This one is a local affair.
When I moved to Muswell Hill almost twenty years ago, the primary reason was to move in with the girl I had fallen in love with. Slow forward on to 2017 and we are still here, stranded in a local London property hotspot. The area has changed and we’ve changed. The local high street is now full of estate agents and chain stores rather than the independent traders that were so appealing. Recent trips out of east London to watch This Is The Kit and enjoy the wonderful Typing Room restaurant in Bethnal Green have revealed what N10 is now missing. Whilst it is convenient to have the supermarkets in walking distance and a decent cinema (or two), the high street is looking more homogenous by the day. The typically arty local residents (actors, painters, writers etc) have been overtaken by the influx of professionals lured by the quality of the state primary and secondary schools, a rarity in London in recent years.
It is one of those schools, Fortismere, which was where the members of Girl Ray met. Fortismere has had a storied musical history which has added to the local reputation of Muswell Hill as somewhat of a musical enclave. Amongst others, Rod Stewart, three quarters of the Kinks (Ray and Dave Davies plus Pete Quaife), Michael Kiwanuka, Viv Albertine of the Slits and Jess Glynne all attended the school. Chuck in the Fairport house where the members of the Convention convened just down the road on Fortis Green and it is an extraordinary array of talent.
My 13 year old daughter attends the school now and she is beyond excited at the prospect of a band made up of Fortismere pupils becoming successful.
Girl Ray’s elevation in the last twelve months has been swift. Their debut album has just been released on Moshi Moshi after a series of 7″ singles and in November, only twelve months after their first single “Trouble”, they are headlining at the sizeable Scala venue in Kings Cross.
My daughter had seen the band perform at the recent wet Port Eliot festival in Cornwall and they had charmed the socks off of her. A bass/guitar/drum three girl combo augmented by Mark on keyboards and guitar live, they slightly sell themselves short in a live environment. When we saw them at the Rough Trade in-store, there were fluffed intros, missed choruses and breaking voices. They clearly aren’t the untutored musicians that their air of incompetence suggests. If you listen to their single “Trouble”, someone has been listening to Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw The Light” and skilfully using it as a template for their own confection. One of their influences is Pavement and I’ve seen Stephen Malkmus’s gang pull back from the precipice of incompetence on a few occasions and indulging in that “we really can’t play our instruments” bluff.
Still teenagers, “Earl Ray” isn’t just a quick three chord thrash-through of C86 influenced pop (although there is a little bit of that). One can sense directions to be followed and playing live, they put me in mind of ’77 era Talking Heads. “A Few Months” headed down a funky avenue. Think “Pulled Up” relocated to London N10. The four piece on stage at Rough Trade East directly translated to the David Byrne/Tina Weymouth/Chris Frantz/Jerry Harrison version of the Heads, their spindly white twitching dance pop showing where the band could go next as did a couple of new songs, a grungy rock number and a glam stomper.
The rather good new songs bring me to the one key issue that I’ve got with the LP. It starts off a rare old pace and side one flies by. However side two hits the buffers a little with some less than mature song craft. The 13 minute long “Earl Grey (Stuck In A Groove)” is the type of track that 30 years ago would have graced the back of a 12″ single. As the first track on side two of the vinyl, it saps the momentum build up on side one. It feels like the kind of free form studio jam that they need to embark upon to arrive at more ambitious material such as “A Few Months” and doesn’t add to the quality of the first part of the record. It sounds like process rather than product. A couple of songs later, along comes a reprise of “Stupid Things”. On it’s own it would be a cute trick but combined with the lengthy “Earl Grey”, it feels like the material ran out. Given the new songs performed at Rough Trade, maybe it would have paid to have wait a little more time to get that debut album on the streets.
The band are clearly talented and have personality and potential though. They have a charming stage presence, emphasised by their Lee Marvin & The Shadows-like dancing during “Don’t Go Back At Ten”. They invited members of the audience up to play percussion. Whilst they are influenced to 80s indie, such as the Shop Assistants and the Dolly Mixtures and the opening track “Just Like That” has a distinct Edwyn Collins tinge, it isn’t just a rote reheat of the formula. There is a musical richness and depth here. They just need locate their edit button occasionally but this will come in time.
We said hi to the band after the gig, my daughter got her 7″ of “Trouble” signed and headed off into the East London night. Maybe seeing the band perform can spur my daughter to continue her own musical endeavours.
One can only hope.