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:: Tender Trap :: Just Handshakes (We're British) :: Letters To Fiesta ::
26 March 2011 / Gullivers / Manchester
By Cath Aubergine

One of the strangest opening lines to a Wikipedia entry ever must be "Amelia Fletcher is a British singer, songwriter, guitarist, and economist." Another biographical note states "As chief economist her primary responsibility is to ensure that the economics carried out within the Office Of Fair Trading is of high quality and represents state of the art thinking". We honestly wouldn't know anything about that, but we do know that Underachievers Please Try Harder is of high quality and represents state of the art thinking in the field of indie pop music, and the economics is pretty damn spot on as well - just three quid in, even if one of the performers is a bona fide indie legend. Said indie legend being Ms Fletcher, long ago the leader of Talulah Gosh - the indiest indiepop band ever - and tonight appearing with her current band Tender Trap at the top of a bill celebrating girl-fronted alternative pop music in various forms.

First up are Manchester's own Letters To Fiesta who present a riot of colour and energy in the form of singer and synth player Anna Louisa Etherington and open their set with a tune ("Sunshine Song") that sounds like The Sparks gone indiepop. This, in case you were in any doubt, is A Very Good Thing. We first spotted this band playing to the breakfast crowd at last year's In The City where her assertive, wide-range singing fair shook us out of our hangovers and tonight she's on cracking form. Not just a great singer, she's bloody great in every way: the little outbreaks of unhinged dancing in between (or sometimes during) keyboard riffs and a real kind of punk attitude. Drummer Peter Gray is fantastic too - and we do enjoy the faces spectacle-wearing sticksmen have to pull to minimise slippage - while guitarist Tom Brydon and bassist Alex Redhead fill in what little space is left with a powerful post-punk noise. Every song is a belter - we particularly like the one that sounds like Wild Beasts only faster, which might be called "Hide Yourself " - and in all honesty Letters To Fiesta could go a very long way. We certainly hope so - this is music to make you smile and dance and generally make the world a brighter place.

Just Handshakes (We're British) have come from Leeds, where they're based, after already playing a gig there earlier in the day - and we rather suspect the bassist has been at the energy drinks on the way over, as after introducing the set with "This is our seventh from last song" he proceeds to babble about all manner of things every time a song stops. This is possibly to make up for the fact that singer Clara comes across as very shy and nervous, not even looking up from her keyboard until the second song. Now we could spend a paragraph describing their music, or we could just tell you that the Pull Yourself Together duo are having a shambly little dance right at the front... yes, this is twee-as-it-comes cutesy cake-and-teddybears indiepop which reminds us more of Japanese bands than anything in the British indiepop canon - and to be honest Clara could be singing in Japanese for all we know (unlikely, admittedly, given that she's a blonde white girl) as it's pretty hard to pick any words out.

Talulah Gosh were never one of my favourites back in the day - they were maybe just a little too twee for this indie kid who still really wanted to be a punk - but these days I have a lot of respect for Amelia Fletcher. For a start, while many of the male alumni of the 80s indiepop boom still ply their trade and thinning hair in new or reformed bands, most of the women have disappeared - jobs, kids maybe, but she's got all that and is still writing brilliant pop tunes and seems absolutely delighted to be standing on a stage banging a tambourine and singing to a bunch of people half her age (as well as a fair few fellow indie veterans - I'd guess the average age in here tonight is a little higher than most Underachievers nights!).

Tender Trap play a harder, fuzzier flavour of indie with a big dose of Phil Spector's girl group sound - you could tell, for instance, that drummer Katrina Dixon was playing standing up even if you couldn't see her - which puts them in the rather odd position of being contemporaries of the likes of Insect Guide and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart who drew their influences from that glorious period of DIY pop of two and a half decades ago. "Someone said we sounded like the Breeders" says Amelia introducing a new song "and I don't think we do, but this one does" and it's true: they've incorporated a few more recent references into the sound - but overall there's little to suggest that this is 2011 and not 1986. Except I can have a booze drink and don't have homework to do tomorrow.... yay for being grown up!

the next Underachievers will be on 9th April and it's their third birthday! There'll be live performances from Mammal Club, Milk White White Teeth and a very special guest. Don't ask us, we don't know...

Tender Trap
Just Handshakes (We're British)
Letters To Fiesta

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