It is with some anticipation that Betty Mayonnaise totters up to the near West End of Glasgow tonight – the promise of Babybird up close and personal plus a tasty support act…
As usual the whole place smells excellent, the upstairs food servery’s aromas permeating the basement – no toilet circuit venue this (although it does have toilets, and nice ones at that), but it is small. When She Makes War takes to the stage it is about two thirds full, so around 60 people then. SMW has done three albums and is shortly to release number 4, signposted by a Culture Club cover (released this very day).
SMW is Laura Kidd, resident of Bristol, on guitar/vocals plus guitarist Will. They play songs from unreleased album four plus several older songs. Highlights for BM were ‘Scared to Capsize’, which is gloomy and sounds a bit like Louise Quinn covering a lost Twilight Sad song (this is good!) – some plangent guitar strumming and lots of regret… There are other comparisons, maybe Siouxsie vs Fever Ray, her dark but beautiful vocals laid over the two intertwining guitars, hitting that spot between the dark and the light, transcendental…
‘Delete’ is a cappella and starts with Laura setting up the three vocal tracks on repeat via several mikes – a bleak song, it is very effective.
The cover of ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ is effective, strange and changes one of the chords in the chorus (G7 diminished to G7 atonal, or something, call the strumming police and arrest me, as if BM knows…) but it gives a slightly unsettling atmosphere to the song.
‘Devastate Me’ is another highlight, a possible the best contender for a possible hit – there are full band versions of some of these songs on t’internet which sound even better, to be honest, for example ‘Drown Me Out’ which BM thinks she played first tonight.
Apologies if the timeline is a bit all over the place, and can’t not mention her fairly hilarious patter, quips about the value of streams vs actual sales (a common topic at gigs these days), the fact her parents did not actually christen her ‘She Makes War’, and her love of bacon-based snacks, among other things.
So a quality opener, who BM hopes will be back in Scotland soon – now to the main dish, or Babybird, as it were. This guy (aka Stephen Jones, from Sheffield) first came to attention in the mid-90s but was the antithesis of Britpop, with barbed and caustic pop songs about awkward subjects. Since then he has ploughed a distinctive furrow for a minority audience, but the quality (in BM’s opinion) has never lulled and he has an incredible back catalogue of pop gems.
This is the first UK tour for a few years, (let’s not go into the health issues, he doesn’t mention them either, but recovered from major illness) – 50 year old Stephen Jones appears tonight with a muscular three piece band, who fairly attack the material (drums, bass, guitar) and the soundmix is perfect (several commentators have called Hug and Pint a “rubbish” venue, which is a rubbish statement), his unique voice strong in the mix but allowing the band to give us a massive Bad Seeds vs Alabama Three swampy backing, very effective when needed, but no needless noodling, just perfect.
And Stephen’s charisma fills the room, from the moment that first track ‘The Life’ (from ‘There’s Something Going On’, back in the 90s) bursts in – as always, he is a bit twitchy onstage, but svelte and lean, sporting a grey quiff and black jacket and jeans.
As the between song banter opens, he apologises for the £18 door charge (“I got my cat neutered for £18, best money I ever spent”). As he continues through the 17 song set, (mainly drawn from first two “proper” albums ‘Ugly Beautiful’ and ‘Something…’, as well as a couple from ‘Bugged’ and a brace from ‘Ex Maniac’ he does frequently get sidetracked into baiting the audience.
So a reviewer from The Herald gets it, as does another guy at the front who is filming the gig throughout (Stephen takes his camera, then asks if the guy makes videos in his mum’s basement, before a lengthy exchange about how many Youtube hits the channel gets, “more than me” concludes Stephen). There are also insults for people talking and shrieking, clearly putting him off – at one point he apologises for “ruining your gig, you hysterical, or hystermectimal hobbit” – again par for the course at one of his shows. A couple of songs later he apologises again and sets about “winning you all back”. No need, these songs and the delivery are enough.
For those unfamiliar with the music, these songs are frequently black, barbed, misanthropic and incredibly catchy. The voice soars, like a warped lounge singer, and at its best (the epic ‘Back Together’) these are torch ballads of the soul, and can match anything from the last 30 years of pop, or any other genre for that matter. ‘Unloveable’ is a singalong anthem, ‘The F Word’ is sarcasm and blind anger distilled, while ‘Bad Old Man’ is just creepy, dedicated to his ex-manager. BM can’t help thinking it recalls the hiding in plain sight Jimmy Saville – ooft!
After a short break we do eventually get his no 3 hit ‘You’re Gorgeous’ (changed to “You’re Glaswegian” a couple of times) and classic closer ‘Goodnight’. There is only one newish song (from the raft of stuff he has done on Bandcamp in the past few years) called ‘In The Place of Love’, which although good is a wee bit too close to ‘Country Feedback’ for BM’s liking.
A sweaty and satisfying night – indeed a triumph, so please let us have more of Babybird, and hopefully very soon.