Tonight, My Latest Novel are the victims of a cruel twist of fate, a venue which usually demands mass worship and adoration but can equally be vacuous and a little drafty, and the predictable hard-to-please character of a London crowd. The bad luck began in Manchester, courtesy of a broken down van. It was either the van (full of the band’s instruments) or the gig: luckily for everyone sitting in the pews of the Union Chapel tonight, they chose the gig, even if it meant getting by with a strictly limited attach of acoustic tools. Bravely, they soldier on apologetically but are faced with a far bigger hurdle to overcome – God.
Well, not God exactly, there isn’t an instance of biblical style catastrophe on the cards here tonight, more God’s front room. The Union Chapel, draped in atmospheric lighting, ancient buttresses and hard on the backside wooden pews, makes for one hell (sorry) of a venue. Its echo soaked walls and orderly rows of seated punters might bring up certain guilty memories for some, but it sure does beat a sweaty upstairs room of a dilapidated pub. However, in a similar fashion to every Sunday, it’s not easy to get a group of people happy and content when faced with the cavernous and imposing walls of the house of God. Despite their best efforts, My Latest Novel, with their quirky blend of folk tinged Indie-pop fail to ignite some true faith into an Islington congregation who don’t appear to be looking for salvation from a bunch of well-travelled Scots.
Nevertheless, resilience in hard times is a virtue that this merry band hold dear. Learning Lego starts with sombre acoustic guitar and breathy highland-version Radiohead vocals, before cruising into tight harmonies and thunderclap drums. All these build and combine into a sing-along closing mantra: “Pulling out my hair, pulling out my hair/Crushed by plastic Lego men”. We have no idea what they are on about either, but it sounds like a Indie band out of The Wicker Man, which is no bad thing at all. Pretty In Pink emphasis what My Latest Novel are about: sharp violin stabs over a gradually building, swathing vocal before the cinematic climax. It’s like Arcade Fire, if they were a little more muted and far more Celtic.
Owing to the gap in sound by missing instruments and huge ceilings, My Latest Novel’s trick of building a basic folk track into a colossus is more or less lost. The London crowd (here to see The Hidden Cameras if that’s a clue) seem nonplussed. Another time, fully operational, they might just change their mind and embrace the teachings of these Scottish troubadours, either that or they’re going straight down below with the other non-believers.
That’s not to say that The Hidden Cameras don’t try, but by their own unique standards this is a decidedly low-key effort. Famed in their native Canada for past elaborate live shows including go-go dancers, strippers and audience participation, tonight the most we get is splitting the crowd in two for some synchronised clapping. For a band who are notorious for ‘gay church music’, this should be the best ticket of the week. They do however bring the campest string section this side of the pond and produce a more than apt blend of gleeful chamber pop which should suit the Union Chapel down to its holy foundations.
To many, The Hidden Cameras have calmed down a bit lately. Latest release Awoo is more mainstream quirky-pop than controversy courting and tonight we see the more sensible side of these often wayward Canadians. Awoo still sounds gloriously oddball: plenty of bells, strings and woo-woos. Likewise The Waning Moon is Belle and Sebastian sparring off with The Magnetic Fields to see who does the best playful, twee melody. But The Hidden Cameras are missing top gear tonight. Let’s hope for a return to gloriously overblown antics and songs about wee (see 2003’s The Smell Of Our Own), for if they can’t pull off quasi-religious chamber pop in a church, then there really isn’t any hope of salvation.