“Turn up the guitars,” comes the chorus from the punters who’ve turned up to see Welsh indie rockers the Darling Buds at The Water Rats, in London’s King’s Cross. It’s a reminder that for every person who’s here because they love vocalist Andrea’s girlie tones, there is another here for the crunchy guitars and kick-ass thumping of the band. For me it was always about the girlie, but now I realise it’s just as much about blokes who love the thrash of guitars.
During a 22-track set list to promote their first new music together in 25 years (the 4-track Evergreen EP, bursting with good tunes), the Buds brave the heat of the close confines to swirl and posture through their impressive back catalogue.
When you hear all their indie and mainstream chart hits from the late ’80s and early ’90s strung together in an endless daisy chain, you realise you’ve forgotten just how many good songs they have. And given the roars of approval, the assembled horde at the sell-out gig are clearly keen to hear not only the new tracks, but also all the classics.
Before the Darling Buds take to the stage, the sense of excitement and expectation is tangible. They start low-key with new track Twenty One Aches, the most gentle and introspective the Buds have sounded in a long time. Then, as they launch into breakthrough Top 40 moment Hit the Ground, we’re all in familiar territory as we’re transported to a time when the most important thing in life was the next gig, the next round and a good night out.
As the jewel in the Buds’ tiara, Andrea Lewis sparkles, twirls and hands out actual buds to the fans, while Erik Stams on drums, Matt Gray and Paul Watkins on guitars, and Chris McDonagh on bass give the songs that chugging, raunchy feel.
While the band barrel through singles and album tracks from their three LPs (Pop Said, 1989, Crawdaddy, 1990 and Erotica, 1992), it’s illuminating to hear that the songs from Crawdaddy, which marked a commercial decline for them after the heady heights of Pop Said, seem to be the most well-received.
The guys in the audience especially appear to connect with the “feel nothing at all” refrain from It Makes No Difference (judging from their throaty response), and you can’t help wondering whether Crawdaddy made a deeper emotional connection with fans and how they were feeling in their teens and 20s, when they first heard it. Tiny Machine from Crawdaddy and Long Day in the Universe from Erotica also prove surprisingly popular considering these are the band’s lesser-known songs.
Ever the cheerleader, Andrea gets everyone to hunker down during the quietly simmering middle-eight of 1992’s Sure Thing, then rouses us all back on our feet for the uplifting climax. No mean feat for an audience of 40-somethings whose knees aren’t always up to the task. But then a thought keeps running through my head: “Someone remind me I’m middle-aged,” because you kinda forget at a Darling Buds gig.
Towards the end of the set, things flag a little in the oppressive heat. No one appears to know the words to Isolation (also from Erotica) and with the loud, loud decibel factor and the lack of oxygen, everyone’s looking a little flushed. When Andrea quotes Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West (“I’m melting! I’m melting!”), you think “surely some mistake?” She could of course only ever be Glinda the Good.
Then, when everyone is finally fucked-up-sweaty and twatted, the band break out the goods: a closing trio of the Buds at their most blistering: You’ve Got To Choose, Burst and Shame On You.
After Matt requests we channel our unfocused cheers into a chant of “encore! encore!”, we are treated to the lead track from the EP, Evergreen (with an intro so sweet it has to be heard repeatedly), early single It’s All Up To You, and a reprise of Complicated (also from the new EP). Evergreen especially gels beautifully with the best of the Buds’ songs and it’s great to see them blossom afresh this far into their career.
1. Twenty One Aches / 2. Hit the Ground / 3. Please Yourself / 4. The Other Night / 5. Complicated / 6. Crystal Clear / 7. Big Head / 8. Let’s Go Round There / 9. Guess the Good Parts / 10. It Makes No Difference / 11. Tiny Machine / 12. Fall / 13. Sure Thing / 14. Isolation / 15. Honeysuckle / 16. Long Day in the Universe / 17. Things We Do For Love / 18. Burst / 19. Shame On You / 20. Evergreen / 21. It’s All Up To You / 22. Complicated