The Wendy James Band, Clwb Ifor Bach, 1 September 2021: Rock’n’roll is alive and kicking!
So today I got “sacked” from a music website for writing a review that was not 100% complimentary. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the headline act, The Wendy James Band, but in all honesty, I don’t feel that I wrote anything that was too derogatory. The support band, Telgate, I thought were fantastic, a hard act to follow. I could have been far harsher in what I said about the headline act, but I tried to tone it down. I did think that what I could do in reposte was a parody review where I absolutely slate Wendy James. But then I thought, again, in all honesty, it was not Wendy James that I had a problem with. It was the site that decided they no longer needed my services who had a problem with me, so why should I pour more scorn on Wendy James?
I’ll be honest again: my dismissal was probably on the cards. Recently, a couple of times while drunk, I’d posted a couple of uncomplimentary things on the Louder Than War (hereafter referred to as Holier Than Thou) writers’ page that had not exactly put me in their good books. Even though it was not something that especially bothered me, I’d mentioned the fact that none of us had ever been paid a penny for our work: we were expected to write purely for the “glory” of having our writing posted on what is, probably, the UK’s most prestigious music website. It is owned, and run, after all, by one of the country’s most respected music journalists, John Robb.
John himself, I’ve never had a problem with, but certain of the site’s writers seemed to have a problem with me; they didn’t like my style. I don’t claim to be an especially good music journalist. Album reviews, I’ve always found tricky having grown up reading the reviews of Swells, etc. whose reviews, good or bad, were artworks in themselves. Live reviews, I find easier, scribbling away little notes, paying attention to what our heroes are conjuring up on stage.
So what I’ve decided to do is simply post up the review I wrote, entirely unedited, and let you form your opinion. Below that, are some of the criticisms levelled at me by a couple of the Holier Than Thou editors.
Transvision Vamp were a band who, like The Primitives and others, quite successfully straddled the boundary between being chart-friendly and alternative. Singer Wendy James may have been more risqué with her sexy image to some extent playing a role in the band’s success (there is a lot of talk of soiled teenage socks in the Comments sections of Transvision Vamp’s YouTube videos). But that’s not to say they didn’t have a couple of killer tracks, and frankly Wendy’s image would be considered quite run-of-the-mill by today’s standards.
So what does she have to offer in her role as a more mature figure? For a start, I think this gig was proof positive that commercial acts from back in the day have not aged anywhere near as well as indie acts who might not have had huge chart success, but can still today draw big crowds. I think part of the problem for Wendy James is that she does not have enough well known oldies to fall back on, with her time in the limelight being relatively short. Take a band like The Wedding Present. They have at least ten to fifteen very strong, well-loved older songs that they can always rely on, even if they do also want to play a few newer songs. And for them, it was always about the quality of the music, with little regard to image. Wendy James I feel was largely more style over substance, and very much of the moment.
But before Wendy even took to the stage, there was the not insubstantial matter of the support act, local band Telgate. I had spoken briefly with guitarist Chris while having a cigarette before they went on stage. Little was I to know the treat that was in store.
Telgate are a really, really exciting prospect. Their performance actually reminded me of the first time I saw The Music at the now defunct Barfly in Cardiff. The circumstances were a little different – The Music were already being hyped, despite playing at a very small venue – but I really was impressed with the confidence and coolness of this band’s sound. With The Music, I was blown away by how good they sounded despite being very young – I was especially impressed by the drummer and singer. With Telgate, it was guitarist Chris, who I’d met, who shone the brightest. For sheer ability, he reminded me of the equally impressive guitarist from Cardiff band, Howl. He switched easily and gracefully between nice little riffs, a bit of wah-wah, and some really powerful little licks.
It’s very rare that one of the musicians in a band should command more attention than the lead singer for me. But that’s not to say that singer, Casper James was not a great front person. With Amy Taylor-esque mullet and a smart silver outfit, he projected a good rock’n’roll image and dominated the stage very well; quite flamboyant, with the odd high kick here and there – very entertaining. His vocal was great too, with an excellent range. After the second or third song, he mentioned that he felt a bit croaky and I feared they may have to end the set early, but he then seemed to carry on as if there was no problem at all.
