Grand National have been getting very encouraging reviews suggesting they could be the next big thing, if they can develop a personality and sound of their own.
The references to their influences are so numerous – Average White Band, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Police, The Beta Band… to name but a few. Live, they prove to have more than enough energy, confidence and sheer chutzpah to brand their identity firmly in the minds of a highly receptive audience.
The set list is not wildly imaginative, consisting of the whole of last year’s album Kicking The National Habit plus an excellent cover of Walking On The Moon (frontman Lawrence “La” Rudd having started his musical life in a Police covers band). One might expect some new material a year on from the album release, but other than that, it’s difficult to fault this as an experience.
Rudd (spiky black hair, foul language and lots of attitude, real or assumed) and co-founder Rupert Lyddon (looks like the boy-next-door in comparison) have pulled together a six-piece band that rocks, rolls and has the crowd bouncing off the walls.
The music is assured, imaginative; solid infectious rhythms give way to shimmering sounds seemingly coming from the keyboards player, doubling up as a third guitarist. Rudd’s voice, which has been compared with Sting‘s, sounds more like Rod Stewart tonight – definitely on the raspy side other than on the quieter number Peanut Dreams.
What’s really encouraging is the real variation in the songs: all good, but all showing genuine song-crafting talent, whether the style leans towards pure ’80s indie rock (Drink To Moving On), ska (Boner) or punk (Playing In The Distance).
This was a classy gig: the support band was Bandini, surely about to break out of Camden penury (“this is our last gig before we go international” says lead singer Nick Reavill – he’s about to divide his time between New York and London).
He and Simon Phipps have already recorded much of their new album, follow up to the well-received Love On A Budget but still awaiting a name. So in addition to the delights of Breakfast In Bed, Flying Solo and The Great Grey Season we had a good taster of those to come.
There’s the same quirky humour and dead-pan lyrics (“Saturdays are for shopping, Sundays are for home improvements…” – My Piano Bar). There are infectious, bouncy, poppy numbers (Swimming) and the injection of a Jarvis-like monologue (We Love The Sunshine) – a nod to We Love Life? And there are darker thoughts and deeds lurking under the light touch (In Other News – the most intriguing of the new songs).
The sound wasn’t great for Bandini – it was too muddled, and it didn’t help that with both Simon Phipps and Nick Reavill on vocals, plus the delightful Caroline Giles, the delicate interplay between the instruments and voices was sometimes lost. But overall they must have made many new converts and the current five-piece line-up – with Joe Jardine (bass) and Julian Simmons (electric guitar) completing the band – is producing some truly engaging music.