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Live review: NME Calling

For our inaugural London weekender, we burned the candle bright at both ends. Various venues, London, Friday November 27 - Sunday, November 29

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Photo Gallery: Florence And The Machine

Imagine how good Camden Crawl would be if you could cut out the tiresome queuing all night for
a view of nothing but drummers’ mullets’ flyaway strands. Dream no more, you boys and girls, for NME Calling is upon you. Who better to slam the ‘go’ button on this weekend of underground and established talent than a woman who has soared from one to the other this year?

Swirling onto centre stage at the Tabernacle in a beautiful draped gown, Florence Welch is a blaze of elegance and confidence as she delivers a stripped-back ‘Hurricane Drunk’. Watching her masterfully orchestrate her Machine bandmates and devoted crowd, it’s laughable to think that not so long ago she was just that gangly girl with the voice, dressed in pumps and a sailor dress.

“Tonight’s all about collaborations and people who have inspired me,” she announces, a ‘Florence And Friends’ banner towering behind her. Patrick Wolf takes on piano duties for a dramatic duet of ‘Cosmic Love’, and Jack Peñate lends a hand on ‘My Boy Builds Coffins’. Yet for now, returning from tonight’s support slot, it’s the presence of Kid Harpoon which is most welcome. His ever-wide-eyed, honest demeanour teamed with Florence’s ghostly howls make for a raw and utterly winning cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m Goin’ Down’.

Only one man, though, can be Florence’s best friend tonight: surprise guest of honour Jarvis Cocker. Triggering audience hysterics, he takes the second verse of ‘Girl With 1 Eye’ and magnifies its warped lyrics by pulling sultry slowworm dance moves and eerily singing into Welch’s ear.
“I could probably die now,” she sighs after an unrehearsed duet of Pulp hit ‘Underwear’.

Clearly, Cocker induces the same feeling in all onlookers, for the day after the Flo show extravaganza it’s all sofa-lolloping and juice-supping at Proud Galleries. This is the first of the weekend’s Youth Music showcases, and the mass recuperation process is eased along gently by Mica Townsend’s soulful rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’. Headlining the session is former Central Park busker-turned-Adele’s “favourite new artist”, ,a href="http://www.myspace.com/marquestoliver" target="_blank">Marques Toliver. It’s not just his bright blue acrobat leggings (“I forgot I was going to be onstage today”) which silence onlookers, for the bluesy Brooklyn vocalist is also a dab hand at the violin.

The Saturday afternoon calm is brutally swatted by the announcement: “I started my period about four minutes ago, so please shout if you see the red October.” Not an eyelid is batted. In fact, Gossip’s squeam-free crowd at the HMV Forum seem to grind even harder to trailer-trash-triumphant opener ‘Dimestore Diamond’ when Beth Ditto throws in some menstrual banter, belches and phlegmy hacks (she’s “got the bronchitis,” you see). Multiple bodily crises aren’t curbing Ditto’s fun either, for she’s busting out the sparkly Lycra and impromptu covers like nobody’s watching. A few bars of Usher’s ‘U Don’t Have To Call’ lead the band into ‘Four Letter Word’, while Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ and the theme tune to nerdy ’90s teen TV series Saved By The Bell are also thrown in for kicks. Giving the nimble-limbed drum hero Hannah Blilie a chance to sparkle, the end of the set sees she and Ditto remain onstage to perform Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’. A touching and unifying finale to what started as a filth-laden Saturday night; we file out and collect the airs and graces which we ditched at the entrance.

Good job too, for the next day we pay a visit to Proud to see Josh Weller, who has gone to the effort of clobbering up in tweed, knee-high socks and erecting an Eraserhead-esque quiff. All saucer-eyes and deadpan vocals, it’s hard not to be drawn to his tales of dirty girls ’neath the London river, and we’re seduced into christening him the highlight of this weekend’s Youth Music gigs.

Upstairs at the Old Queen’s Head pub that night, there’s more of an afterparty than a full-fireworks finale. Literally swinging from the rafters and dancing on the tables and chairs are support band Hoodlums, but it’s newcomer MPHO who finally puts the lid on the weekend. ‘Fix Ya Face’ invites a singalong from any Callers still standing, while single ‘Box N Locks’ gives some Ebony Bones attitude to Martha & The Muffins’ ‘Echo Beach’. Sofa-sprawling, ’80s gold and hoodlums tearing up the furniture: this is how all great parties end, right?

Camille Augarde

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