The usual route a band takes when it comes to ‘image’ is to have a collective style – be it four pencil ties or 25 hallelujah robes. It’s a symbol of unity, but it also makes it fairly clear to whom they’d appeal.
So what are the music stylistas to make of Bidgie Reef & The Gas? There’s a Don Corleone-esque Roger Winslet on vocals (yes the dad of Kate), a yellow-spectacled Pete Brookes on keyboards, a youthful gothic female bassist, a bald headed Popeye-lookalike on bongos, a young mod-haired guitarist, an ‘older’ follically-challenged guitarist and, wait for it, a fairly normal looking drummer. What an unlikely group of characters to be in a band together.
But you know what, it works. It’s certainly one in the bag for diversity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their sound is hard to pin down – though it’s been described as “The Blockheads rucking with The Happy Mondays” before, a description the band seem to like. At times you find yourself surging upwards on the crest of arty ‘big band’ rock with pummelling keyboards and fuzzy guitars, such as in Umbrellas. At others, you’re entangled in their jazz noir noodling, embalmed by Winslet’s cabaret-style singing or forked up by the extremely quirky lyrics.
In fact, the lyrics take centre stage most of the time, most notably in Cockney Alchemy – a fine example of floetry, and with Winslet’s acting background being put to some good use when he recites: “James Joyce, Max Boyce, Tyn-y-Groes, Yootha Joyce, Ally McCoist, First Choice…”.
Latchkey Lennie is another delve into Bidgie’s odd and rather dark world, telling its weird tale of the protagonist, a boy with no friends but who discovers the Dolly Doctor when another kid breaks his beloved toy. With its spaghetti western guitar riffs and explosive interludes, it wouldn’t sound out of place in a rocky horror-style musical.
And that’s the key to Bidgie – it’s meant for the stage. Any stage will do, as long as there’s a performance involved, there’s drama to be created and as long as there’s a connection to be made between artists and audience. It’s all very well listening to the CD, but you’re supposed to go out and see this band in all their three-dimensional glory.
That’s not saying of course that the album isn’t entertaining enough. Most songs on here nose their way through different styles and tempos, making for an exciting listen. The album as a whole meanders, twists, contorts, jerks and then smoothes back into place by the end – like musical acrobatics.
Title track Pinstripes And Promises presents itself as a fairly melancholy affair until the chorus blasts your ears off. The boogie-funk of Bandy Bob adds a touch of swing, while next track Faces is a big-hearted and guitar-driven slab of melody and drama – one of the best on the album.
Old is another song with bold sweeping choruses but is also one that ages the band slightly, considering the subject matter is about being too old to do anything – not what the young fans want to hear. But then the drum ‘n’ bass and of Rage balances that out again. The final song Bedroom DJ is just Winslet and Brookes on the piano, it’s a disappointingly lonely ending to the buzz they’ve created throughout the album.
It’s refreshing to listen to a band who aren’t moulded from an existing template. Bidgie demand your attention though – it’s a musical freakshow where you need to hear the performance, listen to the lyrics and be prepared to applaud afterwards. They may not get a standing ovation just yet, but for a debut, it’s certainly worth a bouquet of roses to the stars of the show.