Armoury Show/Eyeless In Gaza/Virginia Astley: The Venue, London

RICHARD JOBSON had expected a handful to turn up tonight and thus was pleasantly surprised by a near – capacity crowd who were so indulgent, so eager to be pleased, that you might imagine this was 1973 not ’83. Such was the enthusiastic reception accorded to the uninspired, self-indulgent musos who comprised tonight’s two main acts that I’m driven to conclude that punk’s sole lasting achievement was to reintroduce short hair and straight-legged trousers as standard items of male chic.

But now for the good news: girls. Still bottom of the bill (but at least there in their own right and not as male adjuncts), girls in the shape of Virginia Astley and her chums, playing tonight under the banner of Pure Sex, blew The Armoury Show and Eyeless In Gaza clean off-stage.

Virginia’s giggling golly-goshness is steeled with an amused but combative confidence that effortlessly deflates a heckler without stirring up any bad feeling. Likewise, her songs seem merely naive, elegaically romantic hankerings for an Edwardian idyll of halcyon summers and a blissful childhood, but a vein of dissonance forestalls twee sickliness, and landscapes a secret garden of ghosts and strange flowers.

Her slightly shaky, boy-soprano voice and backing musicians, who should like a turn of the century chamber quartet time – warped into the modern era via Velvet Underground and Eno records, run through songs not to be found on Virginia’s intriguing piano-plus-SFX album From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, ‘Winter’s Tale’, ‘My Mistakes’ and ‘Millions Of Us’ are especially haunting. Kate Bush and Tracy Thorn should start worrying.

By contrast, Eyeless In Gaza’s Martyn Bates and Pete Becker have nothing to say, but say if anyway at great length and in the most precious, preening manner possible. Inane, Insipid and oh-so-self-important, this pair of would – be poets make Barclay James Harvest sound like the MC5. The audience loved every tedious minute.

Ditto The Armoury Show – still, as Richard Jobson admitted with transparently false bravado, without a record contract. And you can see why. Plainly, when The Skids split up, it was Stuart Adamson who got custody of the tunes. The result is a streamlined, conventional modern rock band in search of something to play. ‘Ring Those Bells’ has a catchy chorus and the encore number appeared about to errupt into Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’, but otherwise The Armoury Show manfully generate an epic sound which evaporates at once into the air.

Guitarist John McGeoch has moved closer to The Edge; but, like a giant face hewn into Mount Rushmore, Jobbo cuts a figure of rock-like permanence. You can still land a Harrier on his chin, and that Easter Island head remains incongruously topped off with neatly – combed blond locks – the whole effect weirdly reminiscent of a cross between Michael Heseltine and Cecil Parkinson. And still only 22! Furthermore, he can yet barely sing, despite strenuous face-pulling, and the same goes for his gimpy dancing.

These absurdities glare precisely because he has nothing else to project. The same parodied clean-cut machine – idol looks and gawky stage presence work to Bryan Ferry’s advantage, but then he has songs around which to elaborate an interestingly paradoxical persona. And without songs, The Armoury Show is strictly end of the pier.

© Mat SnowNew Musical Express, 20 August 1983

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