to a wider stage whilst not compromising their fierce talent and expression), but seemingly kindred spirits in mood and melancholia. “Songs Of Praise” (for this was one of their excellent nights) promoter Dave Franklin promised a “sonorous” evening – sounds good to these ears…!

Old Town is becoming a bit of a bastard to park in, I however discovered, taking 20 minutes to eventually find a sneaky spot opposite The Bell, then a long and cold walk around to The Castle saw me pitching up as Familiars were setting up for their soundcheck. Lots of chat with the boys – and promoter Mr. Franklin – about the epic events of last fortnight, plus other entertaining musical discourse, took us up to 9, when Familiars took the pub backroom stage in front of a handful of interested punters and locals. “Landscapes”, their stark, almost stripped bare, opener, eased in, morose, understated and deliciously maudlin, then built like a head of steam to a strident and startling crescendo, setting the tone for their performance perfectly. Mainly built around a piano refrain with guitarist Rich’s riffs intertwining and complementing that main thrust, Familiars’ songs ease in slowly then take flight, evoking the dark, rockist and pseudo-Gothy sonic landcape of the early 80’s, when a million post-punk bands found their voice and I loved pretty much all of them. “Battlestations”’ backwards drumbeat and Interpol-esque slashing guitar riff was typical of this, dark and dense and again leading to a widescreen chorus propelled by Steve’s resonant and soaring vocals. The boy can sing, no messin’… A spot of monitor trouble delayed matters, but Steve stated, “we can wing it,” and they gamely continued with a splendid “Half Life”, before more set-up trouble, this time from Giles’ bass drum, saw Rich pass the time with some “Local Hero” Knopfling and playing “Smoke On The Water”! Sadly, a couple of numbers were dropped due to time constraints, but finale “Bottleneck” (“the silly song”) was again the highlight, taut and driving, a couple of false endings and tempo changes building up the drama. These boys just keep delivering excellent performances, and tonight was no exception. Great stuff!

A quick change-over and chat with Faye’s mum Stella, again in attendance, and it was time for White Lilac at 10.15. Faye’s shy, often giggly onstage persona clearly hides a pronounced talent and dark edge, with opener “Change Of Face” showing a change of pace from mysterious, swirling Lush-like guitar chuntering, to brooding, slow-burn melancholia. The wonderful “Night Visions” was up next, but here the band hit a couple of bumps in the road with the mix, Emma’s cello too high in said mix, making the lush dreamscape opening sound a bit discordant and off-key, before the smothering guitar crescendo seemed to sort things (that bit should sound discordant, anyway!). Thankfully the sound was better for the pastoral and elegant “Empty Hours”, although the odd screech of guitar feedback continued to plague them throughout. “He’s Not Himself” was startling, waves and layers of sound and drama counterpointing the subject matter perfectly, whilst newie “Let Me Love You” switched moods, a jangly opening giving way to a pacey, shoegazey gallop and a strident duet chorus between Faye and guitarist Curtis. Intended set closer “Swallow” evoked Throwing Muses in style and substance, that enticing juxtaposition of jagged harshness and sweet melody, although there was time for an unplanned and unrehearsed encore, Faye gushing about how much she loves Christmas then typically playing a depressing Chrimbo number, a messy but fun “Blue Christmas”! Despite a couple of sound/ mix issues, this was another fine set from a young band who are developing very nicely thank you, and from whom there’s plenty more to come…

A quick chat with affable young guitarist Curtis, and farewells to all, before heading off into the cold night. As promised, this was a sonorous – and rather splendid – evening’s music. Great job, all!

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