Len Bright Combo at the Lexington, London – 6 December 2013
Sometime in the mid-1980s, former Stiff Records artiste Wreckless Eric found himself living in the Medway Towns. Now, in most places, not having a record deal might be considered something of a problem, but in the Medway of 1985 it was positively de rigeur. What record company, after all, would fork out as little as £86 (reputedly) to record your debut album in a village hall?
The Len Bright Combo was (no longer Wreckless) Eric (Goulden) with former Milkshakes Russ Wilkins on bass and Bruce Brand on drums. Adopting their spartan recording ethos and beaten up Selmer amps, Eric graced venues such as Rochester’s Nags Head like a native. The band recorded two albums and split up before anyone noticed, passing into a status that couldn’t really be diagnosed as legendary – not, that is, until someone like Fire Records reissued their albums and the band planned a one off reunion gig that succeeded in attracting as much attention as this one – including a national BBC radio interview and session the night before.
I took a long stroll through the lights and polite hysteria of pre-Christmas London, out the other side, and up the hill from Kings Cross to The Lexington, my favourite London venue, and positioned myself safely just outside the orbit of the central zone where every pub is bursting with seasonal early evening drinkers. Even for the world weary gig goer, this pre-gig atmosphere had something of the special occasion about it. The show had sold out a few days previously, which came as somewhat of a surprise to the Combo themselves (who noted that this kind of issue had not troubled them in their original phase), and also to many unprepared, ticketless punters. Cue lots of frantic phone calls and feverish consultations of the dusty “how to blag your into gigs without paying” manual.
Once upstairs in the gig room, I found there was no room to move at all. While the band’s albums may certainly be considered to sit inside the garage rock genre, the audience was resolutely indefinable, a very wide mixture of age and appearance. Being, to some extent, a “band’s band”, the crowd was comprised of not only the relative youngsters of the Medway scene – Theatre Royal and the Len Price 3 (their very name an homage) – but also members of The Wolfhounds, The Loft and Comet Gain [and The Dentists! – Ed]. And yet this was no typical gig gathering. When I held up my phone to take a few snaps I was conspicuous as the only one doing so. Yes, everyone was actually watching…..with their eyes!
The Combo never did ply their trade in hi octane rock n roll, but in stroppy, slow and insistent finger jabbing. The music did not disappoint and the energy levels were just as they had left them 26 years ago. The songs and guitar work in particular were more accomplished than I remembered, and served as a reminder that this was no simple garage stomp with a few moments of extended reverb drenched feedback. “Whole Wide World” was neither played, nor called for, and there was no need. Not when you have songs of arguably equal stature and hummability as “Someone Must Have Nailed Us Together”, “Young, Upwardly Mobile and Stupid” and “Take The Cash,” classics one and all. And when they took a crack at someone else’s classic – covering Jonathan Richman’s “She Cracked” it was like it was their own. Indeed, it would be impossible to believe, if you didn’t know the form of those involved, that the preparation for this gig involved one solitary rehearsal, such was the majestic abandon with which Bruce and Russ nailed their rhythm section duties.
In these days, when even so called indie gigs are beset with precision timing and pre-planning I can’t remember the last time I saw what I’d call a ‘genuine’ encore, a band almost sucked reluctantly back onto stage, and having no option but to repeat one of their earlier songs. Maracas were handed out to the audience to accompany the last song. There was no divide between band and audience, and the mood was joyous. Simply having a wonderful Combo-time.