Zoe from London
Without trying to sound too right wing and overly patriotic, there really is quite a lot that we British can feel proud about. The best ale, the best music, the best literature, the best inventions, the list is endless. Other countries tend to argue that they have significant contributions too and yes, to a degree, they have a point, but there's one contribution that cannot be denied by anyone. One home-grown oddity that doesn't exist anywhere else and could never come from anywhere else, because it's truly the heart and soul of what makes Britain great. "What is it?" I hear you cry. Well, it's the Great British Eccentric.
You see, being a bit of a quirky oddball is something that only we can do properly, with any sense of style and individuality. Syd Barrett. Arthur Brown. Alex Harvey. Douglas Adams. David Hockney. Roy Harper. John Cleese. Keith Moon. Malcolm McLaren. Badly Drawn Boy. Morrissey. Bob Mortimer. Tom Sharpe. Adam Ant. Ray Davis. Roger Waters. Peter Cook...I could go on forever. There is a certain type of misfit that can only develop within this sceptered isle; a slightly loopy fruitcake who defiantly goes against the grain and does things their own way because they're a bit strange, with a unique viewpoint on life the universe and everything. It's why this country is so bloody good at producing prog rock and funny folk music, because the Brits have a singularly perverted way of sticking two fingers up at what's acceptable and not giving a toss what anyone else thinks. They just create whatever the hell they like whether anyone else Ďgets ití or not.
The wonderful thing is, these people prefer it like that because it's easy for the ignorant to dismiss them as harmless fools. Only those who recognise kindred spirits will see the appeal of these peculiar personalities and although most of the people that qualify for this description canít be realistically grouped with the tortured geniuses that have more widespread appeal, it's easy to see when certain artists are cut from the same material and Rain Eater is among them. Embryonic and at a frighteningly early stage certainly, but heís got the ingredients even if heís still trying to stumble upon the right recipe.
The artist formerly known as Chris Drew comes on almost apologetically to acoustic plinky-plonky plucking as the crooning almost celtic lilt of his lady companion vocalist slips gently over the top. As his own semi-sighed vocal meanders in and out of the melody, itís barely recognisable as the dreamily dippy acoustic prog of ĎThe Supervisorís Revengeí but itís now easier to see where heís heading with his work generally. Thereís a Barrett-esque quality to his songs that is only just starting to come together but itís not totally bizarre in a deliberately odd way, just twitchy introspective acoustic folk-pop with a lightly warped prog twist, like the sort of thing that could come from Viv Stanshallís bastard lovechild.
To be honest, itís musically stunted and Drew himself has a flat, droning, undeveloped vocal style. Itís reminscent of a forgotten era only currently remembered by real-ale drinking grey beardies with chunky woolly jumpers and personal freshness problems, but that doesnít matter. Whatís important is that heís got a singular vision of what he wants to achieve and it can only really be done on his own terms. Being solo, even though heís still completely unsure of what to do, is probably be the only way he can express himself properly at the moment, because no band structure would allow the likes of ĎOld Man Sausage Featuresí to be exposed outside of a 3am stoned session in someoneís living room. In Rain Eaterís hands though, it becomes facetiously engaging and songs like this are oddly expected of him because heís got that important mystery ingredient that makes quaintly queer nonsense seem worth hearing. Thereís something in it that grabs your attention, though precisely what that something might be is a subject for speculation.
That being said, Rain Eater is still a very young man and as such, is not above writing poignantly self-serving love songs in an absolutely adolescent but relevantly necessary way, because thatís what weíre all guilty of at some point. ĎPaper Ladyí is about ďthe girl with the snow-white complexion that broke my heartĒ and although itís got a naÔve and innocent veneer, thereís something distinctly peculiar and obscure going on too. Kinda like a teenage Nick Drake on antidepressants. It does him few favours though as the crowd start to lose interest slightly which dampens the impact of the darker, Harperesque epic ĎMy Name Is Legioní, but heís already given just about enough to make his point tonight, so although itíd be nice to show exactly how broad his scope of approaches can be and how intelligently crafted some of his material is, opportunities will come in good time.
