The first thing that happens at In The City is rather unfortunate, as I am mistaken for a competition winner.
‘Hello I have come to pick up my press pass please and thank you?’
‘Are you a competition winner?’
‘No, I have come to pick up a press pass thank you again.’
The trouble is, I don’t like using the word ‘journalist’, it seems an over-eggy description for what I find myself writing and what will doubtless follow here. This young lady is tired, I have arrived at the end of the day and I feel sure she has already suffered shenanigans as well as ministrations from industry types too dread to contemplate. But I am tired too, I could not sleep on the infernally uncomfortable two-carriage train and I keep thinking about how I don’t even know if I like indie anymore. It’s so bloody EARNEST and STRUMMY.
‘Fill this out.’
And so I do. But when I go back and present it I am told it is wrong. I have filled out the wrong thing. Very probably I am wrong, because:
‘Ohhhhh, you’re a journalist. You need to fill out one of these.’
I wish I were a bloody competition winner.
And I wish my prize was a bed.
With no effing bands in it.
Fortunately, the first band I see turn my mood right around. It is Oh No Ono, who I have done night-cycling to. I have worked out recently that what works for daytime mooching and pedalling is not the same as what works best when all is inky black. When the stars are out, psychedelic wiggings-out and dark, murderous Country music take on a whole new aspect. And a very good one it is too.
But in the flesh, Oh No Ono are hardly psychedelic at all. They are the sort of pop band you might expect to see in a Roger Corman b-picture before it all goes awry or the beatniks arrive. They are so fresh-faced I could cry, especially the blond one playing the bass, he is frankly absurd. As for him on the vocals, he is reminding me of Sideshow Bob out of the Simpsons. His voice is so perfectly on pitch and on tone that in a strange sort of way, it feels like Oh No Ono are miming. They are about as polished a band as you could ever hope to see; they are helfy-looking continentals who will put all the sloppy Britishers to shame this week. But apparently they are not as tight as the band whose MySpace I ended up on today. They claimed they were ‘tighter than Lady Gaga’s ass’. I could flipping well murder them.
After all that spark, fuzz and what sounded suspiciously to me like Merseybeat by way of Denmark (not a bad thing, incidentally), we troop off to No Age with what looks like half of Manchestershire. There are so many people squashed into Night & Day at the beginning of their set that a photographer is reduced to joining the moshpit, and I see his camera flailing about above his head. This is some sort of guerilla or avant garde 'shit', I fancy, and needless to say, I am not very pressed. Mostly because I reckon this photographer dude well fancies himself as getting Gonzoic ACTION SHOTS, when in fact what he is getting is WALL and CEILING.
The band themselves, however, are very very loud and very very indistinct. After only two songs the crowd thins drastically, and sadly I am with these thinners, I think they have the right idea. But it is that funny thing where you are watching a band with one of their fans, and willing yourself to hear them and like them how they do. But when my companion finally turns around and vaguely wrinkles his nose I am fairly sure it is OPEN SEASON. ‘What an absolute load of shit,’ is what I very nearly say, and am very definitely thinking. No Age sound like they are playing in and to a lav, and it is not good at all.
On day two, I spend some important time rifling through the rails of a extraorder vintage shop in Hebden Bridge, because I am not sure I can stomach all the panelising. I find that there are almost never enough women sitting on the podium, and all that oneupmanship tends to turn me yawny. I also have to admit that the thing I like best about music writing, is the chance to try to communicate what it’s like to be a fan. By which I mean, I don’t want to see behind music's Wizard of Oz curtain. Especially if there are a load of smug blokes back there, banging on about Social Media backchannels.
But all the hurrahs, it gets better. Because you can’t be bitter while watching Sky Larkin, even their name signposts how delightful they are. But it is hard to communicate just how delightful. Luckily I am fortunate in having popular comics man John Allison on hand, and he very kindly volunteers to draw Sky Larkin for me. Suffice to say, on stage at the Ruby Lounge they look EXACTLY like this:
Meanwhile, I notice that Katie has a habit of closing her eyes at all the really poignant bits and that one eye gets shut harder than the other. I am pretty sure we are all pashing on her pretty hard, although Nestor is a close second because he has a very angry face on. He looks like he is about to break something on purpose. Rrrrrrr.
