A top night unfolded at the Continental in Preston as former Strawberry Switchblade and Sorrow chanteuse Rose McDowall visited en route for a Celtic Connections date in Glasgow.
Rose was up to Lancashire from her adopted Oxfordshire for another Tuff Life Boogie evening to remember on South Meadow Lane, with sterling support from Vukovar and Zvilnik.
We may be heading for Little Britain, but there was a pan-European feel to proceedings judging by the bill, and while I only saw part of Zvilnik’s opening set I saw enough to inspire future viewings.
This five-piece – who appeared to have left their scientific lab-coats in the dressing room – reckon they exude influences from Eastern Europe, the West End and low-grade horror movies. I hear that, but also enough quirky touches to court wider interest, lead singer Angela’s vocals giving them a B-52’s meet Pixies edge at times. Expect further exploration.
Vukovar played a memorable set at Tufflife Boogie’s Xmas party, and again impressed this time, filling in at the last minute for Yorkshire outfit Drahla, their technical woes on the night only adding to their rock’n’roll demeanour. From the first beat, Buddy on drums holds the interest, with Dan’s vocal and synth touches and chemistry with bass-man Rick somewhat mesmeric.
There are elements of Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison and maybe even The Jesus and Mary Chain, although personally I’d add some scratchy guitar in there for some of the promise of The Family Cat’s early days.
This is extreme indie art-rock at times – to a point where Rick’s bass was jettisoned and he stormed off, his band-mates filling in nicely. I kind of guessed he’d return though, while we tried to suss if it was all part of the act. One school of thought suggested Pete Townshend did that to death many moons ago, but you certainly never forget a Vukovar performance, and I look forward to the next.
Three decades after her notable pop chart success, Rose certainly still has stagecraft, making an entrance even before she’d climbed on stage, a butterfly hairclip marking her out from the crowd.
Setting the tone with two songs from her ’90s spell with Sorrow, Ruby Tears and Love Dies, Rose then took us right back down Memory Lane with Strawberry Switchblade favourites Another Day (less ’80s pop, but still eminently danceable), and the gorgeous 10 James Orr Street and Trees and Flowers.
Rose was soon bedded in (so to speak) with her band – who’d come in the other direction, crossing the border especially – and an indie six-piece set-up serves her well. While ‘of the era’ production somewhat characterised her early ‘80s days, this was the Strawberry Switchblade Mk. II I envisaged – proper indie champions.
Backing vocalist/violinist/keyboard player Joan – on loan with bassist Josh from Current Affairs – certainly played her part, her harmonies working well. Meanwhile, guitarists Michael (Apostille and Rose’s Night School Records label head honcho) and Television Personalities’ Texas Bob led from the sides, throwing down the gauntlet as those timpani mallets from drummer Ruari (Vital Idles) dictated the pace.
There were occasional signs of this being a rehearsal, but the band were in full swing – with Rose at her most powerful – by the time they reached Sorrow’s brooding, surging Let There Be Thorns, the more poppy Tibet then giving rise to the darker Our Twisted Love and sumptuous Crystal Nights.
The real crowd-pleaser came next, Since Yesterday afforded a more poignant, slowed/ stripped down vibe, melancholic yet totally fitting. Rose then upped the ante, Cut With the Cake Knife fully charged and leading to Strawberry Switchblade finale Deep Water.
And while the cry went up for an encore, it was clear it wasn’t happening as soon as Ruari donned his hat and put on his coat while Rose darted through the throng with an apologetic smile, the following evening’s Hug and Pint date in her home city in mind.
With a big thank you to John Middleham for the live images (reproduction by permission only).
For the writewyattuk site feature/interview with Rose McDowall, head here.
A number of quality Tuff Life Boogie promotions are planned for The Continental in Preston, Lancashire, over the next few weeks, including the visit of the Three Johns/El Hombre Trajeado/The Great Leap Forward on February 4th; The Orchids/The Chesterfields/The Suncharms on February 17th; the Vernal Equinox festival on March 3rd, 4th and 5th; The Jasmine Minks/The Jazz Butcher Quartet on April 8th; and Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker’s appearance on April 14th. For more information head to Tuff Life Boogie’s Facebook page.