Given the dominance of American blogs and sites in the web-based indie rock discourse, and the generally greater respect Irish people tend to have for stuff that’s not from here, it’s easy sometimes to forget that a lot of good music comes from England too.
It’s not just the canon bands on the cover of Mojo, the Joy Divisions, Smiths, Jam, Oasis, Blur, Coldplay, Radioheads of the world. Not just the bands who are either in the process of being pushed by the NME or those who survived that process either.
Best album by a very loud female-fronted indie rock three-piece of the last two or three years? The Golden Spike by the Leeds trio Sky Larkin.
Okay that’s not actually true, it’s the last Marnie Stern album, but Sky Larkin definitely give her a run for her money.
The album is built around Katie Harkin’s singing – her lyrics are clever and funny without falling prey to being twee and annoying – and her guitar playing, which is called “tip toe guitar” on their MySpace but which definitely comes more from a stomach-y area (though it might be precariously balanced in a slightly-unhinged sort of way).
Behind her there’s a guy called Douglas Adams (presumably no relation to the Hitchhikers’ guy) filling up sonic space with some reasonably busy bass-playing, and a guy called Nestor Matthews who hits the drums very, very hard and seems to have to work satisfyingly hard to get from one end of the set to the other. On record, it’s a satisfyingly hard-nosed version of power-pop, more studied than, say, Fight Like Apes, but more hooks than a lot of the lazy Riot Grrl stuff it could be compared to.
It was good live too. I went to see them in The Academy 2 on Tuesday. There were a couple of red flags:
- The Academy 2 is the darkest, most dun venue in the history of the world and is not exactly conducive to fun in the best of circumstances. I don’t think there ARE lights, even if they wanted to use them.
- There really wasn’t a crowd there at all. Besides the support band (Heritage Centre, whom I missed) and people who were patently their friends, there were probably ten or so people. It was one of those gigs bands reminisce about from the comfort of success.
- I managed to be there alone, which, even though it happens all the fucking time, is still annoying.
However. Even in these circumstances, Sky Larkin put on a good gig. The first point thwarted Katie Harkin a touch (much as it once thwarted Bobby Duck Dispensary) in that it’s impossible to see the fretboard of a guitar when you’re in front of stage up-lights in such a dark place. The second point they can’t have been unaware of, but they didn’t mention it. The third obviously didn’t bother them as much as it bothered me, though I’m sure they would have empathised.
Songs like ‘Fossil, I’, ‘Pica’ and ‘Octopus 08’ are undeniable on record. Live, they fizzle with energy and after nine months of touring, it really is a testament to Harkin’s voice that she can sing fairly difficult songs without sounding tired or forced, while also playing not uncomplicated guitar lines and, obviously on an incidental basis, trying to put the strap back on her guitar.
The drummer broke his snare skin, because he was hitting it that hard. This was satisfying, for some reason. It’s nice to know a band is putting that much into their shows. The lack of an adoring public didn’t stop them at all. It’d be nice to see one next time though.
(P.S. when I googled the band, the blurb for their official site was something which I had said on Twitter a few days ago about them. This freaked the fuck out of me. It turned out to be something to do with a Twitter feed they have on their page which collates anything anyone says about them. So Twitter about Sky Larkin, it might get you followers)