You know that millennial movie, Almost Famous, set mid-seventies, where Rolling Stone Magazine mistake a nerdy teenager for a music journalist and send him on the road with an outrageous prog-rock band? It was nothing like that. Neither did it resemble 200 Motels, where a man dressed as a vacuum cleaner convinces you Ringo Starr is actually Frank Zappa in some freaky acid flashback. But I did have an awesome adventure yesterday, on the road with local premier indie-pop favs, Talk in Code.…..
There were no campervans with CND slogans painted on the side-door, no sign of Goldie Hawn’s daughter unfortunately, and though my bubbles of anachronistic pre-imaginings burst, it allowed me to chart the regular labour of a touring band, rather than my usual practise of slouching up halfway through a performance with lame excuse. For if I’m going to write on the subject, I need to comprehend the inner workings, and the thoughts of a band going to a gig; even though I’m far from teenage music journalist with an advance from Rolling Stone!
So, by dinnertime I’m lone with guitarist Alastair Sneddon at the steering wheel, hereafter referred to as “Snedds,” with an amp case knocking in the rear of his car, and distracted by my inane waffling, weaving between musical subjects, badly following his sat-nav to Portsmouth.
Likely the eldest of this four-piece band, Snedds is a family man with a wealth of musical experience. He fondly recalls playing in cover bands, jazz and blues groups and our chat swifts across his past, musical influence brushing off on his children, current past gigs and local venues, to the importance, or insignificance of pop culture, the mainstream music industry and current trends of listening to music from streaming platforms to amplification to listening through phone speakers; we could’ve chatted all night on his passionate chosen subject, least it perceived to reduce the travel time.
Before I knew it, we were awkwardly parked on a busy street in Southsea. Awash with cheesy club type pubs, restaurants, kebab houses and chippies, lies an equally misplaced theatre to our right, and a more traditional looking city tavern, The Lord John Russell, which will be our venue for the evening. Like a true roadie I felt a sense of haughtiness as I assisted lugging equipment through the already bustling pub; make way, yes, I’m with the band, ladies control yourselves!
But nothing felt ostentatious for the band as they amassed their kit in a corner, greeted each other and the promoter; here’s a tight working team despite the geographic distance between them. Talk in Code are part from Swindon, Reading and Devizes, but here they are with an excited air of anticipation brewing. There’s a trio of bands on tonight, Talk in Code are second on, while the first are already sound checking, locally based to Portsmouth, Southerlies are a seven-piece covers band, fusing Americana with punchy hooks into contemporary pop; they proficiently delivered their set with good male-female vocal harmonies, and being local I observe they attracted a fanbase.
Quite eclectic then, to switch to Talk in Code’s more electronica indie-pop, which as I discussed in the car with Snedds, perpetually seemed to fuse conventional nineties indie sound to a more inimitable eighties synth-pop style with every new tune. Yet tricker still was the notion the Talkers insist to play only their originals, which would be unknown to this rather heterogenous crowd. Besides, frontman Chris gets his fill of covers with the Britpop Boys.
Seems Friday live music nights are relatively new-fangled for the Lord John Russell, with a promoter keen to create the venture, the pub also adhered to cater for the pull on it’s street with screens showing sport and archetypical club music between acts. As much as market town pubs like Devizes’ Southgate work here, with a penchant for original live music and solely that, it wouldn’t work in this busy city location judging by the footfall. But a splendid, convivial and dynamic pub it was with a wide demographic.
One thing I was keen to gage from Talk in Code, the priorities and feelings towards playing a gig outside their usual stomping ground as opposed to returning to a venue like Swindon’s Victoria where a fanbase would be welcoming. They stressed the importance of both, and being their recent connection to Regent Street Records, there’s a keenness in the band to grab wider-appeal in anticipation of the forthcoming album. The release of which has been pushed back to accommodate this collaboration.
Still, all the band are united in praising recent local gigs, particularly Trowbridge Town Hall where they supported The Worried Men, and were keen to pick out the importance of the many locally-based festivals they’re booked at, from Minety to Live at Lydiard and IWild in Gloucestershire. And with appearances at places like Oxford’s HMV, things are really looking up for them post-lockdown.
And it’s easy to see why when they bounced on stage last night at the Lord John Russell, after their virtually nail-biting eagerness while the Southerlies launched into their final song, Chris already polishing his guitar and Snedds confessing the waiting game is a pet hate. A technical issue with leads to the backing tracks solved, the band applauded the previous and proficiently executed their thing, introducing themselves and delivering their songs with panache.
For me it was a blessing, being I’m aware of much of their discography, to finally get to witness them do it live, and had to stop to ponder their stage presence is as exhilarating as their recorded work. Yet, my view of the performance differed from the crowd as the band were likely new to them. Still, they got the place jumping, sprightlier, and louder than the previous band. They confessed a spirit of fair competition was unavoidable in them, yet affirmed their ethos to never do their set and bunk, in respect for other bands; Talk in Code come off as outgoing throughout and it was an honour to be welcomed into their web.
Also present, I spent time chatting connections, her background as music journalist and her fanzine making past, with manager Lyndsey. From Milton Keynes she avidly followed the group in their early years, falling in love with their sound it seemed only natural to mutually agree for her to manage. And part-time freelance photographer Helen, whose PolarPix Facebook page is dominated with Talk in Code shots. I put it to her she seems to have another band photographed then a Talk in Code one, then another Talk in Code one, then another random band. She acknowledged most of the other bands were on the same bill as TIC! A true “Talker,” as is their fanbase appellation.
A pleasant change from trudging the local circuit, as the finale was a euphoric rock band named Percival Elliott, who, with barefoot frontman on keys, executed a sublime set, the like you’d want Coldplay to achieve. In many ways here was a band apt for our own fond venues such as aforementioned Southgate and Trowbridge Town Hall. Without boast, coming highly recommended by yours truly occasionally has some clout, though there was part of me who, if in control of this triple-bill, would’ve put Talk in Code as the final band, being more upbeat popish.
We give no more review of The Lord John Russell for the sake of it being outside our boundaries, but if you’re Pompy bound this would be an ideal pub to consider, offering a variety of free live music dates on Fridays. Now I’m home, unpacked my Peppa Pig bucket and spade, but while I unfortunately didn’t see the seaside, or Kate Hudson, I was in good company with a band which goes from strength-to-strength.
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