Playing With Fire
PINS at the Underworld
The south-east is pretty well served with summer street festivals and sitting between The Great Escape, a languorous three-day wander around the whole city of Brighton, and the intense one-day one-street Southsea Fest, is the Camden Crawl, a two-day party hosted in the small number of venues dotted around the trendy and populous, but grubby, roads of London's Camden Town.

Normally at such gatherings there will be one or two bands you really want to see combined with the opportunity of catching some unknown talent that makes the whole event interesting and worthwhile. This year, however, is different. This year we look at the schedule and nearly fall off our seats. Discarding Saturday as a write-off, Friday night is a stormer; we could have chosen this bill ourselves so good is it. One gap in the evening (which we would have filled with Savages of course) allows us the chance to grab some food, but otherwise we are pretty settled for the evening with the Drowned in Sound stage at The Underworld hosting Girls Names at seven, PINS at nine and Traams at ten. And to round off the night, a quick stroll down to the Purple Turtle at Mornington Crescent would see us sipping port in the delightful company of The Fauns who were heading back east for their first show since they played for Isolation at The Hope in Brighton.

Not believing our luck, we train into town, top up on liquids and stroll into the beautifully air-conditioned Underworld fifteen minutes before the evening kick-off. It is a little concerning that there are only three people there, but seeing Cathal Cully and Gib Cassidy wandering around calms our fears that there has been a last minute change to the running order and Girls Names duly kick off just a few minutes after seven with thirty people dotted around the stage. Of course, we had forgotten we were in the capital where nobody can be arsed to be on time and thankfully the venue pretty much fills up as the Belfast band play out a spellbinding set, every bit as electrifying as when we had last seen them in Brighton at the conclusion of their lengthy 2013 European tour promoting their fine album, The New Life.

When we spoke to the band at the end of last year they told us they hated standing still and that their new material may take on a different slant, but if they have moved at all it has only been from station to station as they are still very much immersed in krautrock territory, cutting tunnels through terrain only Toy also dare to occupy. The sound is terrific, enfolding the audience tightly and sending them hurtling across monochrome vistas, driven on by the motorik drumming of Cassidy and Claire Miskimmin's duotone bass. With Philip Quinn adding rocket fuel with both guitar and keyboards, it is left to Cully to add the definition, throwing out flashes of light and colour that are all that separate us from the overwhelming darkness. There are new songs, and they sound terrific, but the set is still built around the nucleus of 'The Good Life', sitting in the middle of the set and later revisited. The night is off to the best of starts.

Girls Names at The Underworld
With nothing really grabbing our fancy at eight, we take on solid nourishment before returning to The Underworld to catch Manchester's PINS. We have seen the four-piece on numerous occasions over the past couple of years with mixed feelings. Sometimes they have been great, sometimes they have been pretty average and on occasion, in front of a large crowd, they have looked extremely nervous. None of that tonight. Tonight PINS destroy. Tonight PINS look every bit like the band we always knew they could be and it's great to see. There has always been something tribal about their sound and their approach which has reminded us of The Slits, but tonight there is much more. The Slits had a spark about them that made them special. They may not have been great musicians but their belief and forcefulness made them utterly gripping to watch; they lit a fire that burned inside you as they performed and you dared not blink for the fear of missing a precious second. Tonight PINS have that spark and a packed venue is able to bask in its glow.

We love musicians who live for their bands and their music. New Model Army drummer Rob Heaton used to sing along to every song, so immersed was he in his band, and PINS guitarist Lois MacDonald radiates the same enthusiasm, singing when she is nowhere the mic, wandering over to her bandmates like a (little bit previous) reincarnation of Ronnie Wood, and bouncing around the stage with an infectious grin never far from her lips. It's hard not to love her, but PINS are no one-woman band with singer-guitarist Faith Holgate in top form as she lays down PINS' manifesto and even impossibly cool bassist Anna Donigan moves around the stage as she gets caught up in the rush. At the back, livewire drummer Sophie Galpin, whose recruitment really seems to have given the band a renewed sense of purpose, makes sure she doesn't go unnoticed. PINS sound huge tonight and hold us enthralled. There are no loose ends. They sound great, they dress great and, importantly, they have immaculate taste in footwear which in our world means an awful lot. A band should look like a band and not like a collection of oafs randomly dragged off the street.

