Charlotte Hatherley : Mallet Street, ULU, London, Sun, September 26
Ash guitarist takes flight with her own group, but will she be silencing past detractors?
The news that a band member hitherto known only for their yeomanly supporting role and occasional contribution to the composition of a B-side is about to bring out a collection of their own stuff is normally an indication of ego outweighing good judgement. But Charlotte Hatherley isn’t one to take the lessons of Ringo Starr – A Warning From History to heart. Instead she’s decided to rise from the Ash as a solo artist.
Not that this is a solo tour in the barstool-and-acoustic-guitar sense. While the album was put together with odd pieces of help here and there, the ‘Grey Will Fade’ tour sees Charlotte fronting a six-piece band of indie stagers culled from mid-table acts such as Idlewild.
It looks pretty crowded and confused on the compact ULU stage and, as they burst out of the ‘Kids In America’ intro tape into, naturally, ‘Kim Wilde’, it sounds like it. This is still a group finding its feet, and there’s a hell of a lot of feet to find. They’ve only had a couple of weeks’ rehearsal and a couple of gigs prior to this and for a lot of bands, the lack of preparedness would be a run-in for an evening tripping over each other. But Charlotte’s sheer screw-you steadiness and the simple but effective spiky staccato punch of the songs (like being poked in a pub argument you don’t mind losing) gives them a point to rally round. And as the band gets tighter, Charlotte relaxes. While she’s still clearly finding it odd to be captain of the ship, by the time the splendidly careworn ‘Down’ rolls round she’s loosened enough to provide more than just the name by way of identification.
The decision to spend the cash carting all those instruments and feeding all those extra mouths is a shrewd one, as it cures the main problem of the album. Most of the songs on ‘Grey Will Fade’ sound like excellent two-minute pop songs which hang around awkwardly after peaking. The massed ranks of Team Hatherley give the second halves of tracks like ‘Where I’m Coming From’ something else to do.
The noisier approach makes the collection of Charlotte’s songs take on a more sinister feel compared to their studio lifestyle. The album’s summery pop feel is still there, but there’s something more unsettling and dark about the material – you notice more the wind whipping off the sea and the paint peeling off the shelters. So ‘Bastardo’ transforms from a cutie-pop tale of a bad boy to being something really rather disturbing. On record, it’s an anecdote; live, it’s a warning that someone’s gonna get their head kicked in.
When she joined Ash, there was some muttering that she was doing little more than watering down a great act. It looks like the boys may actually have been the ones doing the holding back.
Simon Hayes Budgen