the house of love live

The House Of Love

The Haunt, Brighton – 10th April 2013

Early in the Tintin adventure The Seven Crystal Balls, Captain Haddock urges the forever young reporter to accompany him to the Hippodrome Theatre, to see Bruno the Magician, who transforms water into whisky on a nightly basis. "Impossible! Impossible!... No, blistering barnacles, it’s not impossible. He manages it every time!"

For a couple of years, around ’87 – ’89, guitarist Terry Bickers was Bruno the Magician, turning electricity into whale song whenever The House Of Love plugged in and played. Even those who sniffed that a couple of the band’s songs were borderline generic indie, couldn’t help concede that Bickers took them to another place, confirming Lou Reed’s belief that all that voltage indeed comes "from other planets".

They’ve been airbrushed out of rock history, have The House Of Love, or at least diminished to a footnote alongside others who attempted to fill The Smiths’ shaped hole at the end of the 1980s, but coming top in John Peel’s Festive Fifty, as they did in 1988 with 'Destroy The Heart', or appearing on The Southbank Show doing 'Christine', aren’t signifiers of also-rans. Gigs were the magical happenings, though, as Peel himself discovered when he saw them in Northampton, and there were many Captain Haddocks amongst us, dragging doubters along to the shows, where jaws would drop. There were peaks aplenty, the toppermost perhaps being in June 1989 at the National Ballroom in Kilburn, when Creation Records had an all-dayer, with each of their acts doing 20 minutes. Simply, they blew away Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine.

Managing it every time took its toll, though, as Bickers has acknowledged in recent interviews, and the cumulative effect of that pressure, drugs, an unsuitable deal with Phonogram Records, brokered when Creation Records boss Alan McGee was himself popped to the gills on narcotics, and a whole lot more, was a grim break up, with Bickers burning money in the back of the tour van, and chanting "Breadhead!" rather than the lyrics penned by frontman Guy Chadwick.

Guy Chadwick. Sounds like a character from the Dambusters movie, stoically holding a torch for his sweetheart, and then dying in a hail of anti-aircraft fire, whereas Terry Bickers might be some scamp from The Fenn Street Gang, or one of Tucker’s naughty mates in Grange Hill. The music press played up their differences: Chadwick was a few years older and had already been signed to a major label, whereas Bickers was the youthful free spirit, have-guitar-will-create-cathedrals-of-sound. Pragmatic versus mercurial. Far from the truth, but in a world shackled to narrative arcs, it made sense.

And now they’re back, Chadwick, Bickers, original drummer Pete Evans and new-ish bassist Matt Jury, with a new album, She Paints Words In Red (Cherry Red) and a short tour. And there’s not a hint of acrimony between Bickers and Chadwick. Rather, they’ve never looked happier together, and this despite a protracted sound problem at the start, which required much fiddling from a roadie who gets some work as a Robin Askwith lookalike in his spare time. The set alternates between material from that imperial period, and the new stuff. New single, 'A Baby Got Back On Its Feet', typifies the album, a bit Byrdsy a bit Barretty, light-fingered riffing and picking from Bickers, Reedy vocals from Chadwick, lovely. Here’s a thing, though. Particularly on the newer material, there’s far more interconnectedness both vocally and instrumentally. On stage at least, this is a genuinely shared experience, not a couple who used to be together shuffling around each other for the sake of the kids. Bickers, it has to be said, still looks like a kid, despite only being two years shy of 50. Highlights? 'Love In A Car' from the first album is astounding, all the right sounds and all the right spaces, as right-brain as pop gets. 'Christine' is surf rock made at the bottom of the sea, and 'Shine On' is a flawless set-ender. They didn’t do 'Destroy The Heart'. That’s how fucking good they are.

Words: Andrew Darling, Photos: Neil Clarke

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the hosue of love live in brighton

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