Rock: They are young, they are Brats, wear white jeans, act like prats

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There Are three easy ways to impress your friends with your rock'n'roll punditry and precognition. The first is to listen to the Radio 1 breakfast show. If you hear any band names you don't recognise, feel free to quote them whenever someone asks you to predict the next big thing. The second is to watch the ITV Chart Show and repeat the above instructions. The third way is to go to the NME's Brat shows at the London Astoria, or to their touring counterpart, the Bratbus. There are four upcoming bands on each bill, mind, so you have to be selective in your endorsements. Last year's travelling line-up included Heavy Stereo (who have just been dropped by their record company) and Fluffy (we can but hope). But each gig is an early chapter in at least as many success stories.

On Monday, the Bus arrived at the Astoria for the last of this year's Brat shows, with Three Colours Red at the bottom of the bill. This, it turned out, was where they belonged. Their name has less to do with the Kieslowski film than it has to do with the repetitiveness of their chunky, Motorhead-style adrenalin metal: they could be called Three Volumes Loud, perhaps, or Three Tempos Fast. They adopt a punk-rock stance, both physically - legs splayed, guitars brushing the stage - and politically - they rail against the Establishment without apparent irony. They even have a chorus that goes, "oi oi oi oi". To anyone too young to remember the Sex Pistols, they might seem heroic. But as the Sex Pistols played in London last June, that applies only to people who are younger than seven months.

The next band were so much better that even when they thanked Three Colours Red for the loan of their drum-kit, it took me a few seconds to remember who Three Colours Red actually were. No wonder Symposium were the crowd's favourites. The band consists of five hyperactive young west Londoners who don't waste time faffing about with anything as vague as the Establishment when they could be shouting "Why I Hate You" and "Why Don't You Love Me?". And the music has the same youthful, punk-rock urgency as the lyrics. That's not to say that they don't pack their songs with bittersweet melodies and harmonies that would do Teenage Fanclub proud. It's just that they do so in half the time and at twice the volume.

Symposium are also the most boundlessly energetic live band since Skunk Anansie. Rather than essaying to command the stage with any kind of authority, they're happy to appear as if they're mad fans who have dodged the bouncers and jumped onstage for their 15 seconds of fame. And they're keen on jumping off again, too. You watch as Ross Cummins hurls himself into the crowd for the third time, and when you look back at the band, the bassist, Vojtek Godzis (and no, I haven't just closed my eyes and thumped my fingers down on the keyboard) is toppling off a speaker and landing flat on his back. After a hardcore finale of "A Hard Day's Night", the band made their exit, only for Cummins to dart back on and fling a microphone stand into the photographers' pit - just for the hell of it. I know it's already February, but is it too late to add Symposium to my list of bands to watch out for in '97?

I expected even greater things from the Supernaturals, who were on the previous night's Bratbill. Their live reputation promised ballet, kung fu, tortoise impressions and, best of all, the highly dangerous and illegal use of fireworks. This time, though, they stuck to self-parodying showbiz poses. They were out to entertain each other, which is not the same as entertaining the audience, but is a step in the right direction.

The first thing that strikes you about the Supernaturals is that they have a fashion sense so awful that it afflicts no one except young Scottish bands like them: all ill-fitting flares and ill-fitting hairstyles. As for that bassist, in a white polo-neck, white jeans, and with a frizz of Charlie Chuck hair ... I mean, really.

To make up for it, however, the Supernaturals have James McColl, who is a marvellous songwriter. His high-kicking Britpop tunes, burlesque and Beatlesque, are fairly irresistible by themselves. But what elevates the group to another level are the smart, believable, personal lyrics, brought to life by their Glasgwegian speech-patterns, and by the world- view of - in his words - "a misanthropic git". The titles alone - "Lazy Lover", "I'm Just An Idiot", "Deep In My Heart I Know I'm a Slob" - speak of an ardent self-hatred that is all the more winning, coming as it does from a man who resembles Matt Dillon. On the new Supernaturals single, "The Day Before Yesterday's Man", McColl sings: "My girlfriend has dumped me/ And headed for the country/ [and then the killer detail] With a boy who wears white socks." If that boy were also wearing a white poloneck and white jeans, McColl would have real reason to be depressed.

Back to Monday night, and Symposium were followed by Tiger, whose delirious debut album, We Are Puppets (Island), is as bright and defined as a shower of bonfire sparks. Their live show, though, is a damp squib. In trying to imitate their predecessors' attack, they ended up with an indistinct, hazy sound, while the hulking Dan Laidler's singing style - that is, his blurting, slurring, squeaking style - came across as an irritating affectation. The performance was as ungainly and unengaging as Laidler was, as he leaned sideways to get down to the level of the mic stand.

Still, Tiger sounded enough like the early Modern Lovers and the Velvet Underground to keep me amused. And at least they didn't sound like any other band around today: Laidler's voice and that of the guitarist slide into the mix from opposite directions, and the basslines are played on a buzzing, flatulent Moog that was last heard on a Gary Numan record.

Finally, Geneva, one of the only young bands around who are justified in taking themselves seriously. Five straight-faced Glaswegians who wouldn't dream of mucking around like the Supernaturals or Symposium, Geneva aspire to more grandeur and romance than any of their peers. Think trembling, echoing high notes chiming from semi-acoustic guitars. Think a falsetto warble that puts Jimmy Somerville's to shame. Think, also, of Aled Jones singing "Walking in the Air" and then apologise hurriedly, and think of Jeff Buckley instead, and of Geneva's label-mates Suede, circa Dog Man Star. Geneva should have a debut album in the top 10 this spring, Radio 1 and The Chart Show permitting.

Supernaturals: Glasgow Garage (0141 332 1120), Wed; Edinburgh Venue (0131 557 3073), Thurs.

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