Between songs, there is a chorus of ironic (and semi-ironic) rock woos. I write down the word ‘shimmering’ because I am a twerp, and they do ‘Angelica Huston’ - or ‘Hoo-stun’ as Katie has it and then ‘Fossil I’ and then ‘Still Windmills’ which I love even though the line about ‘piece of piss’ rankles a tiny, tiny bit. There is a lot of dancing, everyone is happy.
Later, after we have spent a good few merry moments trying to work out who has the worst bio in the Live Guide (tell you later), I ask someone I know who they have seen and they come over all coy. ‘Oh come ON,’ I say, ‘why will you not let me CHEAT, I am TOO OLD for running around and discovering bands as if I were RANULPH BLOODY FIENNES with his BLOODY MOUNTAINS.’ And because they are nice, they relent, and tell me about:
Someone who has performed in their pyjamas with a laptop. They are quite clear that this person was ‘rappin’ and not ‘rapping’, a distinction I am still trying to fathom.
An electronic act who ‘sound exactly like they do on CD’. I think this is one of the most insulting things I have EVER HEARD, especially as CDs are the least sexy format anyone ever invented.
Pulled Apart By Horses. Who I am told, ‘were nice’. Being fairly sure that noisy miscreants Pulled Apart By Horses don’t want to be described as 'nice', I make a point of remembering this, so I can tell you.
Oberhofer. Who, I am told, is ‘Darwin Deez without the headband’. I think my friend says this because this is HOW PEOPLE END UP TALKING AT THIS SORT OF THING. Apparently dear old Ober also has ‘very expensive looking equipment' - and this is said as if he should feel guilty; the Tolstoy of guitar-tapping. But apparently he can also do the Janelle Monae slidey-slidey feet thing. It is decided, Oberhofer can stay.
By Friday, I have completely emerged from my funk having spent a wondrous day in the city with fine people that make my brain fizz (and having given myself the slap to end all slaps). Today I will be Doing ITC Properly, I will run between venues if I absolutely have to (pillarbox red heels and pencil skirt permitting) and I will not spend the entire evening being a smartarse.
It’s hard though, because while sat in the lobby of a horrible hotel while I wait for a friend, I manage to sit next to the three biggest nitwits Dog will throw in my path all week. One is suited, probably late forties, and he is sat with two younger women.
‘I mean, I’m barsicly jarst musicarly ana-rarx-arc,’ he says, aiming to impress, but all his a's have gone sloaney and mentile. He then proceeds to expound - at length - about how he thinks Maps should just pull his finger out and get on with ‘producing the Sugababes’. So that’s it for you, knob-twiddlers and bedroom-wonders, because The Industry (a term I have been allergic to since working in television, which is also ‘The Industry’ and just as hateful), has NO TIME FOR YOUR WORK. You can stop trying to express yourself, because your job now is to POLISH UP tarty pop - five bob a tune while you wait for your train, Sir. Then I see Paul Morley looking like someone who has just got off a panel and I want to ask him about He but I am too scared. He is also doing some very ponderous OAP-style texting, in a please-no-one-approach-me-but-sort-of-can-you-really-I-quite-like-it sort of way. He.
Naturally all this makes me drink my goblet of wine in double-quick time, and I run through the rain to the Roadhouse where Clock Opera are just about to play.
Ah, the Roadhouse. I have been here before, many - if not too – many times. I used to live in Manchester when I was young and foolish, and it is all coming back like it is a train, with me stood rigid on the tracks. Japanese industrial techno (the funniest thing I ever saw) in 1994. A bad boyfriend who didn’t like my friends. Sean Ryder's Dad. Collaring James Dean Bradfield because my friend was too lily, and him being a charming pocket-man. And dancing, absolutely loads and loads of dancing.
It hasn’t changed at all.
Clock Opera, however, do not look like I expected. I am here because I loved their last single and regret not being nicer about it. But I am surprised to see that their singer has a Jason Schwartzman thing going on, and he is playing with the sort of small electronic faff-box it is the law to have these days. ‘Whatever that plinky gadget is,' I write down in my notebook, 'I want it.' Also ‘bearded pop’. God, I'm good at this.
