Sarah Nixey and Luke Haines used to be in a band together. Black Box Recorder even made the top 20 and Top Of The Pops with The Facts Of Life. But now, at a career crossroads for both, their muses point out paths to solo enrichment. Sarah is set to release her debut solo album, while Luke has jumped ship from EMI to indie label Lo-Max.
The Islington Academy’s polished floor and minimalist furniture – crash barrier and wall-hugging perimeter shelf is the sum of it – suits Nixey’s cut-glass electro-precision style. With ex-Auteurs man James Banbury – now of Infantjoy – controlling things from behind a bank of keyboards and gizmos, Sarah was joined by a backing vocalist and drummer.
Centre stage and looking stylish, Nixey looked as beautiful as, but less contrived than, Alison Goldfrapp – whose pronunciation she takes after. The set opened with Love And Exile, a sedate, atmospheric number that would characterise the set. Nixey’s songs are melodic but cold, not things to jump about to but to listen to and savour. Amongst the most memorable was Masquerade, one of the set’s more upbeat numbers, while closer and recent download single The Collector displayed her knack for literary allusion in lyric writing.
Luke Haines, announcing from the off that there would be several murders, dispensed with the seductive synthesised sound of Nixey’s set with his opening number. Death Of Sarah Lucas featured the prolific songwriter’s voice and acoustic guitar only before his backing band joined him for the first of several new songs from forthcoming album Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop (provisional title).
Despite his last album being titled Luke Haines Is Dead, the opposite seemed to be true – Haines appeared very much alive as he launched into the set’s second song. It seemed to be called Best Artist, with lyrics sending up the art scene. It was followed by something altogether different – a track that for all the world played like Luke does Madge. Was he having one of his ironic pop moments?
Amongst the other relative oldies given an airing were Dead Sea Navigators, The Mitford Sisters, Unsolved Child Murder, Showgirl, Baader Meinhof, Discomania, Buddha, The Rubettes, Some Changes and a full volume assault of Light Aircraft On Fire. Of the other new songs, some stuck in the head – Leeds United for its football chant of a chorus and Bad Reputation (The Glitter Band).
It was when firing on all cylinders, complete with electric guitar, that Haines was at his best. Lenny Valentino, the set closer and The Auteurs’ biggest nearly-hit (it reached no. 41), sounded as good as it ever has.
Haines’ literate, subversive and at times clownish appeal seems to hook in one particular kind of audience member. Ranged before him was an almost exclusively male, thirtysomething collection of devout golems who neither tapped toes nor nodded heads. One or two compensated by throwing spasmodic rock shapes, and there were unconfirmed reports of one or two girls in the room as the evening progressed, but they were the exceptions in what felt like a room injected with a dose of reverence. Haines, a man not known for modest ego, is surely loving his burgeoning cult status as godfather of this army.