Rain Eater is an idiosyncratically odd fellow. Enigmatically English, enamouringly eccentric, lyrically loquacious and above all, stimulating. Because of the nature of his music, heís unlikely to ever make big waves, but heís got the germ of creativity that will grow into something distinctive. Thereís nothing truly special yet of course, but heís certainly going to be interesting to watch developing. Check him out.
Captain Cwaig and his companion Wolfgang Crumb on the other hand, would dearly love to belong to the oddball club but trying so hard to become members automatically makes them ineligible. Unlike Rain Eater, they have to make an effort to be wacky and obtuse, trying to convince everyone that they're a whole lot of quirky effervescent fun, but for anyone outside of their teens, itís just not convincing. That being said though there's still a significant degree of charm in the way they defiantly carry on regardless, as if they know better even if nobody else gets it, so such transparent cockiness ceases to be irritating and starts to become endearing. Itís just a shame that the end product is music thatís in the main, mind-bogglingly crap.
The oddly named Zoe From London begins where their previous project, the dreadfully inane and quite ghastly Masters Of The Universe left off. Itís a peculiar beast, made from a hybrid of two distinct stylistic approaches, but they sort of co-exist without blending together. One half is tuneless, unamusing, facile, puerile, immature, pretentious, shallow and dull juvenile bullshit, while the other half is by comparison, a staggeringly contrasting leap into morose acoustic pop, because theyíve finally let someone else have a go at leading them. When they stop acting like bell-ends and just play, the difference in quality is really quite extraordinary. Donít get me wrong, itís still not particularly good, but itís not bad, which is all that matters.
As Cwaig comes on solo to begin with, the prospect looks pretty bleak and grim. Itís as if heís busking a tune he doesnít quite know and his voice is excruciatingly, mortifyingly, almost comically dreadful. The rest of the band arrive onstage, look furtive for a bit with a fair amount of shuffling about, grab their instruments and try to join in, but itís dire bedroom nonsense in a Bonzo Dog Band meets Planxty meets Levellers way. For a brief minute, it starts to sound fairly inoffensive, albeit ineffectual, but then they fuck it up and whatever it was is lost in the mushy mess. As they progress, for the next 10 minutes or so, ZFL are nothing more than sad rubbish making sloppily dreary music that could probably drive away pikeys and bore the loon-pants off a dead hippy. Trying desperately to be offbeat, silly little scamps with their peculiarly queasy little ditties, they irritate rather than innovate, leaving a sour taste in the mouth and making it seem so goddamn pointless, but suddenly, as if by magic, they change.
Until now, ĎFlossieí has been hanging around looking out of place and not really doing very much, but as he drifts into dominating the vocal duties, a drastic transformation takes place, visually, melodically and stylistically. Their ballad to a teenage Page 3 girl, the eponymous ĎZoe From Londoní and the bongo-led ĎLost Causeí are stirring pieces of morose 80ís flavoured acoustic pop, the latter reminding me of an unplugged XTC for reasons I canít quite fathom and am probably better off not thinking about. His vocal is a kind of throatier, gurglier (if thatís a word) Roland Orzabal with a slight Ian Curtis twang and despite itís lack of confidence or maturity, it drastically improves what ZFL have to offer. With someone to give them focussed direction and a lead vocal that sounds quite pleasant, they actually start to play like a proper band should and show that thereís something here worth investigating, so having to sit up and take notice of this comes as a very welcome surprise.
Essentially, what follows is still very amateurish and immature, almost like something thatís coming together in a jam, but with considerable potential nonetheless. Itís derivative, certainly, but shows a grasp of songwriting basics and concepts that are worthy of further exploration. ďSilver and GoldĒ for example, is snappy, simplistic pop, received with a genuinely surprised and positive response, and itís really quite well deserved because instead of fucking about trying to be amusing when theyíre not, Cwaig and Crumb let Flossie get on with it and allow things to just work. Although they no doubt instigated the admittedly cool and well-executed acapella of LSDís ďFarm SongĒ as a closer, itís done seriously, despite the lighthearted nature of the tune, resulting in collectively raised eyebrows throughout and an end image of a band that might not actually be totally shite after all. Dammit, you could even call it enjoyable.
Itíll be interesting to see where ZFL go with all this. Hopefully theyíll drop trying to be goofy and go down the path that Flossie seems to be leading them, because at least it leads somewhere, but time will tell. It always does.