Every now and then, British pop music has experienced small but significant bursts of activity based around a geographical area- Merseybeat in the early 1960s, the hard rock/heavy metal scene based around the West Midlands a few years later, the immediate fallout following the Sex Pistols’ Lesser Free Trade Hall gig in 1976. One of the slightly less-recognised but still beloved combinations of place and time is the Glasgow scene, tracing a line from Postcard Records in the late 1970s through to Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura, via the likes of The Jesus & Mary Chain and Teenage Fanclub (the latter, in particular, is important here).
The Pastels, forming in 1981, have been something of the spine of this movement, connecting the dots between these generations of artists as a constant presence, which was helped by their appearance on the now-legendary NME cassette C86, a compilation of the up-and-coming indie pop bands of the time such as Primal Scream and The Wedding Present, which over time amassed a following in a similar vein to the Nuggets album series. The cult indie ensemble have gone through a number of lineup changes and media buzzwords – ‘twee’ and ‘shambling’ are two that have been attached to the band throughout the years – the bandleader and namesake Stephen Pastel (real surname McRobbie) has remained the constant. Under the pensive shadow of Strangeways, here we come to The White Hotel* (a complete misnomer- The White Hotel being what appears to be a repurposed warehouse on a Salford industrial estate, more suited to acid house than indiepop) to view a master at work.
Supporting The Pastels are two young, up-and-coming talented outifts – Peaness, from Chester, and fellow Glaswegians Spinning Coin. Peaness (believe me, I’m trying very, very hard to stop myself from flooding this with puns and quick gags) are an all-girl trio who are making waves within the music business with a tight, polished mixture of jangly college rock and angular art pop that belies their rather short existence. Tight vocal harmonies and grooving rhythms offer a throwback to early-90s alternative rock, almost forcing the amassed crowd into dancing, which helped stave off the cold somewhat with songs ranging from the fun and lighthearted through to an ode to food waste entitled ‘Ugly Veg’. Peaness are a fantastic talent who’s stock will most certainly be rising- catch them if you can.
Second support act and Pastels labelmates Spinning Coin are a Glasgow quintet who, like Peaness, show their influences on their sleeve. Fuzzed-out power-pop as sunny Byrdsian melodies penetrate the November chill complete with spiralling guitars and boy/girl shared vocal which are split between most of the bandmates. Playing on the release of their new album Permo, Spinning Coin offer sharp, concise songs that rarely break the 3-minute mark, with spiky keyboards adding an extra dimension to the proceedings. The music is hard-edged, but not aggressive, as distorted guitars and crashing drums threaten to tear apart the delicate dynamic of the band but the upbeat infectious groove keeps everything balanced perfectly. They are a band who are on the upswing with plenty of potential that has already been shown by the fact that both The Pastels and Teenage Fanclub have taken Spinning Coin under their wings in recent tours.
Stephen Pastel came to stage, still resplendent in the same bowlcut-and-parka as his C86-era self, as The Pastels started up. An interesting point to note that this is the first UK gig in a significant amount of time where the band did not include any members of the recently-toured Teenage Fanclub (the two bands have had a long, shared history as most of the Fanclub guys have been Pastels at some time or another). With the usual guitar/bass/drum sound augmented by a live trumpet and flute, this variation of The Pastels showcases a far more hazy, pastoral sound than their ragged 1980s roots would have you believe, bringing the gap between their charmingly awkward early singles and their more mature, introspective (although, surely all indie pop is introspective?) later releases, this band setup naturally meant that the song choices were more skewed towards 1997’s ‘Illumination’ and 2013’s ‘Slow Summits’. The Camera Obscura-esque ‘Check Your Heart’, one of the highlights from ‘Slow Summits’ was on display as drummer/second vocalist Katrina Mitchell took charge of the band, one of the best examples of this pastoral sound.
The Pastels have always been innately likeable, with heaps of charm emanating from Stephen, smiling all awhile as he questioned the audience on whether the White Hotel was technically still in Manchester instead of Salford, and noted that due to the size of the venue, they wouldn’t be leaving the stage before their encore. The encore took the band deeper into their back catalogue to their two arguably most famous songs, the mesmerising slow-build of ‘Baby Honey’ and a supercharged version of ‘Nothing To Be Done’ with interlocking vocals from Stephen and Katrina, still as fresh today as its initial release in 1989. These two songs are inspired choices, showing the crowd that The Pastels have not forgotten the style that gave them the status of cult heroes that they now deservedly enjoy.
*- I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist making that reference.
Words and photos by Liam Moody. The Pastels performed at The White Hotel on 10th November 2017.
Fancy listening to some of the best artists performing across Manchester in the coming months? Listen below for our latest playlist previewing those in town for this month’s best shows!