Live Review: Communion band showcase featuring The Travelling Band, Paul Thomas Saunders, John J. Presley and The Trouble with Templeton at London Notting Hill Arts Club – 6th October 2013

By on Thursday, 17th October 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

TGTF last visited the Communion Club Night in March, and we were suitably impressed by the quality of the acts on offer that a return visit was always on the cards. After a summer break, they relaunched back in September with an admirable six-acts-per-night policy in the sweltering underground den of the Notting Hill Arts Club, a venue with a security policy so tight and beers so expensive the whole experience is like living in Philip K. Dick’s subconscious. Nevertheless, once inside the vibe is friendly and buzzing, a great place to check out next year’s superstars.

The Trouble With Templeton, who editor Mary caught last year in Sydney, are an Australian five-piece whose sound ranges from slight acoustic whimsy to a brand of yearning AOR which, whilst perhaps not the most original sound in the rock playbook (Starsailor were doing exactly this over a decade ago, with a singer that sounded exactly the same, too boot), nevertheless provide enough variety in the songwriting and delivery to hold the interest throughout. ‘Six Months In A Cast’ gets the full driving-rock treatment, with piano riffs, washes of chugging guitar, and Thomas Calder’s impeccable, keening vocals to go with his impeccable, gleaming hair. ‘I Wrote A Novel’ is pleasant enough with its vocal percussion and clever lyrics; better still is the set-climaxing ‘Lint’, which builds with an abstract intensity and a less formal structure than the previous songs – perhaps a hint of future direction.

Apparently having won all sorts of awards for his songwriting, there’s no doubt that Calder’s pen is easily capable of jotting a memorable ditty or two, although on an absolute scale his output may be a little on the safe side, perhaps lacking that killer blow to stand out amongst the crowd now Templeton are making a bid for the big time. After the gig, drummer Ritchie explains that his band’s recent European jaunt was funded by the largesse of the recently-ousted Labor government (whilst bemoaning the anticipated lack of subsidy available from the new Liberal administration) – so I am obliged to thank the Australian taxpayers who subsidised my experience of The Trouble With Templeton, and can only hope they had nothing better to do with their money, like feeding their children. But such grumpiness aside, Templeton do deserve a wider audience; with their fresh faces and well-crafted tunes they could easily become very big indeed.

John J. Presley is a man dominated by hair – it’s pretty difficult to see his face, what with long blond locks swinging around as he prowls the stage, and the obligatory beard filling in what’s left. There’s no such difficulty at hearing him, though – the man has a veritable bellow of a voice, from which vowels aren’t really sung, more grudgingly allowed to escape, writhing in gruff protest. His is a ramshackle blues, heavily-fuzzed guitar issuing forth caveman riffs, occasionally accompanied by the sumptuous tones of a vintage Rhodes piano, or a touch of droning aerophone. ‘Sweet Sister’ exemplifies his one-man genre – guitar alternating between shades of brown overdrive and Hendrix-style fuzz, a background chorus of female vocals for company, the whole dirty and threatening like a snake in a basement.

Paul Thomas Saunders is the very spit of Sean Lennon, and the comparisons don’t stop at aesthetics – their voices are surprisingly similar, too. But where the younger Lennon’s career has been characterised by a bare smattering of LPs over the last fifteen years, Saunders appears much more focused with his releases, and indeed the records themselves hang together admirably. 2012’s ‘Descartes Highlands’ is a beautiful collection of heartfelt, spaced-out acoustic-electronic rock, dreamy in its presentation and knowingly literate in its content. The song titles belie an obscurantist influence – references to ‘Santa Muerte’ (the cult saint of death) alongside something like ‘A Lunar Veteran’s Guide To Re-Entry’ indicate a lot of thought and perhaps even a dollop of pretension are contained within. Live, Saunders plays guitar and keyboards expertly, the band spin a delicate web around his fragile, effected tenor; the overall result is a quite lovely update to the sort of space-age rock that Spiritualized first enamoured the public with over 20 years ago.

Ending the night with The Travelling Band is like finishing a sumptuous five-course meal with a piece of dry, mouldy cheddar one finds at the back of the fridge. TTB won the 2008 Glastonbury New Talent award – yet further evidence of the adverse effects of a Glasto-centric music scene. Style-wise, it’s plastic-folk, Jim, and exactly as we know it from the countless bearded hopefuls to the Mumford-ian throne that pop up every week with their wide-eyed honesty, carefully-practised five-part harmonies and clean underwear. The band can’t decide who their frontman is, as Jo Dudderidge and Adam Gorman vie for both the centre mic and the audience’s affections, all faux sincerity and gaping gurns. The quiet-loud-quiet-loud-ad-nauseum arrangements are depressingly predictable, as is the constant thud of a bass drum – a dance music substitute for those who find dance music too scary.

This is music every bit as reductive as the mainstream chart dross that music snobs constantly rail against – it performs exactly the same function as the latest offering from some famous-for-five-minutes auto-tuned chart diva, except its audience is middle class and post-teenage; and instead of hotpants and cleavage, we have carefully-quoiffed quiffs, neatly-trimmed beards and checked shirts. The lack of offensive potential, the cynically manipulative ear-pleasing yet bland songs, the emphasis of delivery over content, and the whole suffocating smugness of the whole affair is utterly depressing. Listen to this, from ‘Sundial’: “If I had a home to call my own / then I wouldn’t need a sundial to stop me roaming around”. Give me strength, or better still, something scabrous and cynical – perhaps a PiL album, or a painting by Hieronymus Bosch – anything to clear away the fug of cloying sentimentality. Time will tell how long The Travelling Band can be bothered with the travelling part – 5 years since their breakthrough, little has been achieved by the way of mainstream success, and if the half-empty venue as they take the stage is anything to go by, their star is waning still.

The Communion Club night also plays in Brighton, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow, so for anyone wanting to make their own mind up about the bands discussed here, or discover the next big thing in new music, it’s a monthly event not to be missed.

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4 Responses

2:03 pm
17th October 2013

Communion night featuring The Travelling Band, Paul Thomas Saunders, John J. Presley, and The Trouble with Templeton: http://t.co/NS6AEr7cnN

2:15 pm
17th October 2013

Live Review: @CommunionMusic night with @TravellingBand @PaulTSaunders, @John_J_Presley, The Trouble with Templeton http://t.co/NS6AEr7cnN

10:09 am
18th October 2013

Your Comments Martin after reading your review of the travelling band I was a tad apprehensive of attending the communion Manchester gig.well I would like to give myself a big slap on the back after ignoring your negative comments and narrow mined view . The ruby lounge was left totally baying for more an outstanding line up topped by the travelling band. Billy Bragg once wrote its a mighty long way down rock n roll from top o the pops to drawin the dole .Any more reviews like yours n I suggest u may be doin the latter.

[…] Read Martin’s review of Saunders’ appearance at a Communion night in London in October here. […]

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