Stadium, palladium, tedium
Sunday 07 September 1997
With big-name concerts thin on the ground, there was no option but to see Wet Wet Wet, who finished their British tour at Wembley Arena last weekend. Actually, this was not as much of a chore as it might seem. A band you could take home to meet your great-aunt, the Wets specialise in wholesome family entertainment: more palladium rock than stadium rock. They're cheery and enthusiastic, and they don't stint on the fireworks or video screens. They even have - whisper it - some quality songs.
But stay calm. Wet Wet Wet are in no immediate danger of taking the world by storm. The band are always proficient rather than distinctive, and the toothsome Marti Pellow would be more suited to West End musicals and Saturday early evening game shows than he is to rock'n'roll. Watch him as he skips around stiffly in his sensible trousers, then plays some air drums and air keyboard. He's looking more like Phillip Schofield every day.
At the moment, Finley Quaye is best known for two things. One is his breakthrough single, "Sunday Shining", a refreshing, Marley-delic cocktail of Britpop, trip-hop and reggae. The other is that he is Tricky's uncle (Tricky's classic debut, Maxinquaye, is named after his mother, Finley's big sister). Not since Schwarzenegger and DeVito in Twins have there been two more unlikely relatives.
For starters, Quaye is the younger of the two, at 23, and on Monday at the Jazz Cafe he looked half as old as that. He's like a schoolboy being told off by the headteacher - sheepish, head down, one hand in the pocket of his baggy, white trousers, until, every now and then, he looks up with a coy smile, as if he knows he's charmed his way out of any recriminations. Playing the pedagogic role in this scene are Quaye's band, who have more than enough in the way of beards and dreadlocks to compensate for their short-haired, fresh-faced leader.
The obvious difference between Finley and his nephew is that while Tricky's music is as murky and dark as the gap underneath the fridge, Quaye's is so bright that you'd be advised to apply suntan oil before listening to it. As you might surmise from the titles, "It's Great When We're Together" and "Your Love Gets Sweeter (Everyday)" are as positive and unpretentious as a reggae Jonathan Richman. There aren't many people who can chirp, "I'm a friend of the tree, I'm a friend of the country ... I'm a sweet and loving man," and not end up being pelted with over-ripe country produce.
One thing the Quayes agree on, regrettably, is that the essence of live performance is to stand motionless and ignore the audience. The show is saved by a segment of sitting-on-the-porch-style acoustic strumming, tailor- made for Later With Jools Holland, but Quaye's live band don't have the scope required to do his diverse songs justice. In concert, his new single, "Even After All", is a light reggae fragment - you wouldn't know it was related to the soulful evening breeze of the same name on the forthcoming Maverick a Strike (Epic). This is a gem of a record, with joy glinting from its many multi-coloured facets. One of the debut albums of the year, without a doubt.
The nominal headliner of the evening, which launched London's new alternative radio station, XFM, was Jah Wobble. He and his band, the Invaders of the Heart, did their ethnic hypnogroove thing, Wobble's ever-sturdy dub bass joined by bamboo pipes, recorders and funny-shaped flutes I won't pretend to know the names of. It was excellent. In these days of mix'n'match, multi-cultural cross-overs, of the aforementioned Primal Scream and Asian Dub Foundation, Wobble could even be fashionable, if only he were a generation younger. Mind you, as always with music built on repetitive, competing rhythms played on numerous percussion instruments, there are moments when you wonder what separates the Invaders from a crowd of bum-fluffed Inter- railers playing the bongos in the Prague's Old Town Square.
Also at the Jazz Cafe last week was 19-year-old Shola Ama, who has a debut album in the Top 10, three years after she was discovered singing in a tube station. By the sound of Much Love (Warner), the secret of her success is the efficiency with which she and her producers have duplicated contemporary American R&B, that sanitised soul-funk amalgam which considers itself sexier and more sophisticated than lowest-common-denominator pop because the singers flutter around the tune rather than follow it. Still, it's hard to begrudge Ama her success. Her music flows easily, she has a strong gospel voice when she lets it out, and, most significantly, she is a smiling, upfront London girl who sweetly acts out her lyrics. Take note, Finley.
Finley Quaye and Shola Ama both tour in October. Primal Scream's tour dates have been postponed by one week.
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