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Holly Golightly/The Pipettes (live at the ICA)

11 May 2004

Since leaving Thee Headcoatees, Holly Golightly has been carving her own idiosyncratic niche in Garage Blues, lo-fi R&B in a retro Punk vein. Eschewing the vagaries of digital technology for the immediacy of vintage Vox amplifiers, Hofner guitars and a voice turned to honkytonk leather by bourbon and bar room smoke. Bearing all this in mind it is perhaps surprising to find Holly playing at the ICA: land of square glasses, new media and progressive Drum’n’Bass DJ sets. So with some trepidation, and an irrational fear that she has swapped her Medway Delta Blues band for a couple of nerds with laptops, we find ourselves in this hallowed bastion of culture.

We are somewhat reassured by the support act, The Pipettes, who romp their way through a half hour of Sixties girlband Pop complete with eccentric organist and female trio in op-art frocks. Top marks to the geeky blokes on tambourines at the back: one of them looks like that fucker in School of Rock. But in spite of all of this, and their determined efforts, they’re not terribly good. Sorry people!

Anyway, the venue – its dayjob is a lecture theatre – has started to get a bit smokey, and a bit packed and there’s at least a bit of a sense that beard stroking is not on the cards. We wait and get mugged by the bar with its extortionate prices, and we wait a bit longer and something that looks like a guitarist appears. He’s long and lanky and has a fisherman’s hat and a wry smile. He plays with some wires and the rest of the band appears. There’s no saying if there’s any causal relation between these two events, but we’ll assume for the moment that this isn’t some sort of new media interactive presentation. There’s a bassist: big upright bass, slicked back hair and a quiet smile. You can imagine a comb in his back pocket. There’s a drummer with a slightly beatnik air brought about by his beads and sandals. We have the impression that there are tricks up this man’s sleeve, more to him than meets the eyes: more on this later. And of course, there’s Holly.

What impresses this reviewer about Ms Golightly is her air of unassuming confidence. No bullshit. Hair up more out of practicality than anything else, simple black dress and long boots that beat out the time as she pulls chords from her handsome and rather well used Hofner. Holly good naturedly takes control of the evening. We’re no longer in a lecture theatre, we’re in a bar in New Orleans, or Chatham or one of those places where real music is still lovingly crafted by traditional means. Retro? We think not. The tone of the upright bass and the interaction between this simple four piece playing variations around pentatonic Blues have all the variation you need for an evening – and the audience are still calling for more. Our lead guitarist, who plays with all the raffish aplomb that you’d expect from his appearance, gets great varieties of overdrive from his amp: no effects. I don’t think he even touches his Bigsby tremolo all evening.

Holly and the band rattle their way through standards and gems from the back catalogue. The enthusiastic crowd at the front break into daft drunken dancing as the chords of “Won’t Go Out” bounce around the speakers and Holly belts it out with great affection and good humour. She kicks about with the Up The Empire live set before changing tack, throwing in new numbers: every one of them sounding, not like they’ve been composed, but like they’ve been pulled from the smokey air itself. The guitarist and the drummer swap positions, and the drummer reveals himself to be a dab hand at the organ. We knew he had tricks up his sleeve, but to be entirely fair our Former Lead Guitarist isn’t at all bad as a drummer. There’s a stonking cover of “Sally Go Round the Roses”, but the high point of this configuration has to be a clever reinvention of “Your Heart is Mine” with its Jazz inflections and sinister sexual undercurrents that get a few of the front crowd a little over-excited: with hilarious consequences.

And all too soon it’s over. The scales fall from our eyes and we’re back in the lecture theatre of the ICA. “Come and see us again soon!” Holly smiles and leaves us to the mercy of the London public transport system. I don’t know if it’s contemporary art – but I know what I like.


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