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Monday, 6 August 2012

Live Review - KPM All Stars

Islington Assembly Hall, London, July 7

TIME CAPSULES. That's what it's all about these days. That and Proustian rushes. In other words, after several years as fan, promoter, DJ and journalist, I've come to the conclusion that most of us of a 'certain age' who still share a fascination for our formative eras are either attempting to find our way back to the past, or engender feelings of comfort only generated by certain aesthetics. Tonight's show was the most conclusive proof of this I've ever witnessed. All it needed was a fondue set, a wooden hi-fi unit set against an Axminster rug and brown patterned curtains, and a few glasses of Black Velvet, and we'd have been off.

As it stands, Islington Assembly Hall is one of the most unusual venues to recently crop up on the London gig circuit in the aftermath of the destruction of the Astoria: a mix of Victoriana, 1920s art deco (perfect for a 'lounge' gig then) and Crown Court ambience, right down to the red carperted stairs that lead to the most ostentacious gents bog I've ever used. On the downside, its acoustics need some working on, and it could do with a proper bar, as opposed to a table selling overpriced cans and bottles, but even so, it's blessed with a grandeur often absent in better known venues, which, again, is a crucial factor when you're dealing with musicians of this vintage and calibre.

For the benefit of international readers, who maybe never watched Dave Allen or The Big Match, it should perhaps be pointed out that KPM are the music library responsible for half the best-loved theme tunes of the 1960s and 70s, their horn-fronted sound gracing everything from sports shows to sexploitative horror films: if you were born in the UK or Northern Ireland between 1960 and 1980, the chances are you will be familiar with some of the work released under that banner. Their founders may be deceased now but its key composers - Keith Mansfield, John Cameron, James Clark and most of all Alan Hawkshaw - are still very much with us, and it's a privilege to see them performing live, which is something they would have rarely done at the time. Add to that the sartorial elegance involved - Mansfield the archetypal music teacher in tweeds and lightly swept grey sideparting, Hawkshaw still very much the Modfather in feathercut, white leather, corduroy and desert boots - and you have a banquet as visually stimulating as it is aurally mouthwatering. A soupcon of wry humour from all involved doesn't hinder matters either.

It's difficult, therefore, to know whether to approach this review from a musical standpoint, or that of a nostalgia obsessive: face it, when dealing with professional library musicians, many of whom conduct their own orchestras on a regular basis (and are also known, in Cameron's case, for sculpting the works of whimsical Scottish folk troubadours into psychedelic masterpieces or swaggering blues-metal anthems into rousing horn themes) it's already a given that the musicianship will be of the highest standard, so any criticism could be rendered irrelevant. And even with the British session musician/jazzer's hardy reputation for being able to drink their younger contemporaries under tables at regular intervals, it's still a pretty safe bet that in concert, professionalism will be the order of the day as opposed to any Thunders-esque debauchery or Keef-style shenanigans. So, with that covered, what can there be for a critic to critcise?

Well, OK, I personally would have loved to have heard more of Cameron's work, particularly from either Psychomania or CCS: in point of fact, he was only onstage, barring the encore featuring the entire cast in their massed ranks, for about fifteen minutes. Likewise, Hawk's back catalogue is so plentiful, it was a shame that several 'expected' tunes were jettisoned, but that could just as easily be said of all composers present, including drummer Brian Bennett, and anyway, how can you possibly do justice to such a prolific output within two hours? What we did get from each and all, including such meisterworks as 'Grange Hill', 'Funky Fanfare' and 'Girl In A Sportscar' more than amply made up for it anyway. If there was one gold standard that could not be bypassed, it was the inevitable 'Grandstand', played no less than THREE times in one evening, the last two as part of what can only be described as a loungecore mega-mosh. One can only surmise what the hapless security, dotted about the hall, made of the sight of people of all ages and varying dress senses dancing to said tune as if it were a stone classic of rock'n'roll (which to many of us, it is - check out the guitar solo from Mitch Dalton), but either way, they remained powerless to stop them. Even my perennial guest Plus One, never a big football fan, seemed enraptured. Maybe, just maybe, the 'golden era' of KPM, if it exists as a concept, represents in our minds a time when everything made sense? When one might have been able to AFFORD a groovy bachelor pad in West London? When men had huge sideburns and carcoats and women all looked like Sabina Franklyn or Linda Hayden? Oh, be still my beating loins.

And, with the exception of the dance DJ contingent checking out where their favourite 'breaks' came from, it's pretty safe to say that all present share that opinion- which is why (and this remains my only true criticism) the unctuous pillock with 80s hair 'compering', in the widest possible sense of the term. Not only did he rubbish the 70s in their entirety within 2 minutes of walking onstage (to massed jeers, I should point out) but he fluffed his lines, asked questions nobody knew the answer to, and delivered a variety of non-sequiturs that all the musicians involved seemed uncomfortable with. Next time, get rid of him and let someone from Shindig! do it. And seeing as internet mumblings, such as they are, seem to suggest they will be doing this again, could we make it sometime very soon? In the meantime, I shall plan my orange and white space age refurb, and go and polish my Schreiber sideboard in anticipation. Oo er, missus.


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