The School - Telfords Warehouse, Chester- Friday 19 March 2010
I'm not one for nostalgia, raking over the ashes of rock n roll's past in search of some dying embers of inspiration. However two of my favourite releases this year are coloured largely by the sound of yesterdays long past: Y Niwl's debut EP and The School's crafted and melodically sumptuous debut album, Loveless Unbeliever.
I can't explain this contradiction. All I know is that instinctively I love both releases. They transcend their influences because they build on them with a real affection and authority. The School, for example, are clearly well schooled(!) in the girl pop / Brill Building heyday of the early 60's as well as more contemporary music inspired by that original rich seam: Tracy Ullman, Camera Obscura, Saint Etienne, Belle and Sebastian and their ilk.
"Ilk"! It's not like they have a clubhouse and a secret handshake, or anything. If they do they're not telling me.
So, The School arrive at the venue I DJ in and I'm excited to daft proportions. Even in their earliest incarnation as an outlet for songs Liz had written when she was in The Loves, the clarity of vision and the artful way in which she storyboarded her inspirations into something convincing was clear. I suspect Liz was taken somewhat by surprise by the ensuing interest. 6Music fell in love with them as did Spanish label Elefant Records. Clearly, there is a universality to the sounds and themes that shape the School. Music lovers inherently respect other music lovers... so the very fact that aspects of The School have been influenced by music of such unarguable, pure genius as those made by The Ronettes and The Chiffons is akin to a hallmark of quality.
And in complicated, uncertain times there is some kind of comfort and refuge to be drawn from simple songs written in primary colours of the heart.
Actually, the band that they most remind me of is Madness. Madness took the reggae music they adored, invested themselves and their world into it, and made some of the greatest and most enduring British pop music as a result. If I have a single criticism of The School it's that the lyrics could do with a bit more of that grit and detail of everyday life in them... they, on occasion, sound so in thrall of the lovelorn teenage hearts that beat behind those Wall of Sound masterpieces that they've forgotten to put enough of themselves into the equation.
It's a trifling observation. I love the unaffected simplicity of these songs above almost all others. It's a simplicity that's complicated to make convincingly, borne out of many hours absorbing the greatest pop music of the ages. They do it better than anyone I can think of. But can they do it live?
The last time Liz visited Telfords Warehouse in Chester she was playing keyboards for The Loves, another band I'd gladly juggle napalm candles for. I was full of flu (and it was flu) and the gig was charming in a ramshackle way. The Loves triumphed almost despite themselves. I expected tonight would be similar. How wrong I was!
The seven members of the band - usual drums, bass and guitar excellently complemented by keyboard, violin, trumpet and glockenspiel - squeezed onto the small stage and proceeded to enrapture those of us who weren't too ignorant to forego our Friday night booze up for half an hour watching a pop comet streak across our undeserving skies.
They begin with Thirteen, a tribute to the very recently deceased Alex Chilton. Then, for half an hour, we get excellent versions of standout album tracks like Let It Slip, Hoping and Praying and the forthcoming single Is He Really Coming Home?
Harmonies and smiles illuminate the stage and the audience. We all swoon. They score great melodies across our memories and, after far too brief a set, they leave us: lovesick believers, one and all.