Wednesday 5 October 2016

Saint Etienne, Heaven, London - 4th October 2016

I'm no festival goer (the idea horrifies me a little actually!), but I always check out the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury and this year Saint Etienne's performance struck me a remarkably fresh sounding still.

Within a few minutes of watching it I was Googling "Saint Etienne Live" and was delighted to find they were performing at Heaven in London in October. A few minutes later I had tickets.

It only struck me later that I was doing two London gigs on consecutive nights, what a rock and roll lifestyle, eh? The juxtaposition of a gig in a Church and then Heaven the following night didn't escape me either!

A little while before I discovered the "Stealing Sheep" were the support and a quick scan on YouTube convinced me it wasn't a big problem, for me, if I missed them, but as it turned out I arrived in plenty of time to catch them.

Three young women in spotted 'catsuits' (for want of a better word), produced a sound that I quickly came to think of as "Kitchensink Electro". Their songs seemed to include everything but the kitchen sink and ramble all over the place, sometimes for longer than necessary.

After two or three songs I was pretty sure I could have caught a later train to London, but as they went on they seemed to hit their stride or a nerve and suddenly I found I was jigging (again for want of a better description) along with their songs. They still rambled a bit, but the beats became catchier and the subversive way they phrased the vocal over the music, ignoring the normal pattern of making the lyrics fit the music, but breaking lines over natural rythmns in the music, was undeniably different. Worth a quick scan on YouTube to see what I mean!

By the end of their set, I was glad I'd seen them. They struck as the kind of different band that John Peel would have lauded in his time.

After around 45 minutes Saint Etienne arrived on stage.

Fronted by Sarah Cracknell, a woman who must surely have a ghastly portrait in her attic as she looks incredibly youthful, the band performed the entirety of Foxbase Alpha, their debut album, which was released 25 years ago.

What had impressed on TV was Cracknell's still crystal clear, sweet voice and there it was again, delivering the songs from FA that we remembered. In between, there were those odd audio interludes (Sarah dolling out sweets to the audience whilst "Wilson" played and her and fellow vocalist (Debsy?) playing cards through another!), but "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Carnt Sleep" and "Nothing Can Stop Us Now" still stand the test of time and had the crowd singing along and 100% on the band's side.

I read a review which described Cracknell's voice as "at times comically flat" and that may be true, but it's a great deal of her charm that whilst the sweetness verges on saccharin, there's an honest, real and slightly vulnerable element to her voice - Whatever it is, it works with these songs and seems undimmed with the passing of time. The audience (including me) loved it.

Once FA was done, the band adjourned for a short 'intermissione' (time for another expensive pint!) and then returned with set that included most of their other well known tracks, starting with "Join Our Club" and including "Who Do You Think You Are", "You're in a Bad Way", "Kiss and Make Up" and "People Get Real". They were also briefly joined by "Q Tee" who rapped on "Filthy", which was a suitable gritty track and well received by the audience as were all the songs that Cracknell fronted.

Generally, the gig was enjoyable and fun and the band and, especially, Sarah Cracknell (for her voice is a large part of the "sound of Saint Etienne") delivered the performance I hoped they would after enjoying their Glastonbury performance. The small venue was packed out (they're playing again tonight, so have fun if you go!) and the audience left buzzing and happy.

A great evening in the company of a band I'd not really followed much over the years, but I'm glad I'd joined them for the Foxbase Alpha birthday bash!


Foxbase Alpha
This Is Radio Etienne
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Carnt Sleep
Girl VII
She's the One
Stoned to Say the Least
Nothing Can Stop Us
Etienne Gonna Die
London Belongs to Me
Like the Swallow
Dilworth's Theme

Join Our Club
Who Do You Think You Are
Filthy(With Q-Tee)
You're in a Bad Way

Kiss and Make Up
Hobart Paving

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