The songs themselves were good, nicely put together. I wouldn’t say stunningly original exactly, but very good examples of the genre. Although I say that, in fact they seem to be trying to start their own genre – aggro-glam they’re calling it. There were all kinds of bits in there – a bit of Primal Scream here, a bit of Rage Against the Machine there, several nods to the 70s. All fab. Bassist and drummer were also good, the only member of the band who looked slightly incongruous was the keyboard player in a green outfit like something Nicola Sturgeon might have chosen (the other four were all in variously fancy black and shiny outfits), and the keyboard sound, when isolated, also did not quite fit in. But that aside, Telgate are definitely ones to keep a very close eye on.
I was certain there was no way The Wendy James Band could improve on the performance of the support act, and this proved to be the case. Wendy did a reasonable job of hiding any disappointment she might have felt on seeing the relatively sparse crowd. And there was nothing necessarily wrong with this show, it just didn’t quite grab you by the balls and fill you with excitement.
I think Wendy was actually making an attempt to come across more like an indie act. Her vocal on the opening song actually reminded me of the singer from Swansea band, Helen Love, and you don’t get much more indie than Helen Love. The stage set-up actually looked okay. You have Wendy quite clearly as the prominent front person, dressed in quite a tasteful frilly black frock, with six long-haired lads, all also dressed in black, largely giving the impression of being the backing band. All of them were probably young enough to be Wendy’s sons, but I’m no-one to pass judgement on a thing like that with my ex being almost twenty years my junior. Behind the band, some fairly inconsequential video projections.
But like I say, the real problem was just not enough hits or even favourites to really get the crowd going. She played three or four songs from new album Queen High Straight, impressively a 20-track double album, but really none of these were especially interesting. For someone who courted with controversy, it’s a shame really that we have yet another act trying to go down the Radio 2 friendly/respectable artist route. Or perhaps it’s meant to be aimed at Radio 6? To be honest, I think she is going to struggle to get on to either station as the songs just were not attention-grabbing enough.
But I will try not to sound too negative. On the plus side, as mentioned, Wendy’s voice was good, very clear, so you could make out the words well (even if the lyrics largely lacked real impact). I also absolutely applaud her in embarking on something-like a 30-date tour – a very brave move. If she’d just done two or three London shows, that would have been the easy option; she might have sold those out. But a tour of this size, just as people are gradually returning to watching live music is a hell of a gutsy move, and irrespective of whether the tour is viewed as a success in terms of earth-shatteringly good gigs, packed to the rafters with paying punters, she, or her management, deserve a pat on the back at least for trying to revive what we all hope is not going to turn out to be a dying industry.
On top of that, when favourite track I Want Your Love does come, this was well-rendered, and I must admit, bizarrely, I almost felt myself welling up as I heard it, which I guess just goes to show that at one time it’s a song that must have had quite an impact on me in my youth, as for probably many other people.
With a couple of songs still to play, Wendy announced that they would be leaving the stage for a break. This was a bit of an odd moment. So she clearly made it known that they would most likely be returning. And so the crowd perhaps did not feel the need to call for an encore. It was odd. I was pretty much the only person cheering ‘encore’ and clapping, and I did this mainly out of politeness – it just seemed a bit rude to expect the band to come back on stage without giving them the encouragement to do so! Well anyway, come on they did. I’m sure Wendy said something about doing something mucky during the break. They played the other big hit, Baby I Don’t Care, one other song, and that was it.
She did then come back out to sign stuff and do selfies, which was nice. The only other gripe I would have is that there was an option of paying a hefty fee of about £100 for a personal meet-and-greet or something, which I know quite a few bands are doing these days. I’m not really in favour of this – I know it’s not as easy to make money in music these days, with sales of physical formats very low, but still. How about selling tickets for after parties – that might work (although I can understand in this case that an after-party after each of 28 gigs would be a big ask)? The Wendy James/Transvision Vamp merch was also a bit pricey. I think you can’t have it both ways – if you’re going to tour small venues, you shouldn’t then charge big prices for merchandise.
