The majority of bands that break up eventually reform. Some get back together six months afterwards, scared of smaller venues or fewer roadies. Others reform twenty years later because they need the money or just for the fun or because of unresolved business. Last month a band called Thunderclap Newman, renowned for one great song called Something in the Air, did a reformation in a club around the corner from London's Astoria, no doubt spurred on by the fact that their thirty-plus year old tune is getting heavy TV rotation as part of some phone company's ad campaign.
I wonder when Test Icicles will get back together.
The rise of a band like Text Icicles out of the London scene has been symptomatic of the huge sea change English rock has undergone over the last five years. For decades the English biz has been home to management-lead third rate careerists jumping - six months after the event - onto every emergent American trend and style. Bands got deals so they could employ accountants, corrupt PR firms, hairdressers, professional roadies who hated their faggot guts, graphic designers, and a plethora of further jaded ageing Soho fellow travelers. Whereas the only people bands should ever employ are their old friends and their drug buddies.
Last year: Test Icicles, three guitar players with nasty bad-sounding attitudes, came up for air. They did incendiary buyer-beware shows in front of keyed up youthful audiences. They got picked up by the corrupt crooked NME - now a jingoistic rag promoting all things British but especially Carl Barat (the boring one from The Libertines). Signed to Domino, it looked for a while like they were going to be the new Artic Monkeys. To the horror of an industry which likes its "alternative" bands to get sense and start playing arenas just like The White Stripes, they decided instead to break up, one album under their belt.
So did they die pretty and leave a beautiful corpse? Not exactly - to their credit. Their farewell gig, last Saturday at the Astoria, lasted a reluctant 45 minutes (about twelve songs) and saw their ridiculously young Download Generation audience cheer them, somewhat indifferently, on their way. A fair percentage of the crowd was aged between ten and fourteen. Many, many kids were drunk as skunks. The girls (there were an awful lot of girls) looked rich, were dressed up to the nines. The boys were slightly more varied, though most of them were fine upstanding handsome fellows who'd washed their hair and donned their best indie t-shirts. Boys and girls all dressed up for each other. Spiky haired future corporate lawyers and band leaders of the 21st Century world.
The set was circular rather than linear. It didn't start one way and build up into something different or more intense. This may be the way of the future, as a new generation of pioneering rock fans - who may have a cultural attention span of about eight minutes - emerge.
They heard a lurching staggering collection of short ragged songs which began without preamble and which ended without crescendo. Comparisons could be made with the sort of "smart punk" that I don't particularly enjoy or find listenable - Devo and PIL - but the overall effect was good fun and cool.
Circle Square Triangle was the first spellbinding tune. Semi-leader Rory explained that he'd seen Smashing Pumpkins at the Astoria when he was fourteen and that, "It was the first time I ever crowd surfed; people touched my ass - it was beautiful." Pity he mentioned The Smashing Pumpkins and spoiled the story.
Later Rory's brother's band took over the stage to play some of their stuff, and there was a minor good-natured riot in the pit. By the end of the night, when the band called a halt with Catch It!, lots of people were wearing Test Icicles RIP badges.
I wonder if they'll reform in time for the 2007 festival circuit. Or maybe they'll wait thirty years and, half-dead, Circle Square Triangle being used as part of some phone company ad campaign, play to a handful of sad nostalgia freaks (spiky hair but a fond memory) in a club around the corner from the Astoria. Whatever. When it comes to bands breaking up, don't believe the hype
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.
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