Colour Me Wednesday @ The Wilmington Arms, London
We need hope like we need oxygen, but in hard times it can seem in short supply. Even though the last 15 months have seen the biggest explosion of protests, demonstrations and riots for generations, you’ll struggle to hear any echoes in a sleepwalking pop culture. Comet Gain sing that ‘music will save you, again and again’ but between the melodramatic mainstream – where a heavily-bankrolled Brit School clone can claim not to be about the ‘price tag’ – and the bubbling-underground protest scene there’s a huge gap to be filled.
Is there room for agitprop in riot pop? We all know that voicing protest through music can just result in recuperation – turning rebellion into money – but nonetheless we still want to hear songs that reflect our faith, fears and feelings, and we want to know and believe in the people behind the words. Which brings us to Colour Me Wednesday. An up-and-coming West/South London-based indiepop 4-piece, fronted by sisters Jen (vocals) and Harriet (guitar), more than supported by Danny (bass) and Sam (drums), they play an exhilarating mash-up of jangle-punk guitar with pop and ska influences, share songwriting and make their own CDs and videos, while proudly proclaiming the sort of DIY, feminist and ethical principles you might associate more with a hardcore anarcho band. Rather than try to unravel supposed contradictions, perhaps we should grasp the idea that it’s just when a band doesn’t fit squarely into this world that they’re in a position to entice you into theirs.
With a string of successful gigs under their non-leather belts and a debut album on the way, everyone from London’s loyal riot grrrl fans, to agit-rockers Thee Faction, to stalwarts of the indie blogosphere like A Fog of Ideas and A Layer of Chips have been singing their praises. Because there’s a unanimous reaction to a viewing of Colour Me Wednesday’s signature youtube videos and it’s a gasp of collective joy. It’s not just the tunes and the charm; it’s not just the way Jen looks the fourth wall in the eye between verses, while the band kick their heels behind her; it’s also the realisation that not only are the songs actually, really about something, but that the message and intentions are pure, straight from the heart.
Odd Box Records have their finger on the riot pop pulse, and follow their recent Chapter 24 single (a band the Wednesdays shared a stage with last year) with a showcase at the Wilmington Arms in Clerkenwell; The Ritas, Young Romance and Bordeauxxx completing the bill. I arrive to catch The Ritas in full swing, a pair of Morrissey fans exiled from Weimar Berlin. A whirl of braces, epaulettes, Sparks couture and home-made drum machine punk; Dietrich meets Durutti Column. They make their pointed point and leave us with a cover of The Smiths’ ‘Jeane’ to savour. They mean it man, but they’re teasing too: call it play as you yearn.
Colour Me Wednesday hit the ground running with what’s known in the trade as C86 bounce. ‘You’re Not My #1 Bastard’ has only seen daylight as a lo-fi demo but here it’s a classic pop-punk hit waiting to happen, casually packed with the sort of hooks most bands would die for.
Guitars buzz and chime, drums crash and we’re straight into the next song before we find out who’s ‘at war with half the world’. ‘Holiday From Your Life’ keeps up the pace with a syncopated pop strut. Jen’s vocal soars over crunchy guitars and funk beats while Danny does a James-Brown-in-Doc-Martens footshuffle An everyday tale of commuter-consumer alienation undercut by subtle self-criticism, the lyric testifies that ‘building a community takes some vulnerability’, a theme continued in ‘Carefree’, a slower reggae groove overlaid with plaintive melodica: ‘I’ll happily rot in anonymity if I’m not alone when I throw these stones..’ The change in pace might throw some listeners grown accustomed to Colour Me Wednesday’s trademark power-pop but the truth is here’s a band that absorbs and channels everything, from The Clash to Blake Babies to the sounds of urban London, past and present. It’s always an auspicious sign when most of a group’s set are A-side anthems, and ‘What Happened’, ‘Cat Hair’ and ‘Unicorn in Uniform’ all fit the bill, the last finally taking the too-shy and still-sober indiepop crowd and making them move to a three-part-harmony crescendo.
At times the band still seem slightly unsure under the stage lights – unaware just how good their songs are, or just unassuming? But maybe they’ve just thrown away the rulebook of rock attitude – in its place is a growing pop poise. Confidence is symbiotic too: it will grow as the world starts to offer more than support slots and pays closer attention. ‘Lost On The High Street’ slows the pace again with a PIL-esque bassline and dub drop-out. If Lily Allen had read Althusser she might have written songs like this; Jen sings of ‘streets paved with denial’ over a melody more pop than an attack on the Spectacle has any right to be. A couple of multi-layered character assassinations later, of someone’s racist dad in ‘Turning Your Back’ and a washed-up cynic in ‘Quentin Olivier’, Harriet announces that “some of you might know this one” and they launch into their archetypal anthem and finale, ‘Purge Your Inner Tory’. Again the personal is political as Jen leans into the mic to declare: ‘the only thing wrong with human nature is we listen to people like you.’
I have friends for whom Colour Me Wednesday’s CD sampler is the only music they’ve bought in the last 12 months. Like them, I want a band to wake and shake me up, to make a connection, to change the world in two minutes, fifty seconds. Like their compatriots in other genres, from King Blues to The Skints to Dirty Revolution, Colour Me Wednesday aren’t claiming all the answers, but they’re already asking the right questions. We need this band and we need more bands like this. What’s ‘left’ when every stance has been ironised, every pose disposed of? Could sincerity be the new direction? But you can’t just download it; its soul refuses to be sold. This revolution will not be trivialised.
Is there a place for politics in riot pop?
Have you listened to our Odd Box Records links? Tasty!