The week before last I went to Heaven, under the railway arches at Charing Cross station, to see Girl Ray. Heaven is best known for being a gay club, but it also hosts music gigs – Idles were playing there the night after Girl Ray – and it’s a great space for it. Holds about a thousand, I believe. It wasn’t sold out, but it felt quite close, with a nice bit of breathing space.
Girl Ray are Poppy Hankin on vocals and guitar, Sophie Moss on bass and Iris McConnell on drums. Live they are supplemented by a guitarist/key board player, and a few people who come on briefly with violins and sax (I think – I’ve left it too long to write this review!). It was Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music who introduced me to the band last year, and I saw them at Latitude too – where I thought they were excellent, though a little nervous at first (but hey, playing at Latitude when you are making your way…). We missed them at End of the Road, as they played on washout Sunday. But I really enjoyed their debut album “Earl Grey”, and made it No 8 in my Top Ten of 2017.
So I was looking forward to this show, especially as the show I had planned for the night before – Goat Girl at The Garage in Islington – had to be cancelled when the drummer, Rosie, got scalded by boiling water on a ferry coming back from Dublin. Hope she recovers soon. Obviously terrible for her, but also for the band, as they have just released their debut album, “Goat Girl”.
Girl Ray’s sound is wistful and jangly, in the way that Velvet Underground were sometimes wistful and jangly, especially when Nico was with them. I keep on thinking it has a 60s French jazzy pop feel, though I couldn’t actually give you an example of that sort of thing. But there is also a funkiness to some of the riffs, which really comes to the fore on the guitar workout on a song called “A Few Months” on debut album “Earl Grey”. That immediately makes you think of the Isley Brothers in full flow on “Summer Breeze” or “That Lady”. Great songs.
The show at Heaven was really good. I thought I could see and feel a real step up in confidence in the band, developed through the classic experience of playing lots of live shows. Poppy sang well and played some excellent guitar. It is her choppy riffs which give so many of the songs a jaunty feel live, even if most of the lyrics are pretty miserable. And she let rip with the solos, not only on “A Few Months”, but a new song, which I think was “Rock 2”. As I heard those two, I thought, this is a band that actually draw a lot of inspiration from early 70s rock and funk. In an interview with the Guardian a while back they talked of their love for the music of Todd Rundgren. That could take them anywhere.
They played all the best songs, like “Just Like That”, “Stupid Things”, “Trouble”, “Mondays Tuesdays”, “Don’t Go Back at Ten”, “Ghosty”. Or at least I think they did! My problem is that I liked the first three in that list so much that they got on a couple of favourites playlists, which I play all the time, and I never quite got around to putting name to tune with the others. Something I am prone to doing. It even happens with Radiohead!
So, Girl Ray are already very good, but I got a real sense that the band will fill out their lo-fi sound as they develop, and become a pretty sophisticated rock band. But with that feminine sensibility – so they won’t be strutting around the stage, legs astride, guitars thrust who knows where. The second album is going to be very interesting.