Something For The Longing
Slipslide, The Zebras, The Orchids.
The Luminaire. London. March 2nd 2007.

The Orchids

We stand in the crowd, smiling ruefully at the sounds of Razorcuts, McCarthy, Jasmine Minks and Pale Fountains coming over the PA. It still feels strange hearing those records in a public space, though perhaps if we had spent our ‘80s somewhere other than the hinterlands of Troon we would have different memories. As it is, this is the sound of the bedrooms of our past; the sound of being secreted away in our world of books and films, connected to the rest of the world only through a secret network of fanzines and letters. Where we came from you simply did not hear these sounds anywhere outside of your own record player, and actually that was fine by us. Ordinary people would just never understand.

There was always a snobbery about the indie scene back in the dreaded ‘80s. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying through their teeth or simply wasn’t there. There was no homogenising scene, no overarching anorak that bound the kids together. Instead there were fiercely fought corners based on firmly held beliefs in the specific nature of Pop or Rock and/or Roll. Everyone had their notions of who was Premier League and who was, god forbid, Conference League. And no, I can’t believe I’m using a football metaphor either.

For many I knew, the likes of Graham Elston’s Love Parade and Pure were strictly Second Division. Pleasant and harmless enough, which was exactly why they were not considered for promotion. They nodded in the right directions, but didn’t have the elusive It that we talked about in reverential tones. Maybe we were unduly harsh. We were young and foolish, after all. Certainly Elston’s latest troupe Slipslide are way ahead of those previous groups. On record they go a fair way to evoking the spirit of the secret sacred Hurrah! or prime East Village (both solid Premiership teams of course); full of bittersweet minor chord melancholia cloaking grandiloquent dreams tempered by the brittle winds of reality. And if live they don’t quite match up to those notions, well maybe that’s because it’s been two years since their last show. So whilst they fail to truly challenge, fail to explore intriguing dark corners, Slipslide are nevertheless pleasant enough to soundtrack a half hour or so.

The Zebras

Australia’s Zebras are pleasant enough too. They have the right guitars: a shiny Rickenbacker leads a Fender Jaguar / Jazzmaster duo. For the most part they have the songs too, and blend a tasty Trashcan Sinatras meets Lucksmiths Pop sound. The thing is, I can’t help but be reminded of The Housemartins. This is fine up to a point. The trouble is that, for me, that point is exceeded after about fifteen minutes. After that I’m looking at my watch and tapping my feet. I’m eager for the main course of the evening, after all.

That main course is supplied by The Orchids. Compared to Slipslide, these guys have been away from the stage for a lifetime. Over a decade, to be exact. It’s scary how the years dash past us.

Now The Orchids’ were always in my Premiership, and their comeback set Good To be A Stranger is a gorgeous record that confirms their place deep in my heart. I’ve said elsewhere that, compared to their previous efforts, the new album is the difference between being in lust at seventeen and being in love at forty. I stand by that assertion, though in a live context it is clear that there is red blood coursing wildly in those veins still. It was always the way. It was always one of the things that appealed most about The Orchids; a terrific contrast between the often gentle, low-key persona that they presented on record and the more robust (and often more gloriously ramshackle) racket that they could turn out in a live context.


Nowhere tonight is this more evident than on the monstrously fine ‘Something For The Longing’. On record it was a brooding, moody masterpiece, all Apocalypse Now helicopter beating hearts flying in behind marching drums that floated wraithlike over the moors. James Hackett’s vocal sounded forlorn and plaintive, the ghost of a young man looking for sense in the wilds of love. Tonight however it is transformed and we are drawn along with it, driven to heady abandon. Chris Quinn stands and hammers on his drums and cymbals as the song crashes into a wall of sound beamed in from heaven, or from the ghostly memory of Galaxie 500, which is one and the same place of course. John Scally and Keith Sharp’s guitars wail against each other, Ronnie Borland’s bass weaves luxurious waves that crash on the rocks of our hearts, whilst Hackett’s vocal this time remains otherwordly and lingering whilst being simultaneously strident and aggrieved. It’s a question of inflection, a matter of subtly altering the tone of the question: “Didn’t I ask for some kind of loving?” The melancholic sense of resignation from the record has given way, some seventeen years later (nearly to the day), to a fierce anger. Even the soaring chorus refrain of  “we can walk for hours and hours” seems to carry an edge of harsh frustration, as though Hackett is conjuring the spirit of that old Sea Urchins line, “why weren’t you special?” So much for time being the great healer, then.

So if ‘Something For The Longing’ is a tempestuous highlight, it’s a point only marginally above the rest of a set which is accomplished without being polished to a sheen. The Orchids might not have played out together for nigh on twelve years, but they’re clearly serious about their art. As a result they have returned with another album to adore and a live set to torch the heart.

Still solidly in the Premiership, then.

© 2007 Alistair Fitchett