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Charlie’s Uniform at The Watershed

March 8, 2012

I’ve  just met Toy Horses. They’ve just finished their soundcheck at The Watershed. I’ve got their names right and, hopefully made as good an impression as a journalist can. I’m actually a crap journalist because I’m lousy with names. Anyway, as the Welsh quintet prepare to go and find something to eat in Newport Pagnell before their set, the support band arrive and prepare for their own soundcheck.

“Ah, and you must be Charlie Horse,” I enthuse, now high on confidence and eager to show off.

“Er, no, we’re Charlie’s Uniform,” the dark-haired chap carrying the guitar case informs me, by way of a correction. Damn! I knew that. “I’m Dan and this is Mat,” says the dark-haired chap carrying the guitar case gesturing towards a lighter haired chap carrying a guitar case. “I think you got the ‘horse’ from Toy Horses.”

I hope he’s right, but I try to cover it up and joke, “Either that or I’ve picked up on a subliminal childhood recollection of playing Operation. Or, indeed, a more sinister subliminal reference to both cocaine and heroin,” <<pause – what did I just say?>> “Which I can assure you doesn’t come from my childhood.” <<raised eyebrows from chaps holding guitar cases>> “Or my adulthood come to that.” <<chaps carrying guitar cases raise eyebrows further still >> “Oh you know what I mean. I’ll stop digging now.”

Ice broken once more and we all laugh, I let them get on with it and return to my other half and my now slightly warmer, half empty Red Stripe. I’ve had a trapped nerve in my shoulder for the past two weeks and the beer is not doing a very good job of being medicinal. I fidget in my seat whilst watching the soundcheck on the monitor and, when the band come back downstairs, I go and join them for a crafty smoke. Mat introduces me to Jam, who I deduce is the bass player and Zak who, with his shock of blond hair, is easily identifiable as the drummer. But just to be sure, I ask for clarification. Zak tells me he’s actually a keyboard player, but for tonight’s set, he confirms he will be on drums.

“Oh I see,” I say, faking a degree of cod annoyance, “you’re going to do a Bluetones on us are you?”

Charlie's Uniform. l-r, Zak (drums & vocals), Dan (guitars & lead vocals), Mat (lead guitar), Jam (bass guitar)

“Something like that,” comes the reply and it’s straight in and upstairs.

Instantly I find myself liking Charlie’s Uniform. Quite apart from the fact that they are easy, affable individuals, they’re not half bad musicians either, but they play, as all the best bands do, in a manner that is greater than the sum of their parts. It is during their second number, however, Look For The Exit, that I find myself once again caught in a whirlwind of surrealism as the thought smacks me square in the kisser that they do, actually remind me of The Bluetones. I suppose I should point out that I am a massive fan of the Hounslow four-piece that gave us Marblehead Johnson, Slight Return, If… and many more in the 90s. Massive. And for those of you who are unfamiliar, The Bluetones had a wonderful knack for pissing off journalists. In the days before they were really famous, they’d play whole gigs with the drummer on guitar, the bass player on drums, the guitarist on glockenspiel etc, etc, which could confuse a stupid person. Not to mention a journo.

In terms of a sound, Charlie’s Uniform have, as do Toy Horses, a quintessentially British feel. But whereas the Welshmen are polished and spacious with a pronounced 60s/70s vibe, Charlie’s Uniform, who hail from Newport Pagnell, are edgier, more staccato, with more modern references, but more eclectic. Go Home is quite rocky, Rich Man makes the most of Dan’s quickfire vocals as he raps to a whirling dervish of an acid jazz/funk pattern. Symphony Of Sound does exactly what it says on the tin as it meanders between an Athletesque, plucked acoustic verse and a driven, anthemic chorus. Not that they’re not spacious either. Lead guitarist Mat prevents all the drive and energy that Dan’s vocals and the rhythm section generate from becoming confused by peppering the numbers with minimalist, yet intense and often intricate lines. It certainly shows that they’re aware of the ‘less is more’ principle. Still, I wouldn’t say that they are polished, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and, given that it was only their fourth gig, there is plenty of time for them to develop.

The only audible mistake was during their only cover of the night, Jet’s Are You Gonna be My Girl? Fair play to them though. They had the balls to stop and start again, throw in some banter and make a potentially embarrassing moment into one of fun and comedy. Symphony Of Sound featured my favourite lyric of the night – “As I leave the bank heading down the street, my mind’s on Mike Oldfield, I’m seeing scenes of an exorcism/ Until I walk past one of those dark shops playing Hip Hop and start to beatbox to Lethal Bizzle’s rhythm/ At least I try to.” My favourite track though was undoubtedly the final song in the set, 18 Carat Eyes, a proper, skanking, offbeat Ska number with the word ‘single’ written all over it. Had the venue been any bigger and still as full at it was, we would’ve all ended up on the ground floor for the amount of jumping up and down we did to that one.

It should, hopefully, be a bright 12 months ahead for Charlie’s Uniform. Zak will be moving to keyboards as they acquire a drummer and become a five-piece. Their debut album, Pulmonary Oaks, is being launched at Northampton’s Black Bottom Club on 30th March, when they will also perform their next gig.

And do you know what? They were that good that I completely forgot about how painful my shoulder is.

@devilsaardvark

www.devilsaardvark.com

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From → devilsaardvark, Music

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