April 21, 2014
At first glance, The School are an unassuming bunch. An octet of young mostly Cardiff-based musicians, they seem almost shy when performing and certainly don’t have a stage “act” as such.
Instead, what speaks for them are the luminous, sparkling pop confections they present – at once reminiscent of the best ’50s and ’60s girl pop, and the kind of indie pop that blossomed in the ’80s and has been revamped and reinterpreted ever since. The song structures are tight and minimal, built around gorgeously sweet choruses and lead vocalist Liz Hunt’s clear-as-a-bell innocent-sounding vocal that contrasts bizarrely with her comedic deadpan on-stage commentary.
With songs as strong as these (mostly penned by Liz), a self-conscious stage production is kinda irrelevant. In fact, the natural, unaffected, sometimes shambolic School live experience is part of their charm. Much easier to fall for someone who is just being themselves, rather than a band who is all ego, right?
I first saw The School in 2012 as they were launching their second album, Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean…), while supporting ’80s indie-pop darlings The Primitives on a handful of UK dates. They were infectious. I liked them instantly and began buying up their back catalogue straight away.
Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to see them once a year, the most recent gig being their 45-minute set as part of the Wales Goes Pop festival in Cardiff atthe Gate Arts & Community Centre. As usual, they didn’t disappoint and were well worth the train ticket and 6-hour return journey from London (engineering works, naturally).
The tight set mostly favoured offerings from their second album, and played to their strengths: hooks, melody, harmonies, handclaps, optimism and a touch of melancholy. These were interspersed with three jewels from their 2010 debut album, Loveless Unbeliever (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean…), and three surprisingly fresh-sounding tasters from their forthcoming third album, due to be recorded later this year.
Of these new compositions, Love is anywhere you find it is somehow even more upbeat than they’ve been before (if you can believe that); All I want from you is everything is more midtempo, but heavy on melody and longing (and extra-sweet ooh-oohs); while I Will See You Soon is another in a long line of peppy little foot-tappers that Liz seems to rattle off in her sleep these days. If the third album continues in the vein of these sugary treats, we’re in for a cracker.
It’s a joy to watch The School play, play off one another, and deliver a fine ensemble sound incorporating trumpet, tambourines, violins, cabasa (shaky, twisty, grindy thing) and glockenspiel, in addition to your usual guitar, bass, keyboard and drums.
The School could make even a hardened cynic believe in love, yet with all the songs about yearning for someone unattainable, lost love and heartache, you’d think they’d have learned their lesson by now. Let’s hope they never do.
Set list: * Why do you have to break my heart again * Never thought I’d see the day * Valentine * Love is anywhere you find it * Where does your heart belong * That Boy is Mine * Stop that Boy * All I want from you is everything * I Want You Back * I’ll See You Soon * Let it Slip