Lucky In London
A Witness
The Cravats & A Witness

Buffalo Bar, Islington - 12th April 2014

Is the world getting stranger? Here we are in 2014 in an Islington basement listening to two semi-mythical bands playing a whole host of songs that have not had an airing for some twenty-five years. If it wasn't for the fact this sort of thing is becoming the norm these days, we would have believed we were dreaming. But after pinching ourselves in various places the truth dawns that this is happening because things are changing – things have changed– and thankfully we have moved on from the bleak emptiness of the twenty hundreds into a new era where people are rediscovering a love for guitars, for the inventive and thrilling music of the punk and post punk era; the indie kids are on the rise once again and we are witnessing renaissance. The youth are discovering great music for the first time and we are happy to let them share. Because some of us never let go in the first place.

The inconsistencies of the Victoria line mean we walk down the stairs with The Shend in full voice. He may not have the same impressive hairstyle as in days gone by, and may be a little more static, but he remains mesmerising to watch, punching out his vocals, stabbing his head with a microphone and donning a head torch to put his audience in the spotlight. His current band retain the familar Cravats characteristics in that they are tight as hell, a real driving force, only occasionally wandering into the experimental territory that made the band's approach so unique.

They are brilliantly named as well: Viscount Biscuits on guitar, Joe 91 on bass and Rampton Garstang on drums. But what has always set the band apart is the saxophone of original member Svor Naan (Richard London) which takes the music to another level altogether and helps separate The Cravats from the also rans. Again, the amazing haircut that inspired a flock of imitators may be a thing of the past, but his instrument still has the same distilling effect, turning power and adrenaline into an elixir of glittering gold. It's great to hear a run through the band's greatest moments. The Cravats may have been the most indefinable band of their era and their dadaist approach may have confused many of punk's adherents, but any band who can write a song expressing their bitter disappointment with a new shopping centre in Redditch is surely one that has to be treasured?

The career of A Witness came to an abrupt end in 1989 when guitarist Rick Aitken tragically died in a climbing accident in Scotland just before they were due to embark upon a tour in support of The Wedding Present. Having turned down previous offers of reforming the band, bassist and songwriter Vince Hunt decided it would be a fitting tribute to Aitken to play some gigs to mark the 25th anniversary of his passing. With former drummer Alan Brown taking over on guitar, the new line-up was completed with the recruitment of Inca Babies/ Membranes/Goldblade drummer Rob Haynes and long time fan Simon Williams of Sarandon on vocals.

Though emerging later chronologically, the term post-punk could well have been created for A Witness, their sound containing familiar elements from a myriad of bands of that leaning, with echoes of The Pop Group, The Gang Of Four and even the Birthday Party traceable in their angular approach. Though featured on the C86 compilation, the band were far too leftfield to be embraced by the cute crowd, their individuality emphasised by Hunt's remarkable lyrical approach. They open with the first number from their only album I Am John's Pancreas, the fantastic 'Smelt Like A Pedestrian' and it is clear from the start that Williams is a sound choice to lead the proceedings, his vocals fitting in seamlessly. Further classics tumble out: 'O'Grady's Dream', 'Red Snake', 'Sharpened Sticks' and 'The Loudhailer Song' from the album, along with early single 'Lucky In London', 'Zip Up' and 'Nodding Dog Moustache' from the One Foot In The Groove EP, Peel Session tracks 'Helicopter Tealeaf', 'Prince Microwave Bollard' and 'McManus Octaphone' and the band's final single, the legendary 'I Love You, Mr Disposable Razors'.

It's fascinating to hear these songs being played live again after such a period of time, and not a little emotional, especially for Hunt, who nevertheless appears to be enjoying himself immensely as a good proportion of the crowd bop away at the front. Brown stabs and flays nicely, while the impressive Haynes appears to be able to turn his hand to any style of music with serene calmness. It's a remarkable evening and it feels good to be a part of it. Whether A Witness will continue to play in future years, only Hunt can say, but there are a few more outstanding dates this year so get to one if you can.

Words and surreal phone pic Adam

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