Nirvana/Tad/The Cateran: SOAS, London

Half the bloated business moguls in Britain have never heard of them. They were not invited to appear at the Smash Hits poll-winners party – surely Most Very Horrible Thing, at least – but Tad are one of the greatest, ball-breaking experiences in the known universe… Roy Wilkinson dodges swinging axes

HOLD ONTO your seats grapple fans, this is where that supremely skilful, unfairly maligned supa-sport, all-in TV wrestling, enters the pop arena; not a tag-team bout but a Tad-team bruiser at its bear-hugging best.

Only problem was finding a worthy British challenger. When mock-misogynist, timbermen rockers Tad cleared customs with their trusty Homelite chainsaws the right calibre of Brit rock woodsman was looking thin on the ground.

Years ago Britain had real axemen, guys who could fell 10 acres of oak as soon as knock out a guitar solo and a broadwood concept album. But it’s years since flute-totin’ pugilists Jethro Tull trounced all comers with Songs From The Wood.

Still, from among the pines of the Scottish Highlands, The Cateran are at least contenders to the chainsaw combo crown.

Four stout fellows who certainly have little time for such fickle pop charms as ‘good looks’. The Cateran boys lead a twin guitar charge that makes clear the literal tone of their Gaelic name – it means ruffians. Playing at ear-splitting volume, The Cateran nonetheless achieve a chiming plangency to lay alongside their brute volume attack. This comes to a beautiful conclusion with their finest song to date, the acutely titled ‘Ache’.

The Cateran have a similar sons-of-the-soil solidness to fellow Jocks, Big Country.

But they replace Stuart Adamson’s pyrotechnic bluster with a less demonstrative resonance and are all the stronger for it. They also avoid the ridiculously mannered Gaelic folk aesthetic trumpeted by the likes of The Waterboys. This band’s geographical roots have been given time to grow and now form an easy part of the whole. This is a successful wedding of US rock incandescence to an indigenous core. Fine stuff and far removed from The Proclaimers’ rock ‘n’ roll source referencing.

But, good as they were. The Cateran couldn’t live beside Tad’s twin appeal (and that’s not a comment on frontman Tad Doyle’s VFM, two-for-the-price-of-one physique).

Of all the Sub Pop bands Tad look to have the greatest longevity – something that stems from their unprecedented welding of the comic to the cauterising.

Thriving on the ability to top the parody of tree-felling macho bigotry that makes up their interviews (“Music’s just a good way to unwind after a hard day wood-choppin’ and masturbatin'”), onstage Tad also display a serious musical alter ego. They look like buffoons but their precision play perfectly defines the ongoing fascination with the guitar in extremis.

Live, their impacted, sawn-off-shotgun riff-mongering combines an instant acceleration to the point of impact with a compelling pattern of tension and release. It’s as if Metallica’s rhythm guitar redefiner, James Hetfield, is moonlighting with Big Black playing the gig of their lives.

But for all this sonic malevolence the Tad live experience is a jolly affair. This is down to Mr Doyle’s composure during the frequent terrace taunts of “You fat bastard”. And while this self-mocking element could be as sad as black comedians using their colour to get a laugh on Search For A Star or somesuch, Tad is more reminiscent of Alexei Sayle with attacks on the self that are more aggressively pre-emptive than pathetic.

‘Behemoth’ and ‘Sex God Missy’ are stand-out songs and Tad’s fusion of levity and aural incision results in a ferocious mosh leavened by ready wit.

Fielding Nirvana after Tad was a tactical error tonight. Having lost guitarist Jason Everman to Soundgarden, Nirvana were a shadow of the teen thug combo that played the New York Music Seminar earlier this year.

They compensate for this by mixing every instrument as loud as possible. The result is one hyperwrought garage sound, every component tensed to breaking point, but all balancing on the same line – plenty of thrust but all in one dimension.

With vocalist and guitarist Kurdt Kobain clearly struggling to hold down both jobs, this is a Nirvana playing a sort of super aggressive anorexia. Thus, despite a repertoire that ranges from the insidious beat pop of ‘About A Girl’ to flame-on grunge like ‘Negative Creep’, Nirvana are compromised by events.

In this heavyweight battle Tad won on mass, humour and blastability. Les Dawson should never work again.

© Roy WilkinsonSounds, 4 November 1989

Leave a Comment