Better than gadgets, however, are PEWTER TANKARDS. I have never seen a band play tankards en masse before, that is definitely a first. Clock Opera play theirs after 'Alouette' and before 'A Piece Of String' and it is brilliant. Then it goes quite ponderous (a friend later tells me they made her cry) but they never lose sight of neatness or melody. The only bit I don’t like is when Guy does that Lead Singer Facepose that is cribbed from Elvis; and where you make out like your song is so bloody overwhelming, you are going to faint. But I think if you are going to pretend you are a lady with a touch of the vapours you should do it right - like I once saw Beck do - and have your roadies carry you off on a stretcher. This is a tip Clock Opera can have for FREE.
Because I feel it is my duty to be vaguely thorough today, I go to the Moho Main. I know there are real live younglings in there, listening to rappin music. Scorcher (amazing) is on when I arrive, and he tells us that he approves of any lady who took more than an hour to get ready before coming out tonight. So I, in turn, approve of him - even if the chaps in front of me are pure, plain terrifying; they have taken all the drugs in the galaxy and are wearing pastel pink, Kanye slatted shades. What is pleasing, however, is that I get to see and hear what happens if you play Katy B and Breakage to these people. I listen to both at home in Norfolk and let me tell you, my quiet life being what it is, it is not the same as listening to them here, now. Everyone goes proper nuts. One young man in particular – and I swear on my favourite bit of olden day tat this is true – actually starts humping the wall, very enthusiastically. ‘Hard’ and ‘Katy On A Mission’ - I tried to deny this, but now I know it for sure - you weren’t made for me. Here is your rightful audience, off their jeffing tits.
Donae’o comes on next and it is very oh Lore because he appears to have medleyised himself. And though I don’t stay for the whole thing (do you see, by this point I am an ITC veteran, and therefore not watching anything properly because I have to go and see something else, not properly) - what I do see (3 songs) are all odd, shorter versions. The next day when I am telling someone about this I wonder out loud if Donae’o cut his songs because of the short attention spans of young people. You know, the ones that the newspapers are always going on about, ADHD and that. But if even Donae'o doesn’t think his songs merit being played in full; and if even he is playing The Best Bits, what does that say about us? And the world? And Dog? I find myself mystified.
So I go to The Castle - an absolutely wicked, but rammed, pub with an enormous domed ceiling - to see if I can catch Standard Fare. But because you spend quite a lot of time at ITC trying to work out which venues are running on time/late or ahead, I only catch the last song. But it’s okay, it’s a new one, and I realise I still love Emma Kupa, and that she is still wonderful.
Next, at the Ruby Lounge, are Glasser. There is ‘buzz’ (read: four people tell me they are also going, I wouldn't know 'buzz' if it slapped me). I think she sounds like Post-era Bjork, but the trouble is that I dived headfirst into Post when it came out, it was a bit of a favourite - so hearing Glasser is all a bit nearly but not quite. With apologies to Glasser, I write ‘impassioned blah’. But to her credit, I also write ‘convincing’ so it is not all bad.
My last band of ITC are Dutch Uncles. And this is where I am taught a lesson. ‘So Wendy, you don’t think much of Dutch Uncles, do you?’ says someone who is in the DU ‘camp’ and who has read what I wrote about their last single. I say, ‘Sorry, what? Yes please, can I have a double Wild Turkey because that is what Thelma and Louise drink?’ - but it is okay because it helps, as whisky always does. And what do you know, Dutch Uncles are MARVELLOUS, they are extremely ordinary looking chaps; and one might look exactly like my sworn enemy from GCSE art but even that isn't putting me off. I start to write the most expansive, horribly pretentious notes of the whole week (always a good sign) and tell myself no one must ever read them. In fact, Dutch Uncles are SO GOOD, I scrawl something across three whole (abominable) pages that is about the gaps BETWEEN the notes, and the ‘pauses between the slink.’ Oho, anyone who gets you that awful and over-excited is alright by me. It is a delirious end.
John Allison has some extraordinarily covetable items in his shop, here. Not least this t-shirt. If you ever meet a cove wearing that and/or like boys, you should marry his person IMMEDIATELY.
Wendy is on Twitter here.