Old-fashioned and Exotic

Her Sad Captains

Outside the Buffalo Bar a sizeable crowd is growing, but they can’t get in because down the stairs in the basement it’s packed full. I get a text on my phone from Julia telling me that she and Harriet are outside, but not even the guest list people can get in. It feels vaguely surreal. Is this normal for London on a Friday night in January? And who has everyone come to see?

Perhaps it is Her Sad Captains. Certainly they have the looks and a degree of intrigue. A vision in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt plays an electric violin contraption, claps her hands in blissful abandon and gives us some volleys of ba-ba-ba backing vocals. A blond mopped boy blows on one of those toy keyboard type things. A be-spectacled chap in a day or two’s growth looks earnest and sings. Someone near me wryly asks if this is how Pavement sounded. The answer is ‘kinda’, but kinda not enough. A minute after they stop playing I can’t remember any of their tunes. but that’s nothing new because I forget so many things these days.

So perhaps they are here for The Fischers. It would make sense, for The Fischers feature former Tompaulin figure Jamie Holman on vocal and guitar duties, and like Tompaulin they make play rather fabulous indiepop songs that do all the right things in all the right places. They have a penchant for chiming minor chords and a sweet melancholia that recalls East Village and you just know that is bound to have me all of a quiver. For anyone with a penchant for classy songs given an accomplished but edgy performance, The Fischers are well worth looking out for.

Most people however are likely here to see Airport Girl, Fortuna Pop’s headliners. I’ve always enjoyed Airport Girl, and tonight they play a fine selection of songs from their latest Slow Light set. Slow Light is a beautiful and aptly titled album, filled with slow burning late night early morning songs full of brittle mystery and heartache. It is the sound of an Americana landscape transfigured to London, filtered through a half-emptied bottle of whisky and seven inch singles strewn on the floor. That feeling transfers through the live set as well, and although there are upbeat numbers and plenty of shuffling feet, it is those darker moments that really have me smiling a beatific inner glow as something deep and important connects.

Airport Girl

So all those groups are fine of course, but I have to admit that regardless of their class, for me they are still the padding. Because really I’m here to see Esiotrot.

Now Esiotrot have been one of my favourite groups of recent months and in fact I’ve had something of a thing going for them every since I chanced upon them at the Pants Yell! show last summer. Their Schmesiotrot album is a delight of ramshackle no-fi Pop that bristles with more ideas than a porcupine philosopher, and their new 3” CD on I Wish I Was Unpopular is a charming slice of awkward infatuations and chaotic innocence gone awry. Live, they are even more chaotic. It sounds like no-one is in tune. It sounds like everyone is blasting off on their own bizarre trajectory, taking strange space trips inside their own heads. It sounds like The Mystery Girls playing Jonathan Richman songs with The Pale Fountains coming through on the transistor radio in the background. It sounds marvellous.

Someone says ‘quirky’. It’s unclear if it meant as a compliment, but it really should be. For Esiotrot are quirky like a Jim Jarmusch movie or a Shena Mackay novel, and you know that’s got to be a good thing. Esiotrot are quirky like a David Shrigley sketchbook, and thank god for that. Indeed their songs, both recorded and live, remind me of sketchbook pages; all raggedy edges and flurries of ideas charging around in search of a resolution. And of course so often I prefer flicking though sketchbooks to contemplating final outcomes, so go figure.


And like the best sketchbooks, Esiotrot songs are full of magical observations of life. There are charming character sketches and odd narratives all wrapped up in brown wrapping paper and tied up with string. It’s strangely like The Kinks. If The Kinks had been a seven piece falling apart and in on themselves. I mean, how can you resist a song about a kid whose Mum starts dating the Deputy Head at his school? Or a song called ‘The Dirtiest Birthday Present’ with its lines about buying Lady Chatterley’s Lover and not caring about having read it just “as long as it makes me seem old-fashioned and exotic.” Classy.

Best of all though is the fabulous ‘Emily Scott’ which closes the set. This is the closest Esiotrot come to being wholeheartedly together, and it’s a peach of a song / performance. It’s like the Pavement of ‘When’ with the aforementioned Pale Fountains getting all horny in accompaniment. And when I hear those lines “ She’s the daughter of the clergyman / she’ll wash my hair when it gets dirty, man”, well, I have to admit that it makes me go gooey.

If you like your Pop polished, tight and predictable, then Esiotrot are assuredly not for you. But if you value ideas and energy over accomplishment and earnestness then you’ll most likely love them. Catch them before they start making sense.

© 2007 Alistair Fitchett