What the spannered-up tablecloth is Pete Voss shouting about? Cheese, for all we know. Or possibly obscure dog breeds. Either way, here he stands with his bandaged wrist and his Blackadder bowlie cut, spewing vitriolic anagrams of skunk-punk lyrics and threatening Portsmouth with a loaded tambourine. He’s wired, bursting with energy and almost mad enough to make great rock’n’roll. Almost.
On one level, of course, Campag are utterly ridiculous. Risible, even. A gurning loon in a Dennis The Menace jersey bellowing rockney Esperanto word-association gibberish while drunk in charge of a potentially lethal pair of maracas. Dim interview quotes about record companies being ‘scared’ of them because they, like, mix dance beats with guitars in a totally dangerous 1987 kind of way. Oh yes, the Velocet are a gift to sneering rock hacks, your humble reviewer included, who are old and sad enough to remember not just Flowered Up but The Paris Angels, The Wendys and fellow cycling-gear fetishists Age Of Chance.
Take away this contextual straitjacket, though, and Campag make a bruisingly persuasive racket. There is way more going on in this boiling mix than the boorish urchin-rock yobbery that their dissenters would claim. Especially Arge‘s molten-gold guitar playing, subtle and incongruous against Pete‘s school-bully vocals, spanning both the chiming pimp-roll of ‘Vito Satan’ and the pulverised sheet-metal shimmer ‘Pike In My Life’.
The Veloboys clearly remember vintage Fall and pre-disco Happy Mondays, and that’s a rich vein to tap into. Besides, Flowered Up were better than history has painted them – which is perhaps why ‘Sauntry Sly Chic’ sounds so fine, being essentially ‘Weekender’ without its mountainous chorus. Or its Mongolian lyric. Because Pete Voss, as everyone knows, sings in Klingon.
It’s an uphill opening night of the Campag tour in Portsmouth, with a flat atmosphere and too few punters, some of who are body-popping while others pogo. Good attitude, but not quite enough. The ‘Pag aren’t firing for the first half because there’s no aggression to feed off, no urban scuzz vibe to twist and amplify. But they spark up again after the mid-set instrumental, a juddering psych-out mantra as visceral as Mogwai‘s finest and sporting the magnificent title ‘Lungfish Benelux Horrorshow’. Or it would do, if we hadn’t just made that up. It also allows Pete to temporarily leave the stage and dip his tired tongue in a fresh pint of sulphuric acid.
‘Bon Chic Bon Genre’ erupts like a towering temper tantrum, burly simian funk par excellence. A brace of more unshaven aggro anthems roll by, provisionally entitled ‘Bovine Parmesan Rentokil’ and ‘Bumfluff Letraset Roquefort’. By us. Then comes a scorching superlout sneer through ‘Drencom (Velocet Synthemesc)’ with its garbled nadsat lyric: [I]”The teenage argot of the not too distant future… there isn’t one at all”[/I] booms Voss helpfully, two parts Johnny Rotten to one part Times Literary Supplement. And never mind the Pistols comparisons, this is the bollocks.
Whether aged chancers or true believers, the ‘Pag-Cet are solid entertainers but not yet world champion skunk-punk heavyweights. For the moment, they remain an intriguing anagram of a great rock band with one or two crucial letters missing.