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Parlour Flames - Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, Brighton - 12th May 2013 (Live Review)

Monday, 13 May 2013 Written by Graeme Marsh

With the release of Parlour Flames’ self-titled debut album scheduled for Monday 20th May on Cherry Red, Mancunians Vinny Peculiar (Alan Wilkes) and guitarist Bonehead (Paul Arthurs) are currently touring the UK with a full live band featuring Cherry Ghost bassist Ollie Collins and Badly Drawn Boy drummer Che Beresford, with newest recruit Rob Steadman on keyboards completing the line-up.

With an incognito, man-bag carrying, spectacles wearing Bonehead watching support act The Vinyls from the back of the tiny basement beneath Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in Brighton, the mood is a relaxing one that is probably in contrast to the days when he played in front of thousands during Oasis’ heyday; the paltry crowd gathered is so disappointing that you wonder if Parlour Flames have shot themselves in the foot by scheduling this tour before the release of the album.

The band themselves prepare the stage for their own arrival, which is then heralded by drummer Beresford as he claps and cheers himself and his bandmates on to the stage – setting the tone of the gig nicely as the guys must surely be a little disheartened at the lack of numbers, yet are taking it all with a pinch of salt and injecting a bit of humour into the situation.

Launching into opener ‘Get In The Van’ the band sound far rockier than they do on their studio recordings, with Collins’ bass sounding thumpingly impressive (or maybe that was just because I was stood about an inch away from his amp, and face as it happens). Lead single from the album ‘Manchester Rain’ then follows and manages to get the audience going early with perhaps the only familiarity they are likely to witness as all other tracks are yet to be released (with the exception of b-side ‘Something And Nothing’, a reworked version of a Peculiar solo song lifted from the album ‘Other People Like Me’).

The album benefits from its varied content, meandering an ever changing route from pop to rock to psychedelia to flower power but that just isn’t possible here – the absence of trumpeter Bob Marsh is telling on the next two tracks, ‘Lonely Girls and Horses’ and ‘Sunday Afternoon’, both being trumpet lead songs.  An attempt is made to cover the trumpet parts with other instruments but the vibe these songs bring to the album is understandably lost.  It is doubtful if a trumpeter would have fit on the stage (or in the venue, really) anyway – with microphone stands as well as Steadman himself not even making the cut, relegated instead to a halfway house between the backstage area and the stage itself.

What is lost on some songs is more than countered on others: the blissful second single, introduced by Peculiar as the Holy Trinity of Hurt (most applicable today after his beloved Aston Villa succumbed to the Chelsea money machine) - ‘Pop Music Football Girls’ - benefits from a fuller sound, and an absolute show stealing version of the brilliantly poignant ‘Never Heard Of You’ is given a rock makeover, sounding enormous and even better than the excellent sombre album version as the intensity builds to an almighty barrage of sound for its climax.

Peculiar – who actually looks like a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Billy Mack, Bill Nighy’s rock star character from the film Love Actually – then plays the first few notes of ‘Jump The Brook Ruth’ before being stopped by Bonehead, who is probably confused that the artistically handwritten setlist is actually telling him to play ‘I’m In A Band’ next; Peculiar stubbornly pulls (hair) rank with a flick of his locks and relaunches into the riff, with the song turning into another epic. ‘I’m In A Band’ does then follow and proves to be a phenomenal highlight with a truly excellent guitar solo from Peculiar – which is absent on the record – elevating the song to mountainous heights and leaving the reviewer somewhat embarrassed that his album review focussed on the singers lyrical prowess, overlooking his obvious guitaring ability entirely.

The sad and reflective ‘Too Soon The Darkness’ is the penultimate track, a sorrowful tale based around Peculiar’s Uncle and how much his presence is missed before the final song ‘Broken Hearted Existentialist’ bursts every ear drum in the house with its cacophony of reverb/feedback/effects during the opening.  Once the track gets going the audience slowly regain consciousness and are able to enjoy another excellent performance.

With the car park congestion that followed being due to the masses attending comic Micky Flanagan’s 3rd show of 4 at The Brighton Centre, you wonder how on earth Parlour Flames aren’t being afforded far more attention than they are, as the level of entertainment, for me, must surely be right up there with anything else on offer in Brighton on that night.  I for one will be hoping that this collaboration continues far beyond a solitary album; hopefully the debut album will be championed by those that can because these guys simply deserve to be noticed by a much larger audience – this may well have to wait until their appearance at this years Glastonbury Festival if the remainder of these gigs are played to similarly sized gatherings.

'Parlour Flames' is released on Cherry Red on Monday 20th May.

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