Serendipity would be an ideal word to apply to my weekend – things had worked out to allow me to travel the three hundred and fifty odd miles south to be in London when Kenelis were launching their new EP ‘Move’ – and as if that wasn’t good enough, shortly before I left home I discovered that Scottish band The Stagger Rats would be in London that same weekend. Their first appearance at ‘The Islington’ coincided with my date with Kenelis, then they were due for a stripped acoustic set at ‘The Hospital Club’, but I would be able to stay to attend the Saturday night show at ‘The Dublin Castle’ in Camden.
I arrived in Camden and soon caught up with the band, managing to record an interview with them in their tour bus, cleverly disguised as a white van. Then I was inside the venue and appreciating the end of a set by Gaptooth, a young lady doing her bit with assorted electronics to provide her support ‘band’. I enjoyed what I heard and noted some echoes of ‘Gary Numan’ in the music that accompanied her clear and thoughtful lyrics. This brief experience was yet another wonderfully unexpected element to add to the weekend’s mix. Her single ‘Ladykillers’ was released on the Monday following the gig and I will certainly look out for more from her in the future.
Then The Stagger Rats had completed their set up and were into full flow with ‘I’m In Love’. Callum Easter’s Hammond organ provided a considerable contrast to Gaptooth’s Korg, Apple Mac etc. The very sharply dressed Daniel Paylor must surely have surprised any audience members who hadn’t heard him before with an unexpectedly deep voice priojecting from his small frame as he played guitar and sang centre stage. Craig Mcmullen provided a further guitar layer along with his hat, whilst Terry McDermott and Kai Wallace kept everything tight on bass and drums respectively. A few minor tech issues didn’t really interfere, even a need to swap bass guitars was quickly dealt with and allowed the set to continue, ensuring the audience were treated to a great selection of songs sampling the new album ‘Scorpio Leisure’ along with a couple of others. The second song ‘Maybe When I Get A Bit Older’ kept things upbeat with their distinctive and tight instrumentation – crisp guitars, bound together with the full organ sound on a foundation solidly laid by bass and drums. Next the single, ‘Sleeping Off Ecstasy’, slowed things down a few notches and allowed the band’s versatility to be further showcased. ‘My Marie’, almost like a spirtitual, and ‘Hubba Bubba’ quickly followed leading towards another pair from the album; the slightly frantic ‘Red Hands’ being a further demonstration of their ability to play tight, well arranged rock that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and then the absolutely delightful ‘Fuzzy Fuzzy’ with its retro feel and extremely memorable chorus that always makes me feel so good. One of the attractions of The Stagger Rats is that they appear to be very comfortable to develop their own style with scant regard to the latest passing trends – good, honest, idiosyncratic and well executed are all definitely terms that I would happily apply to their performance. I can imagine that anybody with an open mind and a love of unpretentious rock music would be very happy to find a copy of ‘Scorpio Leisure’ in their Christmas stocking when the 25th arrives.
With Christmas lights and decorations throughout the city, the closing selection was a further nod towards the festive mood, but not necessarily the most traditional of Christmas songs. The selection of a song from The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s ‘Framed’ album was truly inspired. As Callum introduced it I overheard somebody behind me, state in a strong London accent, that he couldn’t understand a word that had been said – I had to turn and note that it had made perfect sense to me, but then again I’m just very familiar with the Edinburgh / Scottish East Coast accent! ‘There’s No Lights On The Christmas Tree Mother, They’re Burning Big Louie Tonight’, was a wonderful fun a way to end the set. Certainly I would have loved them to have played more, but with a further two bands due on stage I had to content myself with having been lucky enough to have been there for the excellent performance. Sadly, with weekend engineering works due to close my overland route back to South East London, and a drive back north the following morning, I was unable to stay around to see Belter and Joy Revision.