All The Difference In The World
The Left Outsides – The Buffalo Bar, November 24th 2006.

If I never see another Alt-rock/country band again it will be too soon. Okay, I know I was in there way back when Uncle Tupelo were at the beginning of their string of wonderful records, but didn’t I read an interview once where they only ever thought of themselves as a Punk band? Those records were great though. Those records rose above any genre definitions that they might have inadvertently kickstarted (though you could argue that Gram and the Submarine Band kinda did that way back in the day), but now? Man, I could count the number of alt-rock/country artists I still want to listen to on one hand. And still have several fingers to spare.

All of which is by way of saying that tonight’s Beat Hotel ‘headline’ act The Tailors leave me colder than John Doe in a mortuary. Better by far is the night’s opening performance by Tenlons Fort lynchpin Jack Gibson. His solo take on Americana feels altogether quirkier and grittier, but then maybe that’s because he’s from Austin Texas instead of South London. I’m just putting that out there as a suggestion.

Gold Sounds meanwhile hail originally from Nottingham, which is a strange coincidence since I am barely off the train from there myself when I see them kick off with what sounds like a quite sparkling number that hints at fine things (Galaxie 500 meets Spearmint in a bar run by Darren Hayman, maybe) but quickly descend into indie-schmindie sludge peddling sub-Ride noisepop that too often veers into Coldplay territory. You know that can’t be good.

Which leaves the Left Outsides. Of course I am biased, having released their ‘Leaving The Frozen Butterflies Behind’ EP way back in January (jeez, time flies and all that malarkey), but nevertheless it is Left Outsides who sound strangest and most magically beautiful of all the groups tonight. Performing for the first time as a four piece, the addition of bass and restrained Velvetsy drums really brings out the psychedelia that underpins the Left Outsides. Theirs is the gentle, folksy psychedelia of chilly English fields at dawn with ghosts of perfect Beat boys and girls wandering hand in hand with heads full of Vashti Bunyan songs and Stanley Spencer paintings. Which means this is not the psychedelic sounds of the obvious offenders. No Day-Glo paisley patterns projected in interminable guitar solos, Left Outsides instead paint with carefully measured strokes in limited palettes of muted blue and green. It’s the difference between a Cream and a Sagittarius, and it’s all the difference in the world.

The interplay between Mark and Alison is the key to their magic. Their voices settle softly into the mix, often barely audible but always pure and serene. Alison stands statue still in classy vintage dress, gazing into the middle distance of forever, conjuring comparisons with Trish Keenan or with Alison Statton. Her viola hovers somewhere between John Cale’s droning squalls and Francis Sweeney’s melodic squeals, and that’s a mighty fine territory to be treading. Mark meanwhile caresses a guitar and hides beneath a perfect bowl cut, every inch the clued-in outsider. And naturally these things are important. How much more thrilling to see a group make an effort rather than to peddle the tired dress-down indie stereotype. Those words of Kevin Rowland ring down the years with such relevance still, which is scary, sad and scintillating all at once.

With a wealth of experience behind them already (notably with Saloon and 18th Day Of May) The Left Outsides are a group who, although they know their chosen aesthetic inside out, are not afraid to mould it into new forms. Catch them when you can.

© 2006 Alistair Fitchett