Review: Blast Off Festival 2017

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First and most important point: I didn’t see Thee Eviltones.

True, I might have caught, at the very least, a little of their set had I been able to find the venue with more ease – but when your phone has been reduced to a pay as you go tariff, you have no wifi, and nobody, not one single person in the entire city, knows where the venue is…then an awful lot of walking round in circles goes on. In the rain. Then you meet someone with a proper smartphone, but who then proceeds to give you the wrong directions so you end up on the wrong side of the Trent entirely…cheers, mate!! I can see it’s going to be one of those nights.

Eventually, I do at least locate the correct street, only to find that, far from having changed its name (as the website suggests) to the ‘I Club’ the building is still VERY MUCH called the Irish Centre, bright green shamrocks and all: no wonder no cunt in town knew it by its other appellation. Once I’m in, however, and the promoters have very accommodatingly sorted out my press pass, I’m struck by (a) what a great place it is, and (b) how it resembles, almost brick-for-brick, the old arts centres and ‘refecs’ often depicted in books on the original 60s psych scene. Rather befitting, then, for a band- or at least, the frontman thereof – celebrating their 50th year on it.

For similar reasons, even though they haven’t been together anywhere as long, it would probably have also suited The Fuzztones, purveyors of eerie haunted-garage sleaze that wouldn’t have gone amiss in a Roger Corman or even Derek Ford exploitation movie. Unfortunately, Rudi Protrudi (currently a ‘resident alien’ in Berlin) and his band of merry men have been denied entry to the UK at the chunnel checkpoint (for reasons that still at time of writing remain unspecified) so they won’t be gracing our stages anytime soon. Which obviously means, once word gets around, a few less punters through the door: but also means that Peter Daltrey and Kaleidoscope, formerly relegated to status of ‘special guests’, now get to headline tonight’s show.

Which, if you ask me, is the way it always fucking should have been anyway: the Fuzztones may well be the trendier name to drop, but at the end of the day, all they’ll ever be is a faux-ersatz Music Machine/Seeds-lite with a few trademark Stoogisms and a touch of Vanianity thrown in. Peter Daltrey, on the other hand, is the real deal, the genuine mutt’s nuts. Five decades ago, he and four other lads from the Bethnal Green/ Whitechapel area got together and released an album which, had it sold more copies, would have defined British psych as much as Sergeant Pepper, Mellow Yellow, A Quick One or Piper At The Gates Of Dawn: it didn’t, but those who heard Kaleidoscope’s debut Tangerine Dream at its time of release (or indeed those like me, born too late but able to catch up over the succeeding years) have never forgotten its power, ultimately resulting in a cult following of extreme fervency and respect.

Eventually, Daltrey, like all other survivors from the original era who know when they’re onto a good thing, wised up and reformed the band for sporadic live shows: and though tonight, we’re not treated to the spectacle of fellow founders Eddie Pumer and Danny Bridgman appearing onstage for the encores (as they will be in London the following evening) the sounds made by the great man and his cohorts (three-fifths of Glasgow folk-psychsters Trembling Bells plus additional alumni) are more than authentic enough for full recompense. Yet it’s more than just that: though guitarist Mike Hastings and keyboardist Lavinia Blackwall have obviously studied the original quintet’s template to the letter (the twisting, twergling guitar spirals of Murder Of Lewis Tollani, the sudden ominous thud of organ that announces Flight From Ashiya) and recognise the audience’s wish for a sound as close to the original as possible, they’re still happy to expand upon it rather than merely replicate it. Which, having joined one of your all-time favourite bands of a bygone era, is the secret key to making it work on any level beyond pure nostalgia.

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With nimble-fingered bassist Simon Shaw, a mysterious, shadowy sitarist and a fiery, rumbling drummer (name unknown even though he did tell me at the end of the evening- sorry matey, dementia is setting in already) in place, the recipe is complete: soon, tune after tune of superlative Britpsych fires from the PA like a scattering of strawberry bullets. (Further Reflections In) The Room Of Percussion, A Dream For Julie, Sunnyside Circus, Dive Into Yesterday and, naturally, Kaleidoscope itself all bedazzle with their bouncing, clanging fervour, inviting rapturous applause from Mods, heads, proggers, punks, longhairs and crusties alike: there are also a couple of faces dotted about who look old enough to have seen them first time round, and that’s always inspirational to see.

Anyone expecting Jenny Artichoke, however (indeed, a fair few yell for it) probably goes home a tad disappointed: in fact, lest anyone think it’s all a touch on the Toytown side of things, both selections from second album Faintly Blowing (its moody title track and the thrumming, space-rock-inspiring closer Music) are each stretched out to ten minutes-plus of truly brain-melting improvisation. In retrospect it’s debatable, of course, as to whether this was the best way to fill the void left by the Fuzztones’ no-show or whether The Sky Children would have been more welcome (I personally wouldn’t have objected to the latter) but it’s still an enjoyable diversion into the exploratory, progressive side the original band never had the chance to fully explore before their dissolution in 1970. And, though we only have a half-full venue tonight and a considerably smaller stage, it’s great to see that at least some the magic that graced that truly transcendental show at Islington Assembly Hall back in 2013 has remained.

Afterwards, Daltrey, though beaming as ever with happiness, is still adamant he’s going to retire the name in the New Year: “I’m going deaf as a post”, he says, “despite being fit as a fiddle in every other respect, and it’s just getting harder and harder to hear onstage”.  The others, though, are convinced they’ll twist his arm (rotten sods ganging up on a septuagenarian like that, he’s only a little bloke as well!!) into a Faintly Blowing tour in 2018, so watch this space. In the meantime, though the live music’s over, the dancing isn’t: two-and-a-half hours of groovy garage-freakbeat-psych-soul-rock’n’roll, provided by the festival’s all-female selection of skilled ‘DJanes’ follows (shoulda been three, but the venue, in time-honoured fashion, do that sly thing of closing an hour early once they stop flogging enough beer to be bothered about staying open) mixing the usual (Flys, Factory, the Road version of She’s Not There) with a selection of the refreshingly unfamiliar, and providing a fine round-off to a riotous night. If only more people had seen it. Presumably, it will fill out tomorrow for the Pretty Things- but unfortunately, by then, I- never mind the mythical ‘she’ – won’t be here either.

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With regard to the Fuzillis, who I also caught at the What’s Cookin’ Picnic in Leytonstone last year, I can honestly say they didn’t impress me then and they don’t impress me now: obviously, there’s a big market nowadays for brassy, bequiffed rock n roll with a throbbing, dirty undercarriage, but their take on it sure ain’t for me. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to do much for Eviltones man Enrico either- which is why I end up spending half their set outside talking to him about our shared love of the Dolls, Hanoi, the Dead Boys, the Real Kids, the Replacements, Crime, Willie Nile, Graham Parker, Mott The Hoople and The Hollywood Brats. And, even more bizarrely, how I realise that I knew his missus 25 years ago, back in my eyelinered, big-haired days as a patron/flyerboy at legendary West London sleaze-hole The Hellfire Club (leading also to my getting ratarsed with them both at their hotel bar until the buses start running, an invitation which is always welcome in the lonesome AM) Isn’t it amazing how, even after all these years, one’s Reprobatory deeds and doings still mange to creep up on you? Though not quite as amazing, maybe, as meeting a bloke outside smoking later who’d actually read and enjoyed some of the dreadful shit I’ve written over the years. Wonders will never cease.

DARIUS DREWE

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