PINS at the Underworld
Talking of enthusiastic guitarists and looking like oafs randomly dragged off the street, Traams' Stuart Hopkins is probably the most brilliant performer around at the moment. The man is just a fireball of energy, passion and talent and it never ceases to amaze us how he is able to throw himself around the stage without missing a note or a word, creating a sonic whirlwind that almost literally blows you off your feet. Traams are loud. Very, very loud and though we're no strangers to loud, this is almost heart-stopping. When towering bassist Leigh Padley hits his strings it's like being slapped in the guts, while powering drummer Adam Stock hits so hard he breaks his drumsticks just counting into the songs. Hopkins unsurprisingly also manages to break a string on his new shiny gold guitar, which looks a little incongruous in his hands, and replaces it with a more familiar red version patched up with tape, but it makes no difference to the enveloping storm.

Traams are not just loud, they are also very, very good. It's difficult to put a handle on exactly what type of music the Sussex three-piece make, it being some peculiar variety of kraut-garage-punk, but it is easy to see they are one of the best bands ever to emerge from the county. They are at their finest when they wander off in the middle of a song and completely lose themselves on their journey. It's gripping stuff; they close their set in such a style and it's a shame they couldn't continue until well into the night. For night it now is and even on these longest of days, the darkness has fallen on Camden.

Traams at the Underworld
Three courses down, we take our first stroll of the night along the High Street to the Purple Turtle in Crowndale Road to catch up with The Fauns. As we enter the venue it is like being thrown into the fires of gehenna and we realise exactly how good the air-con had been in The Underworld. It really is toasty and we buy iced water more to tip down our necks than our throats.

Following the recent departure of drummer Tom Adams from the fold, The Fauns have been trialling some new contenders for the role and tonight's encumbent, Guy Davies, has had just three days to learn the nine songs the band play, their set marginally trimmed from their Brighton show with the loss of 'Ease Down' and 'Road Meets The Sky'. This time they open with 'In Flames' with bassist Michael Savage doing his best to guide Davies through the set. Things are obviously going well as Savage is seen to tap his foot twice in a display of quite extravagent showmanship but it is well justified as Davies largely keeps a grip on proceedings allowing Lee Woods and Elliot Guise to work their magic and flood the venue with a spellbinding wash of guitars. As the world begins to submerge, Alison Garner's vocals never fight against the flow but are never consumed by it either, sparkling on the surface as they drift on by. This is important as The Fauns are all about the sound. Though their music does carry weight as well as decoration and though it is great to see Guise end the set on the floor looking to coax every last bit of anguished protest out of his guitar, they are never going to be the most riotous of live bands (unless the rumours of an album of Dickies' covers is found to have substance).

No, The Fauns' music carries you away to a better place and that is just as well as this place is steaming and the band are also feeling the heat. Garner attempts to cool herself down by fanning herself with her dress, though that probably does little to lessen the temperature in the room which is pumped up even more as the band embark on their terrific finale, the gently howling and ever so slightly psychotic 'With You' blending into the damaging 'Seven Hours'. The band disappear upstairs to hurl themselves into ice baths while Woods remains on stage to end the show in a stream of pulsing feedback.

The Fauns at The Purple Turtle
It has been a fantastic night with four of our very favourite bands all delivering the goods. The journey home shows us just how much days have changed as we're down in the tube station at midnight and it could be rush hour, the train full of crushed and happy people. Two tubes, one train and a cab get us home at 2.30. We had the best time. Will we ever see such a line-up again?


Words Adam, pics Gary

Girls Names live at The Green Door Store
Traams live at The Komedia
The Fauns Interview
The Fauns live at The Hope
Reviews April-June 2014
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