Married couple Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore were on the high seas when they wrote the songs which have brought Tennis across the Atlantic, on a promising ripple of blogosphere acclaim. Their eight-month voyage along the US east coast makes this literal yacht rock, though they seem to have managed it by determined saving and dreaming, rather than the champagne lifestyles of the 1970s soft-rockers the term normally implies. There is a cardigan-wearing indie amateurism to Tennis at odds with the America's Next Top Model ads their tunes have started appearing on.
"I only meant us to be a band that played middle-school dances," says Moore, whose big hair and voice recall vintage AOR sirens. Though Tennis are pleasantly surprised by the keen, packed pub crowd at this UK debut in the dog days of January, it feels their natural level. Tunes such as "Marathon" and the nagging "Baltimore" deserve fans, but the locked uniformity of their music will struggle to reach further. Moore's Hammond organ is a smooth-flowing, muffled counterpoint to her voice; grey-jumpered hubby Riley mutely keeps his head down, his guitar only mustering the occasional low buzz of implied rock.
His slow jangle and Moore's one-woman girl-group harmonies have a 1960s brightness not always apparent on their promising recordings. But the experience of listening to them live doesn't resemble the freedom of the open seas, so much as the cabin fever of being trapped on board. As Moore explains of upcoming album Cape Dory's title track, "This song's about all the other things we do on our boat," and though they rock interestingly on the one about "the time we were in a gale", the ports of call soon pall. It's hard to see much future for Tennis. But if their blip of fame gives this modest couple the funds to set sail again, that will be a happy ending all round.