When you’ve been part of the rock’n'roll furniture since before most of your contemporaries were born, you’re allowed the chutzpah of doing things differently.
This is certainly the case with the debut gig by The Wolfmen, a band that describes itself tonight as ‘British folk music from Brick Lane’ and on its website as ‘where The Velvet Underground, T-Rex, Adam & the Ants and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas are plundered to make retro rock for the 23rd century’.
Tonight is, for example, the first time in 15 years that lead guitarist Marco Pirroni has performed in front of a live audience even though The Wolfmen have already scored a number one single – Two Eyes, with Daler Mehndi – on the BBC Asian Network. And while The Wolfmen themselves may not be Asian, the radio station has certainly taken them to its heart, lending them DJ Bobby Friction to introduce tonight’s performance, arranged to showcase the launch of their new single Cecile.
This might not be the road usually trod by wannabe musicians on their way to the top, but that’s because lead guitarist Marco Pirroni, as well as bass guitarist and lead vocalist Chris Constantinou, have been there and done that already. With seminal ’80s punk-popsters Adam & The Ants on their CVs, along with, between them, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Drill, Guy Chambers and Sinead O’Connor, not to mention three Ivor Novello songwriting awards, they don’t actually have to hawk their wares before the grubby public at all. They’re doing it just because they want to.
And grateful we should be for it, too. The first half of the show lays before us the simple truth that Pirroni always has been, and clearly still is, a hugely talented songwriter, capable of effortlessly blending new wave energy with the power of punk but without its anger, producing instead something playful, danceable and memorable.
If it sometimes sounds a little dated, a flashback to the ’80s devoid of the influence of The Strokes or The Libertines, that’s only because the music he created first time round has endured so well. Jackie Says, All Niter, Do The Ostrich and Kama are all perfect examples of this.
Using two drummers on the other hand, is something The Wolfmen can claim as more unique to their own sound, pushing percussion boundaries within the usual rock’n'roll set up in a way that has marked Pirroni out all through his career.
It’s when they return to the stage for their three-song encore, however, that The Wolfmen really come into their own. Joined now by Bishi looking, at half the age of anyone else on the stage, like a sitar-wielding Asian Lily Allen, they launch into a more Banghra-influenced sound, starting with new single Cecile and ending on the tour de force Two Eyes. Genuinely different, genuinely fusing Bengali and Brixton, the crossover style they’ve hit on may well be as deep a treasure trove as anything Pirroni has mined in the past.
That they achieve all this amid technical difficulties and less than perfect sound engineering bodes well for future performances. Plagued at times by feedback, at others by a sitar too low in the mix, it was difficult to shake the impression that they’re just too big for this venue. Little matter. The second gig is bound to be much, much bigger.