There was one final thing I learned that disappointed me a little. I assumed with the new album being called Queen High Straight and with the title track containing poker references that Wendy James herself was a poker player, but when I asked her this, she didn’t seem to know anything about poker. A quick check of Wikipedia says that she did not write the big Transvision Vamp songs, but that she has written the new album, which does seem at odds with what she said to me. I guess it doesn’t make too much difference. All through the ages in all kinds of professions, you have other people doing bits of work for the spokespeople. Being the songwriter or not shouldn’t detract from the credibility of Wendy James as an artist. And I suppose it’s undeniable that she was iconic at a certain time. As I say, can’t fault her for still giving it a go, but it does seem like the audience she originally catered for were not necessarily the gig-going type and partly for this reason, she may struggle to get large audiences now.
…So the first major issue was that the editor, Melanie Smith, felt that I couldn’t use the word “sexy” from the first paragraph. She said to me, and I quote “we will get slated for using words like sexy…it’s not the 70s any more”. Now I realise that words can be used in and out of context. I don’t feel that I have used the word out of context particularly here, and besides, putting the word “sexy” into the Holier Than Thou search box brings up over 350 articles that use the word – can all of these articles have used the word sexy in a particularly contextual way?
This is the same editor who said to me that when she saw Wendy live she thought she looked “anorexic” and “a shadow of her former self”. I have made no reference to Wendy’s appearance throughout the review. This is also the same editor who says she is afraid of “spoiling our relationship with xxx and other PR people we are dealing with”. So basically, what she is saying is that giving an honest opinion of a particular performance cannot be done, simply to appease the people who give the website guestlist passes, etc.
This same editor also says I should write in accordance with “the PC world we live in”. So what is this age of enlightenment she speaks of? This time which must surely be so much better than any other? It is of course an age where nobody should be offended. Where telling lies so as not to upset someone is vastly superior to voicing an honest opinion. Where anything that goes against the prevailing public opinion should be shunned or banned. It’s an age where popstars are picked by judges on TV and then expected to parade in front of teenage audiences in lingerie. An age where the WAP song is promoted, again to youngsters.
I move on to another editor at Holier Than Thou, someone called Nigel. Bear in mind, besides John, I have never met any of these people. They have formed opinions of me based purely on what they have read online, nothing else. He claims the review contains “sexism, objectivism and ageism”. I would be grateful if anyone can pinpoint anything in the review above that identifies me as portraying any of those traits. As I said in a reply to him, I grew up watching bands not caring if they were male or female. I would go to watch and adore seeing Lush one week, Ride the next. I was a massive lover of live music. Nigel goes on to voice an objection that I posted the selfie I had taken with myself and Wendy at the gig and implies that I’ve done this in some hypocritical way by then not giving the best review. But along with the photo, I’ve made it quite clear that the gig was not that fantastic in every comment I’ve made in relation to this photo. I had a 30-odd year old seven inch single with me, which I thought I might as well get signed. I had even satirically brought along with me a Morrissey single which I thought it might be amusing if Wendy signed as a fuck off to Morrissey who has recently been selling his own record collection at gigs (David Bowie records etc) with his own signature for extortionate amounts of money. Nigel says of my review that “the tone and language used belongs in the 1970s”, a time when I was but a small child. If by that he means a time when people were honest in their appraisals, I’m happy with that. Given that I have made several references throughout the review about the state of the music industry as it is today, I’m not really sure what he means, however.
As a poet, I know how annoying it is to be edited. While I can accept that works of fiction, just about any prose piece can be edited, when it comes to poetry, I don’t see how anyone can ever edit a poet’s words because every single word they write is intended from the poet’s point of view, and should never, in my view, be edited by anyone other than the poet. I’m not saying that my reviews are anything like poetry. However, it does annoy me when people attempt to edit things I’ve written and make no real improvement at all, simply change things according to their own stylistic ideas. And being censored altogether: I suppose that’s a whole other matter. One thing I did appreciate with Holier Than Thou was that unlike with other, far less prominent music websites I’d written for, for around the first twenty reviews I wrote, they put them online pretty much untouched. It seemed like it was only after an outburst on the writers’ page that suddenly everything I wrote was getting heavily scrutinised and then edited prior to being published.
The final thing I’d like to say is: I might not have perceived the performance by The Wendy James Band to be the greatest of all time. But do you know what? It wasn’t actually that bad. Fairly standard rock’n’roll, but I’m a fan of fairly standard rock’n’roll. And exactly as I said in the review, anyone, given the current shitty circumstances who’s prepared to go on a 28 date tour: good for her. Anyone contemplating getting tickets: go for it. Better than a shitty night in arguing with cunts online.