Concert Review Archive

 

Tim Smith Benefit:
Thumpermonkey, Sanguine Hum & Sterbus

Saturday, 2nd November 2013
The Fighting Cocks, Kingston, London, the UK

Article by Roger Trenwith
Photos by Sterbus and Nick Loebner

When my long-time gig going compadre and I venture down to the capital for a gig, we like to fit in some afternoon culture. This time our pre-gig entertainment was a visit to an exhibition of Storm Thorgerson artwork at a swanky café/art gallery situated canalside in an upmarket area of North London. It was good fun pinpointing the album cover artwork on display, some of which was obvious, some not so. A good advert for the coffee table book The Gathering Storm, but at upwards of £750 a time for the limited edition prints my wallet, needless to say, stayed firmly in my pocket.

A quick bite to eat in a packed sports bar that was showing Arsenal v Liverpool was made all the more satisfying for me as we were there long enough to see "The Arse", as they are affectionately known, take a 1-0 lead.

Back on the train, and out to the leafy West London suburb that is Kingston-upon-Thames, and it did not take us long to find the venue, which had a curious air of being out of place; "The Fighting Cocks" in a district that smelled of money, a basic terrace house costing £750K? How incongruous is that? Then again, perhaps we're "the wrong side of the river" now.

Also, once inside it was akin to stepping into a time capsule. The gig room was at the back of a somewhat down-at-heel rockers pub, skull'n'crossbone logos everywhere, quotes from Lemmy under the beer pumps, it reminded me of a bikers venue from 30 and more years ago back home.

Nothing wrong with that though, we need more of this kind of place if you ask me. The atmosphere inside was boozy and friendly, and after a swift pint it was "into the black" for the Tim Smith Halloween Benefit gig. Arranged by Nick Loebner, all the proceeds are going towards Tim's healthcare costs.

Tim Smith should need little introduction, but for the uninitiated he is the leader of English band Cardiacs, formed way back in 1977 as Cardiac Arrest, in this very same borough we find ourselves in tonight. Cardiacs play a unique punk/pop crossover music, that edges into prog territory much as they might deny it, by having complicated chord and time changes a-go-go. The whole thing is given extra pizzazz by their loony stage shows.

That's only a small part of the story, you need to hear their genuinely unique sound to fully appreciate how they manage to polarise opinions in a supremely black and white fashion. There is to be no fence-sitting with Cardiacs; you will either think they are "genius" or "shite". Whatever your opinion, there's no denying that over the years they have built a substantial cult following, and influenced a fair few bands. In 2008 Tim suffered a heart attack (the irony of that is not lost, I'm sure) followed by a massive stroke while leaving a My Bloody Valentine concert, and later another stroke, leaving him paralysed. The band effectively stopped at that point. Since then Tim has been on the slow road to recovery, but remains in precarious physical state.

And so, on to the gig...

 

Sterbus

First up were Italian band Sterbus, formerly Emanuele Sterbini's one man studio project, whose fast'n'furious angular tunes owe a big debt to Cardiacs. Their sturm und drang is fronted by a highly contrasting demure young female singer by the name of Dominique D'Avanzo, whose introverted vocals sometimes got lost in the sea of ninety-chord-and-time-changes a minute punkerama. As this was their first gig as a proper band, it all went quite well, methinks.

There is a drummer, honest, and he was rather good, too!

Their set was considerably enlivened by the energetic dancing of two female fans, their entwined alcohol-fuelled cavorting raising many smiles. One of them, Debz Lewis, even took lead vocals on alt-ballad (Maybe I'm A) Lioness, and a damn fine job she did too. Thanking the band's somewhat bemused actual singer with hugs and kisses afterwards, these two Riot Grrrls stole Sterbus' show, not that they seemed to mind at all.

Q&A:
What do Cardiacs mean to you?
Emanuele Sterbini - (bass/vocals/occasional guitar) - "Cardiacs is freedom to do whatever you like, as you want to hear it, always. And a totally new way to write songs, using different chord progressions than anyone else, with humour, genius, attention for details, attitude... and balls!"

Favourite Cardiac moment?
Emanuele Sterbini - "Being in London for their Astoria gig in 2007 and meeting Tim after the concert is probably my top moment!!! Together with doing an acoustic cover of Dirty Boy and seeing it on the Loyal Companion CD to the tribute album Leader of the Starry Skies."

