Sunday 31 January 2016

Kitty Daisy and Lewis and Bang Bang Romeo at Norwich Arts Centre

I missed Kitty Daisy and Lewis last time around at Norwich Arts Centre - it was June 2011, and they had just released their second album 'Smoking in Heaven'. I'd also copped out on their appearance at the opening night of Latitude in 2010, when they appeared as part of the Blues Brothers night in the Film Arena - I was too busy watching Nigel Kennedy flinging clocks at the audience with expletive-laden bonhomie, and Tom Jones refusing to sing any of his classic hits in one of the festival's infamous woodland lock-ins.

My first real exposure to them came, in fact, only last year when was researching some YouTube videos prior to reviewing their third album, the imaginatively titled  'Kitty Daisy and Lewis The Third'. It was then that the back story of the singing siblings from Kentish Town became known to me. According to the interviews, it appeared like something out of a bohemian fairy tale - two musical parents turn around one day and find that their three children have formed themselves into a little band and are playing down at the local pub. Babes in the Wood meets Cinderella.

That was back in 2000. Daisy was 12, Lewis was 10, and Kitty was only 7, but already the trio were spending Sunday afternoons (with the 'rents) at the 'Come Down and Meet The Folks' country and rockabilly club at North London's Golden Lion pub. When they got home after watching the bands, the three of them would start playing whatever instruments they found hanging around in the house. Soon they were themselves being invited up on stage at the Golden Lion.

In another early interview it is revealed that mother Ingrid would pick out vintage clothes in which to dress the children for school. 'Mum used to send me to primary school in old cowboy shirts with my quiff', recalls Lewis, whilst Kitty remembers being 'called a farmer's wife when I went to school in old fifties shirts'. They were teased for their quiffs, and got called 'Elvis' a lot.

Now depending on which parenting books you read, inflicting your own quirky fashion style on your children will either cause them psychological trauma from merciless playground teasing, or will toughen them up and teach them the importance of individuality. It takes a brave parent to successfully back their own convictions on that one.

And what about the advice on parenting that suggests that older siblings should not be made to share their toys with younger brothers and sisters, and that they should all be encouraged to have separate interests and friendship circles? How does a child learn how to interact and make friends if they only spend time with their own family? Once again, it would appear that the Durham children were lucky enough in having such eclectic parents that simply everyone wanted to be friends with them.

And Ingrid Weiss is one cool cookie. Back in the Eighties she was in a post-punk band called The Raincoats. They released four studio albums, and were allegedly one of Kurt Cobain's favourite bands. Father Graeme Durham owns and runs a mastering studio in London which has worked with, amongst others, Laura Marling, Chemical Brothers and Foals. His fascination with vintage recording equipment, together with Ingrid's interest in 40's and 50's fashion, has surely been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping to determine the children's musical path.

Which is why it was so interesting to watch Kitty Daisy and Lewis performing their set at Norwich Arts Centre, With father Graeme in the background playing rhythm guitar, and mother Ingrid switching between bass guitar and the 'not-so-easy-to-be-in-the-background-with' double bass, is this a genuine case of proud parents sharing the children's success, or does it suggest a moulding or manipulation process that started way back in 2000? Are they dining out on their children's success in order to feed their own fame addictions?

A lot of my overly cynical suspicion is admittedly the result of frustrated jealousy. How I wish my parents had been as idiosyncratic and as interesting. How I wish I had been encouraged to pick up an instrument at seven years of age, and encouraged to read music. I would have even put up with a quiff and the odd cowboy shirt - I was never going to be cool in the playground anyway, and would never have made the football team or broken the school 100m running record.

But I'm not sure, either, if at the age of 25 I would want to have spent my entire adolescence playing in a band with my parents and my two sisters. Just how do you finally go about telling your own parents that they are wrong when it is your band and you want to do things your way? And how does it feel performing on stage with your two sisters, knowing that the venue is full of 'men of a certain age' watching their every move - Kitty in her catsuit, and Daisy in thigh length boots and playsuit?
(NB 'Kitty in a Catsuit' ? - it could become a great rockabilly song)

No, perhaps my leaving the parental home to go off to university and become a boring pharmacist was really for the best for me (I am desperately trying to convince myself here). And my sister and I still lead very different lives, and it hasn't diminished the sibling rivalry.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a review, so I suppose I ought to tell you about the gig.

Although Norwich Arts Centre is sold out in advance, it is the usual problem of only about half the audience making the effort to come in and watch the support. Which is a real shame, because you probably haven't seen anything quite like Bang Bang Romeo in quite some time. Hailing from Sheffield this four piece is the nearest thing you will ever see to a Gothic Fleetwood Mac. Anastasia Walker has an explosive voice that could demolish a steel furnace. She truly personifies the 'voice of the Northern Powerhouse'. Together with Joel Phillips on bass in his black leather trousers and cowboy shirt, these two represent the 'dark side' of the band, whilst Ross Cameron on guitar does the Mick Fleetwood impersonation, and Richard Gartland concentrates on hitting the drumkit. Initially, they look like the result of a time-capsule malfunction that wouldn't get past the first auditions for X-Factor, but they are in fact bloody amazing. They rock with a passion and authenticity that is rarely seen on a UK stage. Remember the name, bar-hogs, and get in and watch them next time around.

This is the first night back on tour for Kitty Daisy and Lewis after a Christmas lay-off following their mammoth world tour that ended in Rouen at the end of November. It's a crowded stage, and they blew up their bass amp during soundcheck, so there are a few initial sound problems with feedback until everything settles down after opener 'Bitchin' in the Kitchen'. Most of the set draws from the 'Third' album although 'Don't Make a Fool Out of Me' from the second album gets a play, as does their cover of Johnny Horton's 'Mean Son of a Gun', which is dusted down for a final encore. Regular 'special guest' Jamaican trumpeter Eddie 'Tan Tan' Thorton joins in for three numbers. Father Graeme sits at the back and steadfastly plugs away on rhythm guitar. Mother Ingrid looks incredibly cool on double bass, and now electric bass guitar as well, surveying the stage with maternal satisfaction.

The girls look stunning, and Lewis has matured from geeky youth to handsome Christiano Ronaldo lookalike. The year of touring has given him a new confidence as front man and spokesperson for the band, and does most of the introductions between songs as he rotates from guitar to keyboard to drums and then back. Daisy also switches from keyboards and vocals to drums, and Kitty drums, plays guitar, sings and also plays a mean harmonica.

No, I take my hat off to them. As musical families go, this one seems to have got it sorted. Just a few more UK dates, culminating at London's Koko on February 11th (not the Golden Lion), and then they can start work on album number four. Mum and Dad must be so proud. This certainly appears to be a genuine case of  'the family that plays together stays together'.

PS None of my photographs on this blog entry I'm afraid. Had a senior moment and left my camera on the kitchen worktop. Hope the two bands don't mind me lifting photos from their websites.

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