Latitude 2009

Latitude: The Vaselines/St Etienne

Michael Bonner

To the UNCUT Arena, then, and the Vaselines and St Etienne. Two bands who, although wildly different in sound and execution both, astonishingly, emerged from the same kind of cultural environment.

I’m talking, of course, about C86. Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee formed the Vaselines in Glasgow in that year, and were part of the Glasgow scene that also gave us the Shop Assistants, the Pastels, Primal Scream and any number of other bands to jingle a jangle with some nice hairgrip harmonies on the top. In a previous life, St Etienne’s Bob Stanley ran the Caff label and fanzine that was closely modelled around the Sarah label, another key piece of the C86 jigsaw. Indeed, St Etienne’s great, los,t second single, “Kiss And Make Up”, ticked a number of C86 friendly boxes, having been a cover of a song by Sarah band the Field Mice, while a version of it was in fact released by Sarah.

Anyway, without wishing to get into the rather tedious forensic detail of all this, let’s talk a bit about the Vaselines’ set. This is, as you may know, one of a handful shows they’ve played since getting back together in April last year. Best known, perhaps, as one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands (his only daughter, Frances Bean, is named after McKee), they’re testament to the enduring brilliance of a lot of these C86 songs – a movement criminally overlooked, it strikes me, but in fact hugely under acknowledged for its importance on the development of the UK indie scene.

So, “Molly’s Lips”, “Son Of A Gun” and “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” are blessed with a simple, beautiful pop sheen. Kelly might whip up a quite impressive noise on his guitar, but his and McKee’s unerring ear for melody is unavoidable. No song, incidentally, seems to last for more that 2 minutes 30 seconds, which is further evidence of the band’s astonishing song writing skills.

Entertainingly, for a band so associated with a specific tweeness, their between song banter is hilarious, and pretty foul mouthed.
“American accents give me the horn,” says McKee. “Is there anyone here with an American accent? Oh, and it’s two things. It’s not just the accent, you’ve got to have a really big dick as well.”

You can take the girl out of Glasgow, it seems, but you can’t take Glasgow out of the girl.

Of course, this isn’t the kind of language you’d expect to hear from St Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell. As always, she exercises considerable, almost regal grace as she strolls on stage at the start of St Etienne’s set, dressed in what looks like a sharp black suit. It’s interesting to note, perhaps, how Kelly and McKee have mostly stayed within the original parameters of the C86 scene; yet Stanley, along with Cracknell and Pete Wiggs, too it in a completely different direction. In a way, I suppose, it’s a similar trajectory to Primal Scream, who also evolved beyond their C86 origins to embrace dance music. In fact, St Etienne provide Latitude with a much-needed injection of pop fun. There is a heavy reliance on their brilliant debut, Foxbase Alpha, so we get “Nothing Can Stop Us”, “Spring” and a storming, bass-heavy version of “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” that has the rammed UNCUT Arena bouncing with collective joy. The latest single, “Method Of Modern Love”, is clearly indebted to Kylie Ann Minogue OBE’s “The One”, but we shall let that pass – after all, Kylie did cover “Nothing Can Stop Us” once. And, one day, I’d love to hear "When Are You Coming Home?", the unreleased Kylie/St Etienne collaboration from the 1994 Kylie Minogue album sessions.

In fact, it’s interesting to see the way St Etienne developed beyond their Balearic origins, as evidenced here by “Burned Out Car” and “He’s On The Phone”, which are both pumping Euro pop House numbers. A great version of slow-motion techno “Like A Motorway” works for me.

Anyway, Nick Cave’s on in a minute, and I fancy buying some artisan cheese. That’s all from me this year – Allan’s down the front for Magazine, I hope, Louis should be blogging about Gossip and then Terry’ll be wrapping things up with his Cave blog later.

I hope you’re enjoyed reading our witterings!

Cheers.


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