The Electric Soft Parade – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton – 11th January 2019

The Electric Soft Parade – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton – 11th January 2019
Photo by Adam Kidd

There was electricity in the air as we arrived early to The Hope & Ruin to be confronted by a small queue snaking around the staircase from the makeshift box-office on the landing, where Thomas White was sat checking tickets off for the sold-out show. It seemed like this was a night of reunion for many of the fans in attendance as much as it was, certainly in home-coming terms, for the two bands on the bill. There have been lots of rumblings from The Electric Soft Parade camp in 2018, a successfully backed Pledge Music campaign to fund the recording of their fifth studio album, recent shows supporting fellow indie darlings of the early 00s Ultrasound, and even a charity showcase at Portslade’s little known Circle Arts Centre last May. However, there’s nothing quite like coming home and filling one of the venues of your youth for a band like ESP, who’ve been active on our Brighton stages in one form or another since they were teenagers at the arse end of the 90s.

First on tonight though were the inimitable Clowwns, a band who had built a cult following around their raucous shows, often feted as ‘the best live band in Brighton’ or similar accolades. It was a bit of a surprise when they slid into a quiet hiatus not all that long after the release of their impressive debut album, The Artful Execution of Macho Bimbo, in summer 2015. Frontman Miles Heathfield, dramatically dove onto the stage wearing the sinister knitted clown balaclava from their ‘Love Vigilante’ music video. I was partly disappointed, but mostly grateful he didn’t attempt to perform with it on – that would have been all too terrifying to behold!

Clowwns manage to capture some sort of neophyte energy this evening. While their performance seemed, perhaps, a little subdued compared to the chaos they embodied at their heights, tonight that chaos was replaced with an exceptionally tight professionalism, underscored by rejuvenation and a hint of nervous tension. Perhaps it was the unrelenting enthusiasm Damo Waters (who played drums for both acts tonight) pumps out, along with his exceptional beats and vocals, that gave them a renewed live-wire edge. Their set, a little under an hour, took in a non-stop barrage of memorable tunes, ‘She’s Says I’m A Clown’, ‘Looking For A Fool’, ‘My Defeater’, ‘Trousers’ and the aforementioned ‘Love Vigilante’: for a band with one album under their belt, they’re able to pull together a set that feels remarkably like a greatest hits.

The Electric Soft Parade took to the stage next, after a quick costume change from Waters! They transitioned seamlessly from the fiddly noise of musicians checking their instruments into a psych reworking of ‘Brother, You Must Walk Your Path Alone’ from their last album, Idiots, about five minutes ahead of their allotted stage-time, taking the crowd somewhat by surprise. ESP are centred around the talents of the White brothers, Alex and Tom, who are both multi-instrumentalists. Having been together as a band for about 20 years now, and with four studio albums under their belts to-date, it’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting when you see this band. Tonight, Tom White was on guitar, with older brother Alex on keyboards, both sang throughout, although the set-list leaned toward Alex on lead. I’d speculate this choice was related to the elder White brother having penned the tunes for the new album they’re working on, according to Pledge.

Having successfully crowdfunded their next record you’d be forgiven for expecting, as I did, a few of those new songs dropped into the set tonight for road-testing. Yet, ESP are a band who like to avoid doing exactly what you’d expect. Although I’m sure any fan anticipating a little delve into new territory would find it was impossible to be disappointed with what we got, the band delivering an hour of sonic punches of their amped-up psych-pop, drawn from each of their records. There was particularly strong showing from my favourite record of theirs, American Adventure, early on in the set, including an epic rendition of the twisting arrangement of the title track. It was a set that was seamlessly sown with rich melody throughout, closing out with a quadruple dose of the first album’s big singles. ‘Silent To The Dark’, ‘Empty At The End’, ‘Start Again’, and ‘There’s A Silence’, sounded fresh and in-your-face, ramping up expectations for the year ahead. I’ve seen bands drawn into the nostalgic trends of revival, agonisingly trawling through their old hits out of necessity, but this was a million miles from that, coming across as a celebration of the old on the eve of the new. They tied the night in a neat little bow, playing ‘Brother…’ once again, this time in the original arrangement, as an encore. It was a night I won’t soon forget, and one that promises us an exciting year ahead with two of Brighton’s best acts back in action and firing on all cylinders.

Adam Kidd