What happened? Only a year or so ago the music press was championing the ludicrously named New Acoustic Movement as a soothing balm for all our ills. Here was a new generation of earnest young men, aiming to set the wrongs of the world to rights with a return to proper songs, intelligent lyrics and Nick Drake-inspired introspection.
Sadly though, the kids failed to rise en masse, grow beards and knit their own woollen hats, instead preferring the pantomime angst of Nu-Metal and the bling-bling faux gangsterisms of Garage. Despite several bands receiving critical acclaim, the acousticas seemed to drift off the cultural radar.
However, all is not completely lost. We may not be watching Folk Idol on TV or debating the effects of Turin Brakes records on our nation’s inner city youth, but enough people are paying attention for the Scala is packed to the rafters when Alfie take to the stage.
Starting off with just two band members on acoustic guitar, the stage soon starts to fill at an alarming rate. Keyboardists, trumpet players, drummers and singers all soon find their places. By the time they hit their stride, eight people are involved in one way or another.
Despite hailing from Manchester, they receive an almost home crowd reception. It’s soon apparent why. With the swagger of early Oasis but with more charm and wit than their mono-browed fellow Mancunians, and a sound part Brit-pop, part Drake, part Simon & Garfunkel, they charm the audience into submission.
Lead singer Lee Gorton seems to know half the front five rows as he winks and waves to the crowd. He’s a hyperactive ball of energy and infectious enthusiasm – even his strange monkey-shuffle dance soon becomes endearing.
By the third song, the instruments have been swapped around and the cello makes its first appearance for a beautifully languid summer pop tune that sounds like Dodgy‘s anthemic ‘Staying out for the Summer’ slowed down and merged with the psychedelic bliss of early Pink Floyd. But there is more to Alfie than just downtempo acoustic songs, as they soon prove. Building on stabbing synths and angular guitars, they sound a little like Badly Drawn Boy. This is intelligent and spiky pop. They look and sound like a band having fun, slightly overwhelmed by the reaction from the normally too-cool-for-school London crowd, but enjoying every minute of the experience.
Then, sadly, just I had settled in to enjoy the show, out came a trombone, and the proceedings took a turn for the musichall. Like a best forgotten Blur b-side, it may have been fun to play but to these ears sounded like the theme tune to ‘Terry and June’. Luckily it’s a minor aberration, and taking a tour through their early EPs they return to the acoustic strum and sunny harmonies they do best.
Throughout the rest of the show they mix in rock theatrics, a constant stream of banter, a unique pairing of cello and mouth organ, and a melodramatic church organ that underpins the best song of the night.
Leaving the stage to a riotous ovation, the band dally around backstage for a short while before reappearing to mangle their way through a cover of ‘Zoom’ by Fat Larry’s Band. They finally leave having delivered by common consent one of the best performances of their career. With a well received new album A Word In Your Ear just out, and work about to commence for their first material for new label Regal, the future is looking good for Alfie. The Acoustic movement’s fightback starts here.