Well, since they were subject to one of my friend Beef’s now-infamous “late calls” a mere 3 months ago, my accompanying him down on short notice to Bristol Louisiana for an incendiary and revelatory show, impressive young London post-punk band Desperate Journalist have firmly ensconced themselves atop my current listening fashion. Their stellar 2017 album “Grow Up” is easily my favourite of an admittedly patchy 2017 first half, and I’ve been on the lookout for any further “live” opportunities. This, then, was a no-brainer – a Desperate Journalist gig in Reading on a Saturday night, and best of all (as I found out whilst trying online to book tix), a freebie! So, another quick chance for the band I’ve since dubbed the “Female Fronted Indie/Goth Smiths” to underline their burgeoning reputation. Excellent result!
Having been impressed by them at “Indietracks” Festival in 2015, Stuart “Langers” was also up for this one, so Beef drove the two of us up a sunny M4, the miles disappearing quickly thanks to some utterly obscure 80’s/ 90’s indie band reminiscing! Me, I was just happy that, for once, I was the youngest in the car! We parked up at the Oracle and eventually found our way around to the Purple Turtle. On Gun Street, so I was under the misapprehension that it was the site of irregular 90’s haunt The Alleycat; if so, the layout had changed considerably, a long bar leading to a small dancefloor and stage, with a beer garden off to the right at the back, rather than the previous upstairs venue. And on our arrival at 7.45, the place was deserted! Thankfully it filled out a little in time for openers Adam and Elvis at 8.10; not sure whom the name referred to (Ant and Presley? Duritz and Costello? Or just the 2 brother bandleaders?), but this was a young local 5-piece who initially kicked off with a libidinous, almost early 80’s Factory funk groove, reminiscent of A Certain Ratio or Shriekback, thence diverting into an overt yet moody, almost morose jangly pop/ angular math rock collision. As if Orange Juice and Franz Ferdinand were providing the entertainment at a wake, perhaps… this was epitomised by a cheerful little number entitled “Darker Than Black”, with almost a creepy, Hammer Horror feel, although there were also some shoutier 3 part choral “harmonies” elsewhere to lift the mood from morose to, well, angry…! A vocalist with a deep, impressive range and a vaguely unsettling stage presence (although he may have admittedly just been trying to work off his self-confessed hangover) made this an oddly confusing yet challenging set, capped by a chugging final number which recalled The Pixies’ “Into The White”. Good work overall!
A few more punters came through so the place was thankfully respectably filled for Desperate Journalist’s arrival, prompt at 9.10, onto their fairy-light festooned stage. No notice this time; straight in like a firecracker with the taut, rocking “I Try Not To”, elfin yet intense vocalist Jo Bevan already in her stride, wide-eyed, jumping around like a loon and stomping fervently on the stage, as if trying to wake the denizens of the underworld… the flippant, Echobelly-esque “Why Are You So Boring” was next up, Jo again channelling the spirit of Morrissey, bent over double, lengthy mic cord double-wrapped around her neck (I do wish she wouldn’t do that!) as the impressive rhythm section of imposing bassist Simon and diminutive yet hard-hitting drummer Caroline powered the song along. Then it was time for guitarist Rob to feature, coaxing some gorgeous resonant flesh-tingling reverb from his 12 string Rickenbacker to underpin the creepy Belltower-esque Goth mood of “Hollow”, and the haunting, widescreen “Be Kind”, which built to an impressive crescendo.
Impressive players, all, but it’s the slight yet determined figure of vocalist Jo who owns it “live”. A riveting presence, with charisma to throw away, Jo’s performance once again provided the perfect juxtaposition between intense, impassioned delivery and dismissive, almost contemptuous attitude. Largely taciturn, apart from the odd comment of, “do you like reverb? We’ve got more coming up for you guys…” her performance nonetheless commanded, nay, demanded your attention. A slow-burn yet potent “Purple” strongly recalled Boston faves The Sheila Divine’s similarly eerie “Where Have My Countrymen Gone”, a hushed “Radiating” was lovely, providing some respite from the intensity, and “Resolution” (“about a New year’s Eve party – if you’ve been to one, I hope you had more fun than I did,” remarked Jo, cryptically) was a strident, dervish delight, getting these old bones of mine really moving. A Cure-like “Organ” brought another outstanding set to a close, Jo’s primal scream rage against the dying of the light dramatic and startling. Oh my, this lot know how to turn it on “live”, no mistake”!
Hung out afterwards, enjoying a lengthy chat about influences with bassist Simon, agreeing that, given their Cure/ Joy Division/ Smiths antecedents, us over 50’s are probably their target demographic! I was impressed by their DIY attitude although that may deny them the promotional push of, say, Wolf Alice, and keep them playing smaller venues longer than their excellent music deserves. A quick chat again with Jo (who appreciated my Butcher Billy “Morrissey as The Hulk” t-shirt!) and guitarist Rob underlined that not only do we have the makings of a very special band here in Desperate Journalist, we also have a group of very level headed people who are fans and respecters of their art. More power to them, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be seeing a lot of this band!