Live Music + Gig Reviews

Shelleyan Orphan @ Water Rats, London

1 December 2008

So what if there has been an even longer break between Shelleyan Orphan’s new album, We Have Everything We Need, and their previous 1992 offering Humroot than between Chinese Democracy and whatever rawk drivel Guns N’ Roses last threw at us?

For anyone with an ounce of musical taste, this has been the ’80s comeback worth waiting for this year.Of course it helps that Caroline Crawley and Jem Tayle have barely changed (and certainly not musically) in the past 18 years.

It also helps that their comeback gig, if you can call it that, takes place not in an enormodome but in a Camden pub where the double bass and chandeliers would seem incongruous in front of a crowd that could fit into your front room, were this not exactly the type of venue these fairy goth heroes (note: those who describe them as Pre-Raphaelite fruitcakes should be shot) were born to play.

The crowd is mixed. Curious indie kids and their counterparts from twenty years ago who never grew out it; unmistakable diehards at the front know every word of the new songs. Caroline indulges them. Titian haired and charming in the soft lighting, she makes jokes about Axl Rose and how she and Tayle “need stools now we’re getting on”. Their self-awareness and self-depreciation is part of the gentle, fairy gothic charm the years have not withered from them.

This is probably as low-fi as they will ever get. Though backed on a tiny stage by three additional musicians, one of whom has the unenviable task of sitting in for the entire Budapest National Radio String Orchestra and the sea (ok, he has some electronic help), the music is bassy and hypnotic, adding a new dimension to the experience. They use the acoustic limitations of the tiny venue charmingly and intelligently, showing off their classical training in a way only naysayers would label pretentious.

Tonight’s set comprises mostly the new material. They warn the crowd of this fairly early on, but no-one seems to mind. We Have Everything We Need has been no great departure from their previous style and we are simply pleased to have them back. No other band could sing round robins about how much suicide bombers disturb them and make them sound so romantic.

Between the new songs, which include Judas, I’m Glad You Didn’t Jump Out Of The Car That Day and Bosom (their ‘loud song’, they say), there is still time for old favourites. They finish the main set on Long Dead Flowers, from Humroot, and the encore on Anatomy of Love, from 1987’s Helleborine. The set is short but wonderfully sweet, appreciated by the band as much as the crowd. This is, of course, the best way for any return to be – as long as we don’t have to wait so long again.

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Shelleyan Orphan @ Water Rats, London