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:: The Hidden Cameras :: My Latest Novel ::
30 September 2006 / Night & Day / Manchester
By Helen Jones / James Hinchcliffe


POWELL MORGAN seem to have adopted the naff 80s trick of constructing their band name around those of its members. And clearly, as they strike up their first number with some gentle, wobbly guitar effects and a singer aiming to push them towards skyscraping soft rock, it's apparent they've modelled themselves on straight-laced 80s pop acts like Nik Kershaw and maybe It Bites before they went all prog-rock. The singer is a dead ringer for a young Tommy Saxondale and - whilst he has a fine voice and his band is tight and well-drilled - they appear overly-earnest young men; it's the musical equivalent of Top Gear - slick, well-presented, in love with all the wrong things. And they're on the wrong bill. Whatever else they are - and they are by no means bad, although I tire of them very quickly - they're not a Night & Day band.


Hailing from way up north in the Scottish territories, MY LATEST NOVEL, bring to mind a sort of one part Polyphonic Spree to one part Sons and Daughters mix, with just a little bit of Belle and Sebastian thrown in for good measure. Softly spoken Laura McFarlane recites a monologue over melancholic strings during a quieter interlude, bringing the Belle and Sebastian comparison to the fore. Moments of intensity from lead vocals, provided by the Deveney brothers Chris and Gary, amidst joyous indie rock outs, manage to keep things interesting with what is a promising set from My Latest Novel.


There are a lot of The Hidden Cameras so the tiny N&D stage is stretched to its limits, as is the sound system, it seems, as a horrendous whistling feedback pretty much unlike any I've ever heard all but ruins the opening "Follow these eyes". The band do well to finish it and look relaxed enough, although singer Joel Gibb looks understandably perturbed. Fortunately this is pretty much the last we hear of it and as it pans out it would take a hurricane to blow the rest of their outstanding set even slightly off course. It helps, for sure, that the LP they are touring - "Awoo" - is one of the year's best. Oh and that they might be the music world's best kept secret - appearing out of the presently uber-hip Canada just too early to ride the coattails of The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene into indie rock's first class carriage. But whilst it's easy to dismiss their self-styled "gay church folk music" as frivolous and disposable, it's entirely wrong - there's anguish behind several of these pop vignettes few give them credit for. Having said that, it is expertly counter-balanced with - and to some extent swamped by - playful thrashes such as "Awoo" and the insanely catchy "Lollipop", both show highlights the latter of which appears late on and provokes the stage to become something of a free-for-all, audience members being handed tambourines as both band and paying public practically explode with a near-religious glee. To say the crowd reaction is good throughout would be like saying the Middle East currently has a few things it needs to iron out.

Before all this, the Arcade Fire comparison is given further credence by xylophone and ubiquitous violin, the twin violinists being more animated than any I've ever seen - occasionally even pogoing to the joyous outpouring of noise and adding vital oompah to what are already great songs. They save "Ban marriage" until last, natch, and whilst it's still great fun and a crowd favourite it's quite obvious that they've improved immeasurably since that early peak. A new, unnamed track, boding well, is another show high point.

Ultimately, there isn't a band around today other than maybe The Polyphonic Spree more saturated in orchestral pop class and watching them you're left ruing what a rubbish world it is where Scissor Sisters clean up whilst this crowd barely sell-out small venues like this one. Still, for those of us fortunate enough to be in the know, huge (and I mean, huge) smiles all round.


The problem with reviewing a band like Hidden Cameras is that there are so few contemporaries with which to compare them with. Taking to the stage the eight strong ensemble, that includes not one but two violins, a xylophone and all the usual drum and guitar paraphernalia, are kind of a Scissor Sisters meets the Arcade Fire Canadian folk hybrid.

Currently touring their latest album release, Awoo, The Hidden Cameras are still evading any kind of grand scale recognition despite reaching album release number three. This, perhaps, could be due to their inability to be pigeon-holed in any convenient ‘indie’ or ‘pop’ category, as they wander somewhere in a musical no mans land. But that’s what makes them so great. Their sexually charged lyrics, delivered by the tight-vested lead singer and song writer Joel Gibb, and buoyant folky rock sound create a winning combination that is infinitely likeable.

As Gibb sings about recurring themes of sexuality and religion, almost groaning out lines like; ‘Acting like nothing ever happened to me ever’, I’m immediately put in mind of the sexually ambiguous Morrissey - except with Gibb there’s none of the ambiguity. Songs such as Music Is My Boyfriend and Ban Marriage leave us in no doubt that Gibb might be working through some personal issues in his lyrics, and yet thankfully, although the topics of their songs may be of a deeply serious nature the attitude of the band and their music really isn’t. Pogoe-ing around the stage, the violinists are almost inciting an impromptu hoe-down from the crowd as selective tracks, such as title track Awoo, border on an unashamed country style and I find myself hollering ‘Awoo’ right back at ‘em. And then just when you thought you had them pegged along comes an achingly beautiful song such as Heaven Turns To and the whole mood is changed, the violins are no longer fiddlin out a tune but have become soaring, orchestral strings, enchanting and lifting Gibb’s lyrics onto an entirely different plateau. Which is where this band seems to remain in permanent residence, on an entirely different plateau that is nothing short of delightful.

The Hidden Cameras

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