I aint no music reviewer, but as no one else seems to have mentioned The Pale Fountains one off 25 year reunion gig at Shepherd's Bush Empire last Sunday, and as I was there, I should say something. They took the risk of playing most of Forever Changes over the PA before taking the stage, and then…..
There's a lightness of touch in their songs which is superb, all taut edges and perfect balance. The words are beautifully written too, simple and elegant, sort've cinematic and imagistic without being self consciously poetic. I honestly don't think any other guitar band from the 80s could touch the quality of those songs, they were that good. Felt and Cardinal have the same mysteriousness, Galaxie 500 have a greater sense of sonic depth and colour, but no one created such brilliant songs so effortlessly. Each one of them was like a restless breeze – ‘Jean’s Not Happening’ and ‘Just a Girl’ were the highlights: you can hear Love in them, but the Pale Fountains filter those rays of sunshine and Spanish chords through washed out skies and rainy days. This is what British guitar music is best at – nicking from America and bringing it back home, capturing California’s mythos of beauty and dread and sticking it right into the Norfolk Broads, if er.. you see what i mean.
Mr. Head appeared to be dressed in white pumps and a black Pale Fountains-branded tracksuit, he didn't seem to much care how it all went, whether it was in time, or even audible; the sound guy was half asleep anyway, fading up John Head's guitar solos a few seconds after they'd started. Arthur Lee must have given them some pointers in terms of trashing their legacy. None of it mattered that much - it was a shambles, but beautiful. In the right venue and with some rehearsal it would have been transcendent.
Unfortunately the big, half-empty hall, the pointlessly enforced house rules, the unpleasant security and the poster that announced the return of the "PALE FOUNTIANS" all contributed to the usual atmosphere of apathy and barely repressed nastiness we've come to expect from larger venues in London, but most of all the lack of crowds was a reminder that this type of baroque pop, which I love so much, only ever had any commercial bite for a few years in the 60s, since then the critics have raved but nobody buys it. The fact that no one knows that fantastic record by Mick Head’s other band, the Strands, (which, as I think someone said once, is like a collection of songs Robin Hood and his merry men could have sung in Sherwood Forest, as well as being like a beautiful Stephen Conroy painting - all ships returning home under dark skies) still baffles me.
They referred to themselves as ‘the Paleys’ too, which was endearing.
And for 20 points, guess which Clientele song 'Jeanne's Not Happening' um.. inspired?