Delays, University of London Union, London

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The Independent Culture

Southampton's extraordinary Delays played their biggest gig so far at ULU on Wednesday, the same week that their debut single "Nearer Than Heaven" was re-released for the benefit of those who missed it first time around. For some reason this exquisite record failed to make the charts, but never mind: it won't be long.

Following a fine support set from Saint Rose, the band ambled on to the stage, offered the assembled crowd a few friendly nods and grins, then launched into a succession of 13 perfect three-minute pop songs. Third up was "Nearer Than Heaven", which answered the question: could they sound as good live as in the recording studio? Yes, they could.

Seamless harmonies from bass player Colin Fox and keyboard specialist Aaron Gilbert helped matters considerably; but without a doubt the band centres around Greg Gilbert, a tousled talent and natural successor to such past heroes as Alan Clark of The Hollies, Lee Mavers of The La's (and dare we mention Roger (Jim) McGuinn of The Byrds?) So what's the boy got, exactly?

To start with he plays lovely electric guitar, producing when required both jingle-jangle rhythm and sparkling lead, apparently without any effort at all. Next, he writes (or in some cases co-writes) songs that angels would probably queue up for, only to discover they didn't possess the necessary vocal faculties. Because it's Greg Gilbert's soaring falsetto voice that completes the picture. Depending on one's imagination, he has the ability to sound at different times like an all-girl backing line-up from the Sixties, or the lead singer from a certain Seventies "super" group, or even both Everly Brothers performing at the same time!

This isn't to say, of course, that the band is simply recycling the pretty sort of pop music that's been about for the past 40 years. No, there's very much an original quality here that places these songs firmly in the 21st century.

None the less, "Long Time Coming", the 12th number in the set (and their biggest hit so far), could easily have been plucked from the repertoire of The Honeycombs or The Applejacks, or similar beat/harmony groups from all those years ago. Delays have only one obvious modern rival, an American outfit called Saves the Day, but the latter are safely ensconced on the other side of the Atlantic.

The two Gilberts, Greg and Aaron, both wore stripey Bill & Ben sweaters for the gig. Aaron also clowned around in a silly scarecrow's hat. For these aberrations they can surely be forgiven. At the end of the show, Greg spoke humbly to the audience and thanked them for coming. The feeling was mutual. The band returned to the stage and played a single encore, "Hey Girl", which is a bit like "Mr Tambourine Man", only different.

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