In Conversation and Live Review: Air Cav at Newcastle Dog and Parrot – 10th March 2012

By on Wednesday, 11th April 2012 at 1:00 pm

Air Cav have long been fêted by Manchester’s in-the-know commentators as one to watch. Yet despite plugging away since 2006, it was only at the tail-end of last year that the world finally got to hear the assertive beauty of long-awaited debut album ‘Don’t Look Indoors’. A clever blend of shoegaze, folk stylings courtesy of Sophie Nield’s pretty violin work, and never far away from the raucousness of punk, Air Cav are quite a unique proposition on record. TGTF caught up with them in advance of the penultimate date of their short national tour, to chat about the gestation of their album, the state of the Manchester scene, and being the musical equivalent of the city of Hull.

So how come it’s taken Air Cav so long since their first single in 2008 to visit Newcastle? Drummer Allan Gaskin takes up the story: “First of all, we took the time to perfect the live show, and learnt how to convert the songs so that they sounded good on record. We self-funded the album by begging, borrowing and stealing studio time. It’s been a long process, but we’re happy with the results, and the album has had a great critical reception. We’ve visited places on this tour that we’ve never seen, zig-zagging up and down the country, and it’s all been very positive.”

Talk turns to the state of the music scene of their native Manchester. Singer and guitarist Chris Nield opines, “Manchester’s all well and good but it’s not the be all and end all. We go down differently in different towns. Even though it’s your home crowd, Manchester can be a hard crowd. I’d rather play places like Oxford last night where the room was packed, than Manchester where it can be arms folded, chins being stroked, trying to impress people.”

Violinist Sophie Parkes concurs: “Manchester can be very trend-conscious. There’s loads of unsigned bands, which sounds really vibrant, but in reality, things can be spread quite thinly and it’s difficult to find like-minded bands to get momentum going.” Chris: “We’ve enjoyed playing with like-minded bands outside Manchester. It freshens you up.”

The obsession with bands reforming to make a quick buck is clearly something Allan takes issue with. “There’s loads of old bands reforming: The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, New Order, Inspiral Carpets… they were even going to wheel out 808 State!”

Oisín (bass): “It’s come at a bad time, just when the scene was moving away from its stereotypical heritage, for years there were new bands trying to copy the old ones, and with these bands reforming it’s happening all over again!”

Chris expands: “If you’ve not got any hype behind you, Manchester’s not interested – it’s as if it needs to be told what to like by a handful of promoters, tastemakers in a way, one or two who really call the shots when it comes to so-called trendy Manchester gigs. If you’re not in with them, then it’s difficult. The “Manchester mafia” phrase gets used quite a lot – but we’re not criticising it too much because we’ve played some of those gigs – we’re in it!”

Sophie: “There are a lot of venues now, which can mean that standards slip because there are a lot of bills to be filled with lots of bands. But it’s not all gloom: we’ve had plenty of support from people like BBC Introducing; we’ve lots to thank them for.”

Well, that’s the music scene on the ground in Manchester put to rights. So how have the band found the rest of the country on this tour? Sophie: “Our favourite city? I enjoyed Oxford, which is my hometown, and Hull was a surprise: we thought it was going to be dead, but we had a great reception, we were signing CDs – I could get used to that! Maybe it’s because Hull’s always been a very independent place and we’ve always been a very independent band – you could call us the Hull of bands!”

And what does the future hold for Air Cav?

Chris wraps things up: “We need to maximise our momentum! We’ll be clever about where we play, and not so long making the second album. We’re flying the flag for DIY, self-release, self touring, which is a great ethos. We’re not waiting for anyone else to do it for us – do it yourself!”

And with that, I leave the band to an all-important pre-gig conflab. Newcastle’s The Watchers are in support; straight out of an early ’70s West Coast acid-drowned summer festival, complete with hazy reverb, distorted vocals, and slow-burning epics that drown in a sea of droning guitar and then come up screaming for air. Yet there are songs buried deep in the bowels of these jams; the band are not just one-trick noiseniks. Watch the Watchers.

And then it’s Air Cav’s debut Newcastle performance. As on record, admirably noisy, delicately ambient, vigourously punky. Chris Nield is Brian Molko and Jarvis Cocker‘s lovechild, his mixture of avuncular Northern chap and piercing, assertive vocals dominate the performance. But this is a band greater than its parts; the rhythm section are tight yet complex, and Sophie Parkes’ violin is one moment an Irish-pub fiddle riff in the middle of ‘A Call to Arms’, the next it provides washes of colour over the more ambient moments in the set; not for nothing do the band claim inspiration from the shoegaze movement. (But doesn’t everyone, these days?)

This is a great set from a band very much hitting their stride. If there’s any criticism it’s not in the delivery. Where is the three-minute punk rollock to go with the more thoughtful, drawn-out material? Where is the power chorus that comes in before a minute is up? The band are clearly capable of invoking a variety of atmospheres – if they add the power single to their repertoire, or simply allow an editor to snip one or two of their current pieces into shape, they would be better placed for world domination. And the freedom of the city of Hull would be one step closer.

More of Martin’s high-res photos can be viewed on his Flickr.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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