The School, Buffalo Lounge, Cardiff, Friday 22 July

28 Aug

It’s tough to know whether The School suffer from under exposure or over exposure. Their debut album last year received widespread acclaim, and was rightly included in several album of the year lists. The DJ, Adam Walton, has described them as the best Welsh band ever. Yet here they are playing a free gig in their hometown in a venue that has a capacity of no more than 100, but which tonight is busy, but not full. I wonder why this is? Certainly most music fans will have heard of them. The barman too is prompted to ask what a band of this calibre is doing playing a free gig.

Ok, this gig is a “warm up” for the 3 bands on show tonight, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that in the case of The School, part of their charm is their insistence on sticking to the long forgotten indie code of being intentionally low-key. Talk to band members Liz and Ryan, and they’ll speak about Sarah Records – perhaps the most notorious indie label of the late 80s – almost as if it still exists, or certainly as if maintaining that attitude is still important. While on stage, most of the band look downwards as studiously as the keenest of shoe-gazing bands of a slightly later era.

But the music produced is indie pop at its most joyful. And what sets this band apart from just about every other band of its ilk, or indeed from most groups of any style is some astonishing song-writing.  Every song of the 13 on the album has its merits, and of the new songs showcased, it would seem The School’s mistress, Liz has no intention of slowing up on creating further masterpieces. You can hear bits and pieces from other songs – JAMC here, maybe Spectrum there, with the primary influence of course being just about every 60s girl group you’ll ever hear on Capital Gold. There’s no doubting the band’s exceptional taste and pedigree, and every piece is an original classic pop song!

There may be moments in the set that still make you cringe – the backing vocals are really pretty feeble, and when they ask if the tambourine is too loud, you know only a classic indie band could do this. But perhaps this is part of the point – the majority of guitar-based bands are now so mainstream, I think people have lost sight of what being truly indie actually means. Saying that, with Liz leading on the keyboard, perhaps like band favourites St Etienne, you could almost call The School a keyboard-based band. Like St Etienne, they also ooze style. But it comes to something when, despite the fact that they’ve been treading the boards for long enough now, it might still seem daring for a traditionally indie music paper like the NME to put The School on its cover.

Tonight, The School’s set was sandwiched between a new 2 piece, The Middle Ones, coming first, whose 1 song of theirs that I heard was entertaining, and American 3 piece, Best Friends Forever, a zany sort of band, which tonight featured stand-in drummer Steve, who, Animal-like, looked as if he’d rather be playing in a metal band, and was forced to restrain himself tonight (his t-shirt depicted a dog on a leash). Stand out song was probably the one about a friend of a friend who had sex with a ghost, which got the audience “Woo-ing” and “Aagh-ing” along. The Middle Ones and Best Friends Forever will now be touring together.

For me it was The School who shone brightest though. They’re off now to play a couple of festivals in Spain – taking a School holiday, if you will – before returning to support indie legends, The Pooh Sticks, at The Globe on September 3. By rights, this gig should be a sell-out and I would urge all Cardiff music fans to get along and support our greatest treasure.

And finally, as a foot-note, the following day, Amy Winehouse was pronounced dead. At a previous gig by The School, the news of Michael Jackson’s death filtered through to the crowd as they played. So if you’d like to see the death of a top pop celebrity, booking The School might ensure results.


This review first appeared on Welsh Icons