I’ve seen Welsh octet The School at least once a year for the past four years, twice if I’m lucky, and last night’s set at the Moth Club, Hackney, London was them on speed – or at least on poppers. The energy was way above the usual levels, perhaps due to the sterling work of dreamy French-born supporters Iko Chérie and Barcelona’s wall of happiness Cola Jet Set in fluffing the crowd.
The School’s general stage presence, though warm and endearing, can sometimes be a little coolly aloof, introvertedly anxious and – dare I say it – even seemingly taciturn. But that was all stood on its head last night as they stormed into a bristlingly electric set of the gorgeously melodic pop album that put them on the map: 2010’s Loveless Unbeliever (certainly their most brief album title by current ratio).
I first saw The School in Brighton, when they were supporting indie darlings and Elefant Records stablemates The Primitives on a UK tour. I was hooked immediately – when you’re an indie-pop kid, it’s hard to resist those tight ’60s girl-group harmonies, syncopated handclaps and urgently ear-bothering tunes.
Now, four years later, I’ve morphed into quite the professional groupie, exemplified by helping lead vocalist Liz to proffer the names of various band members to the enthusiastic punters behind me. Punters (yelling deliriously under the influence of drummer Kit’s elfin charms): “You on the drums – you’re killing it!” Liz: “That’s Kit.” Punters: “We love you Kit!” Punters (again): “Singing guy – crank it up – you rock!” Me: “That’s Andy.” Punters: “We love you Andy!”
Andy’s vocal on album closer, the lush and beautifully maudlin I Don’t Believe In Love, was one of the revelations of the evening. Andy’s sonorous, timbrous pipes carried easily to the far reaches of the glimmering, gold-glitter-ceilinged room, and providing a resonant foil to Liz’s crystal-clear girlish tone.
So sold were the punters towards the end of the set that cries of “quit your day job!” – aimed at Liz – filled the air. Liz, in her usual affecting deadpan: “I have five – which one should I quit?”
Signs of The School’s burgeoning confidence on stage were everywhere: from bass-slapper Ryan’s deeply smooth poise and swagger (you just want to scribble True Romance’s “you’re so cool, you’re so cool, you’re so cool” all over his slim-fit suit and ’60s skinny tie with a silver Magic Marker) to violin goddess Kay’s shiny Sandy-from-Grease leggings. When did that be-bobbed A-line-skirt girl become a vixen?
Fellow strings girl Steph and solid multi-instrumentalist Harri provided the gentle, peaceful centre of the group, while parping trumpet touter Fran was unexpectedly irrepressible, skipping about like the free spirit she appears to be, and grinning infectiously.
Loveless Unbeliever’s 13 sparkling gems behind them, the kids treated the assembled crowd to two of the best from their third and current album, Wasting Away & Wondering. Lead single, the wafty, bittersweet All I Want From You Is Everythingsounded just as strong as anything from the debut album, and I got my silent wish when they closed with rollicking toe-tapper I’ll See You Soon.
By the time I picked up my re-release of Loveless Unbeliever at the merch stand, in gorgeous acid-green vinyl, and had Liz take charge of rustling up all the band members (sans Harri) to sign my album and indulge me in photo ops, I was flying. High, high, high … way above the clouds … on a sea of infectious ’60s cool.