Scala, London, 1/11/2011...3/11/2011
published: 26 /
At indie pop label Fortuna POP's fifteenth birthday celebrations, Anthony Strutt enjoys sets from among others Bearsuit, the Primitives, Tender Trap, Darren Hayman and Allo' Darlin'
Fortuna POP! is the baby of Sean Price, formerly of Shepshed in Leicestershire. I first became aware of Fortuna POP! and Sean when I met and interviewed one of his early signings, the Connecticut act the Butterflies Of Love, on one of their first tours of the UK. They are sadly missing from these shows as are the label's biggest band, the New York indie pop group, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
What we get at these three fifteenth birthday celebration nights are some of the other bands currently on the label, as well as a few surprises. Fortuna POP! has pretty much taken over from where the now defunct indie pop label Track And Field left off. It has a similar independent spirit, and is carrying the torch for what labels like Postcard and Creation would have been like if they started up later.
Monnone Alone hail from Melbourne in Australia, A three piece quickly put together for the night, they are fronted by Mark Monnone, the bass player with the now disbanded Lucksmiths, who were a big band for Fortuna POP! Monnone, who opens the first night, plays to the smallest crowd of the three evenings.
He opens up with ‘Westerly’, which is a jangly affair not too far away from either Crowded House or the Byrds. ‘Tangerine ‘is much more twee and shambolic but fun. On ‘My Overdue Library Fees’ he reveals a love of reading. ’Pink Earrings’, his current single, is here very C-86 and charming in its sound, much more so than on the record.
‘Bartlebees’ is a cover version of a song by Mark's favourite German band, Echoing Days, and sounds like something that might have been released on Sarah Records. ‘Business World’ has sharp riffs in its chords and is as catchy as early Orange Juice. He ends his set with an oldie, the Lucksmiths’ ‘ Little D’ which is familiar to a large part of the audience.
Bearsuit come on next. They are a band that have been on Fortuna POP! Pop for several years now, although they claim that they sell no records. They are entertaining in a very messy way. Singer Lisa Horton is very drunk, but this just adds to the fun of their indie-infused DIY disco pop.
Cinema Red and Blue are an infusion of both the Brooklyn-based group Crystal Stilts and the London-formed band Comet Gain. They went to the pub together, got wasted, came home, wrote some songs and then recorded them. Now they are expected to play them live. The cheek of some people, eh? Their seven song set for me is the highlight of the night. They are loose in their music but tight in sound, mixing the Byrds style of Comet Gain when they are in good form and on a roll, with the psychedelic grooves of Crystal Stilts. At times it is all a bit too twee, but mostly these songs are keenly observed stories while the tracks on their recent Halloween-released ‘‘Butterbean Crypt’ finds them experimenting with a garage rock style.
San Francisco band the Aislers Set play a short set, their first for eight years. It is far too sweet and twee for my ears, but decent enough and keeps the crowd smiling.
The Primitives headline the first night. They always shine brightly, due to the fact they were real pop stars in the early 1980s and early 1990s and were on ‘Wogan’ and ‘Top of the Pops’. They make us wait till nearly the end of their fifty five minute set for ‘Crash’, their best known number and Top 10 hit from 1988. Songs from their EP of last year, ‘Never Kill a Secret’ get an airing, as do three new, new numbers in the shape of free Halloween download ‘The Witch’, ‘Panic’ and another track from their forthcoming LP each of which shows that old rock bands don’t die. They just like a little rest.
I get there late for the second night and find a place near the front for Comet Gain, whom are typically untogether, but to me it adds to their likeability. Their recent album, ‘Howl of the Lonely Crowd’, gets a good airing. David Feck works the crowd whom are in his hands for the whole set. He is an efficient enough guitarist and vocalist, while the backing is well played if in a shambolic fashion.
Crystal Stilts are a band that have everything, good looks, decent songs and a faithful crowd, but despite all this I have never quite understood their appeal. They do, however, blow me away with their cover of ‘Still As the Night’ and their psychedelic grooves seem to get better as their ten song set moves on.
The third night begins with the Ladybug Transitor, Gary Olsen's outfit, whom my friend flew over from Sweden for. Gary has played along with half the bands over the last few days and he hasn't finished yet. Their set to my ears was far too twee, coming over like Belle And Sebastian having a picnic and inviting all their school friends along, and adding some nice trumpet over the top of it for half the set. It was pleasant enough, but not for me really.
Tender Trap for me win the night. Amelia Fletcher is C-86 royalty and the band now feature on guitar Betty and the Werewolves’ Emily Bennett, who joined their already tight little outfit last summer, replacing the singer of Allo Darlin', Elizabeth Morris, whom had the job before. ‘Oh, Katrina’ should be a national anthem, and, while they have never sold masses of record, they have quality songs that both rock and are big fun, and make this old bugger want to jump up and down. They play a set largely consisting of songs from their last album for Fortuna POP!, ‘Dansette Dansette’, as well as adding a few new numbers from their forthcoming LP which they will be starting work on the next day.
Darren Hayman isn't headlining, but he really should be. He has replaced Morrissey as a spokesman of his generation. His set tonight is fun, well played and opens up with ‘You Taught Me How to Dance’ and ends with Amelia joining him for his former band Hefner’s ‘Good Fruit’.
Allo Darlin', despite being just one album and a few EPs into their career, headline the final evening. They win over the packed crowd easily. The songs are enjoyable and friendly enough, but too much like Camera Obscura for me. Elizabeth Morris will, however, be huge as will her band.
Good luck to her and all at Fortuna POP! Happy birthday, Sean,