There comes that horrifying moment in adult life when you invariably find yourself aware that time has stopped running in a linear path and is in fact flowing in a cyclical pattern, key themes repeating themselves over and over again.
Arriving one song into their set, the atmosphere surrounding three-piece Bullies as they perform is one of quiet albeit cautious interest. The scenario is somewhat like an end of year party populated by sixth formers of a school you don’t go to, a friend of a friend’s band up on stage as the lead singer calls out “I wanna dance with somebody,” whilst pulling his bass guitar close.
Despite their youth, despite the rawness of their talent, Bullies are good however, and by the final song, I am convinced that I would like to see them play live once again.
Second support act Spectrals follow them on stage with a mixture of uncertain swagger and 90s nostalgia. The band is professional but the mix does the lead singer’s uncharacteristic vocals no favour, and it seems as if they start the night as The La’s but end it as Cast.
Having released their most recent record last Monday (4th June) – a date they share with the release of headliners Frankie and the Heartstrings’ new LP – Spectrals are also signed to the same label. There is an obvious sense of camaraderie with their label mates and it is warming to see both bands supporting one another.
By the time Frankie and the Heartstrings take the stage, the venue has filled out considerably with an odd mix of the assumed parents of support band members, teenage girls, and East London gentlemen sporting cardigans.
When lead singer Frankie Francis beckons the crowd forward there is genuine enthusiasm, and by the time the band launch into their first number, the young Asian girl in the front row genuinely loses her shit, jumping up and down with such utter fervour that it is impossible not to feel similarly enthused.
Noting that a previous single of the band was produced by former Suede guitarist, Bernard Butler, it is easy to see an echo of Butler’s former band-mate in Francis’ movements.
In my small notebook, I hastily write down, “Mark E. Smith vs. Brett Anderson”.
The band’s sound is reassuringly familiar, the post-Britpop echo of indie guitars that never stray too far from the source yet consistently manage to drive the songs home again and again. If Spectrals are the ambitious love children of the 90s Northern indie bands outside of Manchester, then Frankie and the Heartstrings manage to infuse a fair amount of New Wave influences into their sound – like Jarvis Cocker on tour with The Undertones. There’s even a little of the staccato guitar sputtering of Richard Hell and the Voidoids from time to time.
It is easy to see how this group have inspired such a dedicated and loyal fanbase.
Aside from the enthusiastic girl leaping up and down to my right, a blonde girl in leather shorts and a stripped jumper mouths the words to songs with her two friends close by, whilst two other teenage girls turn to each other and grasping arms leap about as they seemingly sing every word to one another.
By the time the band slow things slightly and Francis calls out softly, “I’m losing my friend,” whilst guitarist Michael McKnight drives the song on with a pared down, clean sound almost at odds with the rest of the band’s catalogue, it is easily to feel heartstrings being pulled at – no pun intended.
Despite this, the band is certainly better with their faster songs than with the quieter tracks.
Like Two Door Cinema Club, who formed roughly around the same time, give or take a year, Frankie and the Heartstrings do a fair trade in reviving a lot of what has been passed over in recent years by more well-known bands. Their songs are infectious, their presence is engaging, and more than this, they are committed to both the audience that have got them thus far and the bands they have chosen to support them.
By the end of the night when keyboardist and guitarist Mick Ross nods in my direction and I awkwardly exchange the gesture, I’m convinced that the fanbase present here on a quiet Thursday night at The Garage in Highbury, will only continue to grow as the year proceeds and the new album gains steam.
The band play no encore but outside the night air is warm despite the time, and several of the songs continue to play quietly in my head as I board the train for Camden.
If time is no longer linear, I think to myself as the doors close gently behind me, then at least the bitter pill of adulthood will be easier to swallow with a soundtrack as rich as this.