Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ray Rumours & Frànçois, The Bowery, Edinburgh, 13th April

The barmaid came around to let the two or three pockets of people know that the doors were open. We sat for a further ten minutes in the fire / water themed room (red lighting and baubles down one side, blue down the other against a wall sized print of the surface of the sea) before heading off to look for them. Upstairs seemed the obvious place, and there were plenty of doors, but they were all locked. We had a similar problem at a Ray Rumours gig last year, it fits the band’s name quite well. Pssst! There might be a show here somewhere, pass it on! That show was spoiled by its audience, I’d been really looking forward to seeing them without those distractions. Back to the bar: ‘You know this door you said was open – where is it?’

Through an unmarked and closed white door on the ground floor was a dimly lit room with a small table of records at one end, and at the other coils of fairy lights on the floor marking the front of the stage area. I overheard someone say, ‘I don’t think Frànçois is very happy’, and looked around to see him at the back of the stage sitting at one of those large wood effect organs, tinkering away, accompanying Rough Trade’s Indie Pop compilation which played over the PA. It had got as far as The Popguns’ ‘Waiting for the Winter’ by the time we arrived. He stood up to check the settings on a splendid looking sequencer / sampler – a grid of buttons lit in red, I want one – and Chris whispered in surprise, ‘He’s even shorter than Stephen Pastel!’ Short people make good pop stars. Marc Bolan, Björk. Frànçois’ singing voice resembles Bolan’s quite a bit. What you can’t see from the records is that he shares some of his stage presence, too – both seem locked in their own imaginative world, you can’t help wanting in.

‘Hello, I am Frànçois. I’m going to start playing now so you can stop talking.’ Though it soon filled up, there were at this point about six people in the audience, there wasn’t much of a hubub. The dim lighting was perfect for him to cast his mood, this self-contained intensity, calm but sure. To begin with he accompanied himself on a gently plucked Spanish guitar (‘My first time using a proper one. There are no dots on the neck, it’s a bit like playing blind’), then a white triangular instrument he called a harp, slung around his neck as he moved, lost in the rhythm of the song. Most of the set was unfamiliar to me, but he did a great ‘The Way to the Forest’, back on guitar, building up big Echoplex loops over which to sing. That kind of thing can so easily sound disjointed, I think because there is a temptation for the player to listen back to the loops and not really be a part of the sound – but Frànçois was in there, lost, it was was as fluid as you could want. To finish he jumped over the fairy lights and played ‘The People to Forget’, unamplified, three or four feet from me. He could as well have been on another planet, but it was a pleasure to visit.

Between sets I went to an empty bar for more drinks. The barmaid was theatrically snogging someone, but stopped when she saw me. ‘I didn’t see anything,’ I said. ‘It’s OK, he’s a homosexual,’ she replied, before dashing off, leaving him to get the beer.

Ray Rumours are decidedly more of this world than Frànçois, but their appeal too is largely down to the mood they cast. New album Le Pont Suspendu (at last! A whole album!) expands their sound, taking in some paired down drums, a trumpet and some translucent sun piano. But it doesn’t expand it too much – its songs are small scale and friendly, though they tramp the world while they’re at it. Theirs is the sound of a light, tripping freedom. ‘If everybody wanted to be famous, all the songs would sound the same’ sings Ros on ‘Berlin to Poznan’, which sums it up pretty well: she would rather travel and talk to people, and this is where their current sound comes from.

For this gig Ray Rumours were Ros and Frànçois (though Ros introduced herself as Ray Rumours on stage, so maybe it’s more an alias than a band name), and they opened with a brief ukelele instrumental which may or may not appear on Le Pont Suspendu (it sounded rather like the intro to ‘The Turtle’). ‘That song is about a cup of tea,’ said Ros / Ray, provoking much laughter. ‘Well, it is!’ she protested, before going into ‘Meaningless Words’, with its blissfully naïve seduction: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being honest with yourself / There’s nothing wrong with waiting around for someone else / But I’m standing here in front of you.’ I like it when they do things like that. Another favourite line (from ‘Close the Door’, which they didn’t play) is ‘I like your T-shirts, but I like them best when they’re lying on the floor.’ The overt sex of Lesbo Pig’s songs has become something fonder, but it’s still mischievous.

Ros repeated the ‘cup of tea’ trick with ‘Mr Bear’, and guess what? ‘It’s, um, about a bear.’ Then, before ‘Si Me Das A Eligir’ she checked with Frànçois, ‘Have you got your egg?’ He shook his right leg to demonstrate that he did, and it made a noise like a rattlesnake. More laughter – it was a funny gig. Standing on one leg and shaking the other, he played the intro on his trumpet, Ros supplying the flamenco inflections on guitar. It is remarkable how, even at their lightest and most fun, they don’t sound frivolous. It makes sense too: why not take fun seriously? It’s important. It may have been straight after this that they played ‘Looking for You’, by some distance their darkest song. It was chilling, full of deadpan tenderness and longing: ‘...if you stick your head in a bucket of water / You’ll see the one you love / I’m under the water looking for you’, a rare admission that affection can become overwhelming. But mostly, that sort of thing can be avoided if you go places, meet people. Ray Rumours make everything seem possible.


Anne said...

Great review. Wish I'd been there! And Ray Rumours is an anagram for Ros Murray...

Anonymous said...

Ah...that makes sense.

It was a great show: warm, and apparently, completely effortless; quite the loveliest gig I've been to for a while.

I hadn't realised that the male snogger was a homosexual, Chris. How wild they are on the Southside of Edinburgh.

Chris said...

Anne - I realised yesterday that 'A Cup of Tea' is the first song on 'The Hemulen' - I have listened to it, honest!

Horsemeat - it was such a great line to get out of an awkward situation. Might try it out at work: 'Sorry I can't fix your problem, but at least you are a homosexual.'

Piebird said...

Sounds really lovely - wish I coulda gone too...

Chris said...

It was amazingly lovely. They'll be back, I'm sure.

brogues said...

Darn my pesky cold. I really wish I'd been up to coming along. Glad it was tops! 'Berlin To Poznan' is a cracking tune. I thought of it when I was queueing to get into the Reichstag last Thursday. I queued for 2 hours so I had a lot of thinking time. Anyways, great review again, sir!

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