Envy & Other Sins, Officer Kicks, The Sly Ones
Ernest Frank 16/04/2008
A short walk up from the sea-front, The Gloucester is the latest addition to the Barfly corporation of UK music venues. It's a lovely place inside, complete with hint-of-bordelo cloth-clad lighting. Although allied to The Fly magazine, the schedule of forthcoming performances on the wall doesn't include the "coolest tips" on the circuit, and my gigging partner is yet to be enticed inside to see anybody fifteen minutes from her doorstep. When this place is full though, it must be a real spectacle.
It's not tonight, but in theory it should be. Tonight's headliners,
Envy & Other Sins, are on tour to promote their debut album We Leave At Dawn. They have fans - t-shirted ladies on the dance floor, but not enough. After winning Channel 4's Mobile Act Unsigned charade, they should have a reflective audience. Especially as they were kicked off by the judges, then courtesy of (obviously fickle) public votes resurrected to the show.
I watched one. It was painful. Loads of people know bands that nearly got to the TV stage. It would have ended some of them. The general opinion is that a certain kind of act craves this kind of sub-X Factor humiliation. Bands need all the help they can get, and Planet Earth is saturated with the fame hungry as well as the talented.
Once the series was over, the channel seemingly washed it's hands of their winners, which will make trying to ever do it again most interesting. "Here's what happened to last year's winners..."!
Before tonight I'd surfed their label's myspace, only to find a
different band that they were PROUD of (i.e. the media like them) being the only ones having their tour promoted. The label could have sent the lovely artwork posters out to the venues on this tour, too, but it obviously wasn't worth the postage.
Mainstream music press won't ally with something that is artificially hyped by somebody other than themselves. By winning a TV band competition, a taunting, jeering bully-mob of critics are lining up to slag Envy & Other Sins off with all the bile they can muster. Even more than they would a Pop Idol or X Factor winner, in fact. There's not much individual opinion in indie.
'Most hated band of the month'-status aside (not that The Hoosiers have suffered from having the NME as the enemy, their POP is everywhere), Envy & Other Sins did well out of it all. A major label deal, a big booking agent, good equipment, PR, pluggers, generic merchandise and an enviable, day-jobless, tour schedule. All they are lacking is some support and interest. The small audience is actually not fair but the atmosphere is positive and good natured. People have come out to have a good time and that's what they'll do.
First up are local band, The Sly Ones. They play meaty rock complete with a driving beat (driving, literally, one moshing loony into a crazy one-man dance show - or was he having a fit?) It's entertaining for a while, but, pints threatened, people back away from the dance floor until the madman's knackered. The end of the set becomes background soundtrack to a cross between riverdance and being machine gunned, as people weave away to safety.
The next band more or less arrive at the venue, down some beer, plug in, tune up for five minutes and kick off. Within one hook-filled song, Officer Kicks repopulate the dance floor. A few anthems later and more people are dancing. By the end of their set, the crowd are yelling "oi! oi!", whooping and applauding madly. The rock'n'roll equivalent of a dirty shag, they came, they floored, they conquered. They leave.
After that, the audience are in the mood to rock out now, and if proof were needed that size isn't everything, they greet Envy & Other Sins with the warmth and affection of a crowd twice as big.
They're actually good, ticking all the right boxes for a major record deal. They look the part, cut the shapes... perhaps the venue isn't sufficiently intimate but this doesn't feel special enough. The already converted crowd LOVE their jaunty tunes and hopefully their forthcoming festival appearances will cross them over, because without the help of some killer tunes they can't help themselves. Lacking strong songs and urgent ambition, I can't get into it - this is not a classically great band, but they have the potential to develop into a favourite if given a chance. These are not stars, but if they could grow to fill this venue then a lot of mainstream indie fans could find a new favourite.
T4 could give themselves a bit of street level credibility by catching up with and previewing them. The fleeting flower of fickle fandom might stick with them to greater things past the playground taunts of the music press herd. Exposure is oxygen to progress. Perhaps an exciting idea for TV would be to start with STARS, and THEN make them famous. But what do I know?
I do think Envy & Other Sins deserved help, but I don't think they deserved to win unless everybody involved was excited about and behind them. Tonight, they don't have what it takes, but, they are definitely not unknown and will always have had an unforgettable year that most others can only erm, envy.
Picture copyright of Sarah Loat bbc.co.uk/birmingham