Setlist Sterbus
Otorinolaringoiatria
Prujem
Rollercoaster
Black Delivery
(Maybe I'm A) Lioness
Gay Cruise
Wooden Spheres + Heartquakes
 

Sanguine Hum

One of the problems with small (in this case, very small) stages and multiple band line-ups is the lack of proper soundchecks for the non-headline acts. It did not really affect Sterbus as their guitar/bass/vocals/drums format was relatively simple. Sanguine Hum however had a more sophisticated sonic setup, with a plethora of effects pedals and a synth/keyboard rig to contend with. Considering that after a very brief "One, two" session the sound balance was effectively sorted out on the hoof, as it were, the sound man did a sterling job. Most affected were the keyboards, which took a fair while to sort out, and the lead vocal which occasionally got a bit lost in the mix.

Sanguine Hum

Undeterred the band soldiered on, delivering a fine set of songs taken from their two rather good albums to date. By now the boozy bonhomie of the audience was palpable, and my attention to the stage was occasionally diverted by having to keep at arms length a somewhat inebriated punter whose beer consumption had played havoc with his ability to recognise personal space, as he...ahem...danced away in his own personal universe, arms and legs weaving and wobbling akimbo in several directions at once.

By the time The Hum (if I may!) reached the last half of their slot, all the sound glitches had ironed themselves out and despite the earlier problems, the band turned in a highly musical set. This band made for a neat contrast to the other two, with their nu-Canterbury musicality providing the tasty filling in a thickly sliced chunky chord sandwich. All the players are obviously highly skilled and watching the interplay at work was a delight. I can't wait for the next album, which the band will be working on from here on in, as this is their last gig of the year.

Q&A:
What do Cardiacs mean to you?
Matt Baber (keyboards) - "Cardiacs represent the progressive and punk spirits colliding, and seemingly making music that was often repellent to both sides. :)"

Favourite Cardiac moment?
Matt Baber - "My fave Cardiacs moment is Blind in Safety...an ingenious little tune!!"

Setlist Sanguine Hum
Cognoscenti
The Trial
In Code
System For Solution
Day Of Release
Phosphor
Weight Of The World
Coast Of Nebraska (edit)
 

Thumpermonkey

Then came King Kong stomping the exterior calm of suburbia into the dirt; or Thumpermonkey as their mums probably don't call them. The technical glitches continued as it took a few minutes for bass player Sam Warren to get his amp sorted out, ultimately leading to the final two songs from the setlist being cut. A Cardiacs' influence is (seemingly - see Q&A below) writ large in their song structures, and in guitar/piano player Rael Jones' stage antics. When playing guitar he occasionally decided to play it in front of the stage in the audience and facing the band, and his loose-limbed musical direction was a good laugh too.

Thumpermonkey

Wild-haired singer Michael Woodman declaims the labyrinthine stream of consciousness lyrics, unfortunately somewhat drowned in the mix, accompanied by the stomping angular chording, and the whole thing is a joy to watch. If King Crimson were a pop band in their '90s incarnation they may well have sounded like this. And Steve Davis digs them, so what is there not to like?

Q&A:
What do Cardiacs mean to you?
The Thumpermonkey hive-mind - "It was great to support Tim at the show, and we were very grateful to be asked. People might be surprised to know that Cardiacs are a relatively recent discovery for us as a band, for each of us the gateway into the music we're making was primarily though '70s Prog and a range of 'more interesting' Metal/Heavy bands."

"What's most striking about Cardiacs for us is that they seem to have inspired more dedicated fans of interesting music than almost any other band we can think of, and we've been very lucky to meet plenty of these fans at our gigs recently." ...

Setlist Thumpermonkey
Abyssopelagic
Wheezyboy
When Scouts Go Bad
Proktor Cylex
Veldt (new song)
Pigheart
Giraffes (new as yet untitled song)
Tzizimime

The band were unable to play 419 and Own due to the strict 11pm curfew
 

And finally, event organiser Nick Loebner, without whom I wouldn't be writing this thing. Top bloke!
What do Cardiacs mean to you?
"A good tune and bonkers to boot. Genius in the concept, construction and execution."

Favourite Cardiac moment?
"Too many to list. Can I just write "Maresnest"?" ...

A great gig for a noble cause!

Links
Thumpermonkey Official Website

Sanguine Hum Official Website

Sterbus Official Website

The Fighting Cocks, Kingston

 


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