Gig review

The Monochrome Set / The Cathode Ray

A nice double-bill – two bands with a strong and stylish pedigree in a slightly empty venue for a Saturday but there is a lot else on this weekend and gig choices are many.

BM’s only previous exposure to The Cathode Ray was a gig inside LoveMusic on Record Store Day maybe 5 or 6 years ago, acoustic by necessity, given the size of the place.
It was very good and the band are again extremely good tonight. There is a recent album to plug and they get a good nine songs which as a support is pretty generous.

This is classic pop/rock of the sort the Beatles originated and people like Richard Hawley are still doing well, and The Cathode Ray do it too, channeling Lou Reed in a good mood via The Orange Juice and possibly even Neil Hannon, given the slightly anglicised vocal style. Starting with ‘Backed Up’, a stuttering rocker, and moving onto the newest material like “‘Eyes are the Window’, there is no shortage of guitar licks, solos, basslines and tasty vocal couplets.
The four piece (classic guitar/vocals, bass, lead guitar and drums) and led by Jeremy Thoms, are slick, nimble and all still have full heads of hair, not bad for guys who have been in and around the Scottish music scene for quite some time. Their history with other projects could merit a paragraph in itself. The highlight for BM was ‘Around’, a transcendent melody and chord progression overlaid with riffs, warm and oozing something kinda ooh – yep that was the one. A worthy support act, and by the end of the set BM had been joined by a few others up front to applaud them.

BM’s history with “The Set” (which no one ever calls them) goes back a good 30 plus years to when, in short trousers, a pinafore, or something like, that BM heard this lot on Peel and trilled along to yon local record shoppe to purchase ‘Volume Contrast Brilliance’, a compilation of their first few albums, and has loved them ever since.
Formed in the late 70s, they took the usual post punk route of Peel session, tours, singles, albums etc – there were no actual hits in that period but a subsequent major label deal pushed them hard and the track ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ became a sort of hit in the early MTV years, something not played tonight and probably best forgotten.
After more bruising major label action, the band split and largely went to ground, then emerging bit by bit as original singer/guitarist Bid and fairly original bass player Andy Warren with, eventually tonight, a drummer and a keyboard player who BM is not going to hazard a name as they are quite new!

The band have released four albums since 2010 though (several with original guitarist Lester Square, great name and now sadly departed TMS) – tonight we set a slew a new material from that era plus a smattering from the “classic” era, a good 16 songs. They are not a heritage act, and listening with a fresh ear BM hears The Doors, French chanson, Brel, Momus, bloody hell (not a band)…

Bid looks like he has a Dorian Gray-esque picture in the attic, one of these guys who almost looks better with age, and very distinguished, and with his arch manner he goes about charming the audience, now a bit larger although still about half full, a shame really. The band is tight, although the dress code is a bit looser than the black jeans black shoes, shirt and quiff of The Cathode Ray, these guys look and behave as if they are in four different bands, although they play well together and obviously enjoy it.

First out of the traps oldie ‘Eine Symphonie…’ is enhanced by the keyboard player’s deep backing vocals, while lead track on the latest album ‘Cosmonaut’ sounds very good. It is however for the oldies that BM is here, and it is truly amazing to groove to ‘Alphaville’ and pogo to ‘The Jet Set Junta’, a song as relevant today as back in the early 80s, please have a listen if you don’t know it…
There were some mariachi stylings on a couple more songs, ‘Cowboy Country’, BM thinks, and as the proverbial curtain came down around 10pm (“bumped by a Spice Girls tribute night” quipped Bid, actually an R&B night, but never mind…) they threw us the titular ‘The Monochrome Set, another blazing blast from all our pasts.

So onto Edinburgh tomorrow for them… They have been quite regular visitors here the last wee while, and long may Bid continue to inflict his acid humour on the audience – “I don’t know what you’re saying, are you from Birmingham..?” being one of the best. BM has had Q&A with him and wishes him and his merrie men well – a bientot guys…