40 years ago, following the demise of The B-Sides, two bands rose from the ashes: aspiring punks, Adam And The Ants, and new wave group, The Monochrome Set. And, tonight, the latter are playing a sold out, home town show at The Lexington, celebrating the release of 15th album, ‘Fabula Mendax’. This is faintly remarkable, given their somewhat erratic history, including two lengthy interregnums and a revolving door of personnel.
Before we get to the main event, Micko Westmoreland has also walked a circuitous route to get here today. You may have seen him essaying the role of Jack Fairy in the Todd Haynes film, ‘Velvet Goldmine’; accidentally stumbled over one of his exotic soundtracks; or, in a wildly different world, enjoyed the drum & bass and electronica he made as The Bowling Green.
With the Mellotronics, however, Micko is suited, booted, guitar-slung and backed by a band incluing former Siouxsie & The Banshees guitarist, Jon Klein. The rhythm section is provided by understated bassist, Vicky Carroll, lurking in the Lexington shadows, and some thunderous drumming from Nick Mackay. Together, they offer a collection of punchy power pop songs, pitched somewhere between the Buzzcocks and Television Personalities.
Devotees of Sarah Records and C86 indie pop will find a warm familiarity in Jetstream Pony, with good reason. Guitarist, Shaun Charman, was The Wedding Present’s original drummer and singer, Beth Arzy, earned her stripes in an array of bands, including Aberdeen (who released early singles on Sarah) and Trembling Blue Stars (originally signed to Sarah’s successor, Shinkansen).
Following a cover by German electronic artists, Kuchinke & Bayer, Jetstream Pony’s ‘Self-Destruct Reality’ was the subject of an unlikely slew of remixes, but they resist the temptation to adapt the original’s propulsive charge. They close with debut single, ‘Had Enough’, which was recorded on an iPad; a good story but, live, it positively leaps out of the speakers in comparrison, giving greater weight to Kerry Boettcher’s bass.
Whilst musicians don’t necessarily go to seed with quite the élan of retired footballers, it’s heartening to find The Monochrome Set remain largely unravaged by time (and, visually, singer and guitarist, Bid, looks like a younger Billy Joel doing an impression of Leonard Cohen).
Former guitarist, Lester Square, parted company with the band on several occasions but, over four decades, the core relationship of Bid and bassist, Andy Warren, has endured. The current incarnation is finessed with drummer, Mike Urban, stealing moments between songs to pour shots of Jägermeister, and John Paul Moran on keyboards, sporting a voluminous beard and an extraordinary, psychedelic dress.
The opening salvos include the title track from 2013’s ‘Super Plastic City’; ‘The Jet Set Junta’, curiously banned in 1982, as a supposed skewering of the Falklands War; and nascent single ‘Alphaville’ which, 30 years later, perhaps influenced the jagged guitar on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’
The main body of the set concentrates on the last two albums, mostly alternating songs from ‘Maisieworld’ and ‘Fabula Mendax’. ‘I Can’t Sleep’ is a jaunty ode to insomnia, railing against well-intentioned advice, “don’t tell me that I need to brew some tea from Kathmandu that tastes of rotten sheep”.
‘Maisieworld’ is a sunny slice of music hall fun and, even better, ‘La Chanson De La Pucelle’, a thing of stately, luxurious charms. One curious oversight, however, is the omission of stellar, recent single, ‘Come To Me, Oh, My Beautiful’, which holds its own against any of the group’s past glories.
That said, large swathes of back catalogue are conspicuous by their absence and over half the albums are unrepresented. Mid period Monochrome is particularly overlooked; the five records from the first reunion in 1990 to the second hiatus in 1998.
One exception is ‘Walking With The Beast’ from ‘Dante’s Casino’ (1990); busy, elegant and melodically owing something to Jacques Brel’s ‘La Chanson De Jacky’. The similarity is perhaps more obvious in Scott Walker’s cover version and this may be no accident, as new song, ‘Summer Of The Demon’, also displays shades of Scott.
We end back at the beginning with the strutting ‘Eine Symphonie Des Grauens’ from 1979, but the group are not simply trading on their yesterdays. Since the reformation became permanent in 2010, they have released six albums and, on this evidence, The Monochrome Set are only 40 years young.
Review and Images by Ian Joliet
Words: Ian Joliet