Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Live | 5 January 1991 | Photo: Mike Morton

Camden Underworld, London

Those who believed the rumour that Happy Mondays were to be the surprise guests at Saint Etienne's Christmas bash will probably still be waiting by the chimney for Santa come Easter. Mondays producer Paul Oakenfold is here but, having lost his record collection in a poker game with Tony Wilson, Andy Weatherall and a couple of the guys from Spice are this evening's DJs.

The Manic Street Preachers and East Village provide more entertainment, the former pretending to be 999, the latter dressed in turtle-neck sweaters. The secret addition to the bill is, of course, Flowered Up. The numerous representatives of London's football terraces are cockney-a-hoop.

I've long been suspicious of Flowered Up, but tonight there's plenty of evidence of the pizzazz I think they've lacked to date. But although this show is so spirited that it's dangerous, Barry Mooncult tripping over the hem of his huge Father Christmas outfit on several occasions, the rhythms are tight, the guitar playing sharp and the house piano chords neatly placed. They now have two or three bloody good songs and Liam Maher's voice is actually starting to sound tuneful. No, that can't be right. As the show ends, Barry discards his beard, pulls out a stick of dynamite, and goes hunting for journalists. He's not as daft as you think.

Saint Etienne are equally unstable, but in a totally different way. They're still changing their singer every gig. Tonight's looks like Kylie and moves like Salome listening to a Silverfish record. She's not sure of the words to "Kiss And Make Up", Bob Stanley's not sure of her name, and I'm not sure the chap on the left, the one with his chin nailed to his chest, is Bob. But there's no doubt that the third person on the stage is Pete Wiggs because Pete wiggs. Pete always wiggs.

They perform just four numbers, one of which is an instrumental. Each is a fine example of post-acid pop, the basslines holding steady as the keyboard melodies twist and curl around the insistent beats. Sometimes it's a careful, almost graceful process and sometimes it's decidedly, delightfully haphazard, knobs turned and buttons flicked at random. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" is rubbed up the wrong way with electronic sandpaper and is the obvious highlight, but there's lots of fun to be found in the last song too. It starts slowly, the sounds dreamy, the vocals tentative, and builds into a truly hypnotic frenzy. Imagine dancing in a vacuum. Sucker!

Their debut live dates may have been a little shaky, partly due to having their DAT half-inched by drunken PSV Eindhoven fans, and the sales figures for their first two singles haven't matched the critical acclaim, but this performance points to 1991 being one hell of a good year for Saint Etienne. Bob, if you're still with the group, that long-awaited appearance on "Top Of The Pops" is drawing close.

sidebarmail sidebarfacebook sidebartwitter