The Horrors have become NME favourites and cover stars by reviving the antics of Screaming Lord Sutch, the original British ghoul merchant, and doing the odd cover of "The Witch" by The Sonics. Seeing these latecomers to the alternative, underground ball on the same bill as headliners The Sonics – the original Sixties garage rockers all the way from Tacoma, a small town in the North-west US, on their first ever UK visit, certainly helps put things in perspective.
In the early Sixties, The Sonics followed The Wailers, also from Tacoma – rather than the reggae group – and The Kingsmen, from neighbouring Seattle, and developed a proto-punk sound which has resonated down the years via the Stooges, the MC5 and Nirvana. They split up 40 years ago but the three core members of the original quintet reunited at the end of last year.
The Horrors and The Sonics remain a mouth-watering – nay, a potentially psychosis-inducing proposition – a meeting of like minds across the generations. Sadly, The Horrors don't live up to expectation, even if they try hard to conjure up the spirit of the late Joe Meek, the British producer of "Telstar" fame. The fantastically coiffured and monikered Faris Rotter looks like the twitching corpse of Joey Ramone but his vocals are distorted in a fashion Fall frontman Mark E Smith would approve of. At one point the lanky singer seems to say "This is my real voice, I swear!" proving, if nothing else, that The Horrors may make a horrible, howling racket but they have a sense of humour. Over the pulsating throb of drummer Spider Webb and bassist Tomethy Furse, organ player Coffin Joe throws shapes as if auditioning for an Ed Wood movie but they remain a band in thrall to their rather narrow and predictable record collection.
The Sonics, on the other hand, redeem what could have been a damp squib finale to Le Beat Bespoke Volume 4 Weekender. Larry Parypa's guitar chords ring out and it's straight into the Satanic stomp of "He's Waiting". The dark material penned by frontman and keyboard player Gerry Roslie 40 years ago has endured. "Some folks like water, some folks like wine, I like the taste of straight strychnine" he hollers as they launch "Strychnine". Mind you, The Sonics also excel at taking other people's songs and making them their own, as on "Have Love, Will Travel", composed by Richard Berry, the writer best known for "Louie Louie". When Rob Lind plays his saxophone, the fans jumping up and down don't even mind the fact "Psycho", the original composition they end with, basically recycles the same primitive chord sequence. Their brutal version of "Louie Louie" wipes the floor with the hundreds of other versions. "The Witch", their first single, is, if that were possible, cruder, rougher, wilder still. On the way out, a fifty-something father and his son are both enthusing about the gig.
The Sonics' primal appeal is indeed timeless.