It’s Friday, November 3rd 2006. I’ve rushed down to the London Astoria straight from work in Manchester, and am up in the gods peering at the stage below. I haven’t seen Guillemots live before. I have listened to their debut album Through the Windowpane and some of their early EP tracks, and, judging by the array of instruments below me, am expecting a torrent of glorious noise.
So, imagine my surprise when their carefree frontman Fyfe Dangerfield, sitting in a rocking chair, hair askew, starts the album’s opening track Little Bear and the vast majority of the venue falls into reverent silence. It’s one of the most genuinely expressive, heartfelt performances I’ve heard from a live vocalist in a couple of years. To borrow from fellow Motel scribe Megan Vaughan, when he sings “# and I won’t be back in a long time, so get out/Get out of this old house before I burn it down #,” you may as well just pour me into a bucket.
The next hour and a half is heartbreaking, life-affirming, tender, political, embittered and euphoric all at once, such is Dangerfield’s range and showmanship. He’s got one of the most natural senses of musicality of anyone in the industry at the moment, both live and on record, which is definitely something to celebrate. He seems to know almost intuitively where all the peaks and troughs in a vocal performance should be, an ability only enhanced by his superb bandmates and knack for good lyrics and melodies.
On Trains to Brazil, he manages to capture both anger (“# lives like yours are in the hands of these erroneous fools #”) and a life-affirming call to arms (“# can’t you live and be thankful you’re here? #”) in the same song. Made-Up Love Song #43 makes you glad it is actually a tangible, affectionate declaration of love, and the close to Sao Paulo, with Dangerfield repeatedly shrieking the words “# thrown across water like a stone #” over what sounds like three symphony orchestras, an oompah band and the kitchen sink - and beating their combined force - is sheer brilliance.
He might breakdance, he might have wrestled with a wooden chair onstage at Glastonbury for somewhere between three and five minutes, he might “think it’s an F sharp” and find it extremely funny*, but there’s already a queue forming at Motel Towers, and, I suspect, beyond, preparing to launch a charm offensive against Fyfe Dangerfield’s vocal chords.
*It’s not always an F sharp. But what is it? Well, that would be telling!
words: Kate Goodacre
Guillemots will return in 2008 with a new album, plus a short series of live dates at The Ritz, Manchester (March 9), Oxford Academy (formerly Zodiac) (March 10) and Shepherd's Bush Empire, London (March 11th).