Some background. Around four months ago The Portraits played the Half Moon in Putney. I'd been ambling around, blinking at the beautiful art nouveau lamps on Putney Bridge and wishing that I lived in the area, then wandered into the venue feeling like a ghost from east London.
The Portraits made an impact even though their songwriting was a bit unambiguously political for my usual taste (which I guess means that I didn't necessarily agree with their views), as did a female singer/guitarist who plays with a band called The Paper Aeroplanes. The Portraits stayed in touch.
So when they invited me to Nambucca on Holloway Road to see them yesterday, I went.
They told me an interesting thing about how they're gigging these days: they've been doing concerts in people's homes. Jeremy, who plays keyboards, said: "I read about the idea on the net - it's bigger in the States than here. The reasons we do it are a lot to do with having an appreciative audience. We can come to central London and play a venue like this..."
We looked around. It had big screens showing The Fresh Prince of Bel Air mutely on the wall on some nameless cable channel, loud, unrelated rock music roaring over the top and a room where the bands played at the back. It was not without its charms - the logo is quite cool - but the toilet rolls in the ladies are chained up and it doesn't serve food...
"... where we earn pretty much nothing. Or we can go to someone's home, where we've been invited, and play to an attentive audience of 50 or so. The only things we ask are that if there's a party organised around the gig we're invited to share food and drink and that we can pass a hat around afterwards. So far it's worked out much better financially and is a lot more fun. We've done two and there are three more lined up. There's a page where you can invite us on our website.
"The first one we did was in Southend at the home of someone called Steve Ramm. And it was the oddest thing. We were watching TV a few days earlier and there was a programme about pest control on and it turned out that Steve was the pest controller the programme makers were following around! We didn't bring it up when we saw him... But the gig was great and as a result it looks like we've been booked to play Leigh folk club."
The Portraits are a geographically disparate lot. One of them is from France, the others from Cardiff, Bristol, Galway and Hertfordshire. But it looks as if they may be seeing more of each other quite soon. Warning: this is where the weirdness starts.
After their slot there was a bit of faffing and then Jeremy re-emerged. "The oddest thing's happened," he said, looking a bit agitated. "I don't know whether you noticed, but one of the guys in the gig was Lembit Opik - the former Lib Dem MP." (It was a bit dark but, looking back on it, I have a suspicion that I asked him whether he could step to one side so I could take a pic of the band that turned out not to be good enough to publish.) "Apparently he really likes the band and says he's interested in managing us."
Er. Righto. What? Really? There was a disorientated pause before we were ready for our first Cheeky Girls gag. Well, to be fair, that was me.
But it really was Lembit Opik - there was no mistaking him - and he really does like The Portraits enough to want to manage them, so I guess that being obviously political is probably a good thing when there's an unemployed politician in the audience. It turns out that he already has a couple of bands under his wing, including one called The Electric Flowers and possibly this one as well and, let's face it, he has a gift for publicity that can only serve him well in this particular field.
Shazam! Dick Whittington etc.
I heard from the band again today and it turns out that Opik is "very interested" and that there will now be a hiatus while all concerned consider their positions.
Watch this space.
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