St Etienne, The Gate, Cardiff, May 25

31 May

On the day that, as a child might say, the Limbrick torch arrived in Cardiff, the Queen was also here. But I’m not talking about, as Leanne Wood would say, Mrs Windsor’s presence, I’m not talking about Madonna, but the true Queen of Pop, Sarah Cracknell with her band, St Etienne.

Known for their love of London, I’d be curious to know what the band’s take on the Diamond Jubilee is. They’re lovers of mainstream pop music, but they also have a rebellious streak; their greatest hits album, one of the few truly great greatest hits, “Smash The System” is a CD that can often be heard blasting out from this writer’s car along City Road, a stone’s throw from tonight’s venue.

St Etienne are possibly the Pet Shop Boys for straight guys, for one fairly blatant reason, although their links to football culture is another, and there were almost as many men sporting polo shirts tonight as you might find at a Fred Perry convention. Two balding men, arms entwined, in front of me were in defiance of this notion.

Like Cardiff favourites, The School, I would question whether St Etienne have ever written a bad song. Tonight we have all the classics, as well as songs from the new album “Words and Music by St Etienne” that are given a good testing. Pop perfection is an expression bandied about so often, but tonight St Etienne aspired to that. Sarah Cracknell – who at one stage admitted she has difficulty remembering the words as well as she did aged 17 (also a reference to a song from the new record) – is spot on with all the high notes. Cowbell player and backing vocalist, Deborah Wykes, provides decent supporting vocals, while in the background, Pete and Bob have the same effortless cool of Chris Lowe, observing the scene before them. Some excellent video backdrops complete the overall picture.

The low point of the evening was when an idiot invaded the stage during “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” He was allowed to continue his moronic dancing before finally being escorted from the stage towards the end of the song. He did not even manage to steal a kiss from the bemused Sarah Cracknell, which surely any red-blooded male would have attempted? I saw St Etienne on the eve of my 30th birthday at the Royal Festival Hall in London. At that gig, a whole crowd of people joined the band on stage for the closing “Nothing Can Stop Us”, which was also tonight’s finale. Did this clown not know that this was the tune people may have been expected to take to the stage for? Instead he chose the song which, fantastic as it is, does not match Neil Young’s original.

Last year, I witnessed PiL at Cardiff’s Coal Exchange, which for me and many others was the best gig in Cardiff of 2011. Tonight, St Etienne put in a performance that any other touring band will find hard to match this year. Sarah Cracknell apologised at the end that it had been around 15 years since the last time they played Cardiff, but that she would happily come back next week. The aforementioned idiot might have thought in his deluded mind it was a subtle reference to himself. The rest of the crowd no doubt wished, as the old football expression goes, that St Etienne would play here every week.


This article first appeared on, before being inexplicably removed from, Welsh Icons and God Is In The TV