By the time tonight’s first band come on stage it’s already well past gig o’clock but, even at 8.15pm, there are only a few people dotted around the room, despite the bulging guest and ticket collection lists. “That’s just how Hoxton rolls,” sneers a barman.
But those too busy rolling missed a treat in the shape of Leeds four piece The Lodger (not to be mistaken with Pearl Lowe‘s short-lived Britpop band Lodger; they’re far too smiley for that). Singer Ben Siddall has Ian Brodie‘s heavily accented northern snarl, which gives an edge to their brand of guitar-indie. Tracks like I Think I Need You and Time To Wait nod towards Orange Juice, with a healthy lashing of retro-pop thrown in but never quite hit the spot.
Continuing in the same vein, but with considerably more bodies crammed on stage, Liz Hunt’s The School lure more people through the door. Looking and sounding like a young Lauren Laverne, if indie hadn’t reached Sunderland, Hunt’s gang look like they’re having a great time, flanking her, taking it turns to clap, play violin, blast a trumpet or strum away, as she channels her energy into the keyboard, bobbing her head as she sings. New song That Boy Is Mine offers more of what we’re used to, and fits in nicely alongside the old favourites, but it’s the achingly sweet Suddenly that seals the deal.
At a whole five years old, the next band up are the elder statesmen of the evening. Back when they were wee uns too, it all looked to be going in the right direction for Lucky Soul when, at the height of retro girl mania, their debut album The Great Unwanted proved a hit with critics. But it failed to win over the more mainstream fanbase of Amy Winehouse, Duffy and co. That might have given their bank manager a few headaches, but fans were wiping their brow in relief, because its follow-up A Coming Of Age, released earlier this year, pandered to the ’60s pop sensibilities and indie cravings of their devoted followers.
Those followers are out in force tonight, and there’s nearly a full house by the time the final band take to the stage. All eyes are on singer Ali Howard. Dressed in a floaty white dress and with a thick blonde fringe she looks part Kate Bush, part Agnetha as she wiggles her way through the brilliant Ain’t Never Been Cool. It’s sassy but warm, luscious pop music with oodles of class.
But it’s not all old fashioned ditties and hankering after the ’60s – the room’s jolted back into the present when guitarist Andrew Laidlaw announces they’re going to play a Twitter request, which sees a rare outing for the heart wrenching One Kiss Don’t Make A Summer. As Howard purrs and flits her way through the fan favourite, she sounds like a flirty, bashful Dusty Springfield.
Before new single Up In Flames, Howard explains why drummer Paul Atkins has been wearing devil horns throughout the set – “We asked everyone to wear fancy dress,” she laughs, towards the fancily, but not fancy, dressed audience. As an act of solidarity the rest of the band don plastic firemen’s helmets for the simple, chirpy, chorus driven song; it could well be their most radio-friendly release to date.
The irresistible Lips Are Unhappy sets out its agenda from the off with a line that could well be the band’s mantra – “Shake Shake Shimmy” – and brings to an end a set that trawls through both albums, and the ups and downs of love and lust. But it leaves everyone with a grin on their face.