published: 4 /
Dastardly discovers the ghosts of Glam Rock alive and well in the shape of Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something in the arches of an East London hostelry.
The ghost of Freddie Mercury has been busy recently. First there was the warts-free Queen biopic, notable for the lack of Borat than anything else. Then I was reading Andrew Matheson’s memoir of his proto-glampunkers The Hollywood Brats, in which poor old Freddie gets a clobbering at the Marquee courtesy of the author in a dispute over the band’s name – The Hollywood Brats started life in 1973 as ‘The Queen’. Now, here’s Deptford’s own Jemma Freeman channeling Mercury’s glorious pompery at the Shacklewell Arms. The fact that she’s also channelling mid-70s Tony Iommi adds another layer of intrigue to proceedings. This is glam rock, Jim – but not as we know it.
I first heard about Jemma from fellow South Londoner Eddie of Dirty Viv, who’s been going on about her and in particular her guitar playing for at least 18 months. Clearly it’s my loss that I’ve only just now got to see her play live. She’s a taut, commanding figure on stage, spraying us with machine gun guitar licks one minute and then in close on the mic singing a haunting PJ Harvey-esque vocal the next. Bass and drums frame the songs well allowing her room to make sparky runs up the neck where necessary.
Recent single ‘Heaven On A Plate’ has a slightly woozy, menacing build, then a Pat Benatar of a chorus. It’s had recent radio play on Radio X. Soon the area in front of the stage is filling up and each song ends with a slightly higher frequency response from the crowd. This in turn powers on the band, in accordance with the time honoured laws of performer/audience energy interchange. I find myself wondering: is this what Anna Calvi was promising a few years back? Ouch! If I was an A&R man I’d definitely be checking my wallet.
All too soon, the gig ends, in a suitably fitting legs in the air collapse by the drum kit. There’s nowhere else to go but smash it on the wall. It’s done. Tonight the power of rock music is alive and well and in safe hands. It’s got me thinking about one of this era’s defining books – ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. Anyone who’s read it will know all about the systems we’ve created, and how you don’t have to stand too much further back for our ant-like nature to be revealed. These systems are constantly being re-assessed. Today it’s gender under the microscope with people like Jemma and Eddie from Dirty Viv challenging our stereotypes, making rock’n’roll fresh again and both looking fantastic while they’re doing it. Freddie would no doubt be impressed.