By happy coincidence I happened to be working in my former home city of London last Friday on the same day that the magnificent Tindersticks were launching their new album “The Waiting Room”
Tindersticks are a band I have adored since 1993 when I saw them support Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at Brixton Academy. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them in all sorts of venues (swanky theatres, grimy rock venues, festivals, hushed concert halls and even a cathedral) but never before in a record shop.
In the Q&A section of the evening, Stuart A. Staples articulately explained why people like us revere record shops so much. It turns out that he has a special affinity with Rough Trade shops in particular as he used to work there when the band were first getting going (presumably the one near Portobello market because the East London shop didn’t exist back then)
But before the Q&A session, we were treated to a screening of the DVD that comes with the deluxe version of the album. Stuart explained that after being invited to join the judging panel for the Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival, he was inspired to commission films to accompany each of the albums 11 tracks.
The first of these simply showed a door with the sunlight very gradually moving to show the reflection of a window whilst a gentle instrumental piece plays. This track “Follow Me” was originally written by Bronislau Kaper for the soundtrack of “Mutiny on the Bounty”. As ever, the band are casting their net wide for inspiration, just as you would expect from a band whose lists of previous covers include artists like Odyssey, Pavement, Otis Redding, Psychic TV, Townes Van Zandt, Hot Chocolate, Tom Waits and the theme tune to Mary Mungo and Midge.
A lot of the visuals were very simple ideas but made for strangely compelling viewing. Brazilian film-maker Gregorio Graziosi used 1950s footage of his grandparent’s wedding for the song “How He Entered” and Pierre Vinour’s film for “Were We Once Lovers?” is mostly made up of sped-up footage of a busy road.
Frequent Tindersticks collaborator Clare Denis’ film for the song “Help Yourself” shows actor Alex Descas walking around a train station for a bit and then buying a drink from a vending machine. Sounds rubbish doesn’t it but it isn’t, it’s quite enthralling especially as it’s accompanied by the album’s most striking song on first listen. It’s unmistakeably Tindersticks whilst simultaneously sounding quite unlike anything the band have recorded before. The song starts off with maracas and builds into a late Talking Heads style groove punctuated by some fantastic bursts of brass, arranged by renowned jazzer Julian Siegel, and reminded me of the Ivorian self-proclaimed “king of ziglibithy” Ernesto Djedje.
Another big surprise came in the song “Hey Lucinda” when I was taken aback to hear the beautiful and much-missed voice of the great Lhasa di Sela, who unfortunately passed away in 2010. This is another to add to the list of great duet songs which have been highlights of many of the previous albums (see playlist below) and as far as I can recall the first Tindersticks song to feature steel drums!
As Stuart explained later, this song’s video was filmed by Joe King and Rosie Pedlow near Clacton, Essex where Stuart is represented by the rundown amusement arcade and Lhasa as the neighbouring bungalows.
Brazilian directors Gabraz & Sara Não Tem Nome’s film for “We Are Dreamers” has become quite familiar to me because it has been on the band’s website for a couple of months now. But it remains as striking and enigmatic as it was on first viewing. It shows a young girl with a shovel dwarfed by a monstrous monster truck and it’s filmed in a kind of distorted pinky-purply haze. This somehow makes it feel like sinister sci-fi, as do the lyrics “this is not us, this not us”
The Q&A session that followed was both interesting and entertaining. There was a good story about former bassist Mark Colwill’s efforts to shake Johnny Cash’s hand when they shared a bill at Glastonbury and when Stuart seemed unsure of which year that was, the geeky fanboy in me had to hold himself back from shouting out “It was 1994 and you guys were brilliant!”
But the undoubted highlight of the evening was the live set. This was a streamlined version of the band with no additional strings, woodwind or brass, just the core members. Stuart was on vocals and guitar along with other founder members David Boulter on keyboards and Neil Fraser on guitar. They were joined by drummer Earl Harvin and bassist Dan McKinna who both came on board around the time of 2008’s brilliant “The Hungry Saw” album.
After some mumbled apologies for being under-rehearsed (which they weren’t) and some pocket-searching to find the piece of paper with the setlist on, the set got under way with track 2 from the new album “Second Chance Man.” Here Neil, as ever, shows that when it comes to playing just what’s needed with subtlety and restraint there’s no guitarist to match him while the 70s soul influences are apparent again in David’s Rhodes-style keyboards and the rhythm section’s bass and hi-hat.
I’d been expecting to only hear songs from the new album so it was a huge bonus to hear songs from the last 3 albums as well. There was more outstanding guitar playing from Neil on “Medicine” with his FX pedals summoning up an echoing sound reminiscent of Cocteau Twins / Durutti Column. Next up was “Keep You Beautiful” from “Falling Down a Mountain” with great backing vocals from Dan and Earl followed by the magnificent and powerful “The Other Side of The World” from “The Hungry Saw.” This song has been a highlight of quite a few Tindersticks gigs I’ve seen in recent years and seeing it performed from so close (2nd row) was just breathtaking. Stuart’s heartfelt vocals and Earl’s incredible drumming made it a real emotional rollercoaster.
After that was “This Fire of Autumn” played on dual nylon string guitars, rather than the slightly post-punk electric guitar of the version on “The Something Rain.” My favourite bit of this was watching David play (and totally nail) the tricky glockenspiel part with just one hand. It would be far easier if he had a second beater to play with but there is a recession on I suppose.
The song that closes the new album “Like Only Lovers Can” also closed the short set tonight. The refrain of “Where do we go now our meeting place is gone?” had me thinking of my experience on the way to the venue. I’d walked from Tower Hill up Leman Street and all around the Whitechapel / Aldgate area where I used to work 20 years ago, nostalgically reflecting on changing places, changing faces, friendships and loves lost and found and the many mixed emotions that surface whenever I return to London.
Tindersticks music can do that to you.
Tindersticks tour dates for Feb to May 2016: (we’re going to Liverpool on May 1st)
- Q&A with Terry Edwards – part 1
- Q&A with Terry Edwards – part 2
- Podcast number 15 (includes Lhasa de Sela)
- Podcast number 46 (includes Neil Fraser & Terry Edwards)
- Podcast number 20 (includes Tindersticks)
- Exclusive Christmas message from Tindersticks and Trust the Wizards
Spotify playlist of Tindersticks duet songs:
Youtube links for duets unavailable on Spotify: