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Women Should Be In Charge: Flame Proof Moth @ ICA, London, 20.05.11

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By Lewis G. Parker

“The space is huge in there, man. I thought we’d be playing at the side in the gallery, but we’re in the bloody theatre.” Tim, AKA Flame Proof Moth, had just finished sound-checking at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London — a 500-capacity venue that massive indie bands like TV On The Radio play when they come to London, and just a Molotov cocktail’s throw away from Buckingham Palace to boot. It really is cavernous in there, and even bigger when you have six hours to kill before going onstage for the biggest show of your life — just imagining the black hole of the auditorium as the empty space inside your head when all the songs have eloped at the big moment.

Tim comes from Huddersfield, and I’m fairly sure that he’s the most brilliant songwriter and blues guitarist to come from Huddersfield in quite a while. You’ll notice that he hasn’t tamed his accent, and sings about going to the shop and white vans pulling up outside his house. It’s the most authentic blues music I’ve ever heard played live because you don’t hear a lot of the real stuff if you grew up in England in the 90s (or the 80s or 70s for that matter, unless you’re into Roy Harper). Most people inspired by the blues — even the greats like Mick Jagger — seem to think it’s all about pretending you’re from Memphis and using a fake American accent. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Proper blues music is simple, heartfelt songs about real and universal experiences — blokes and lasses singing about the letter they just received, the bottle of whisky they just downed and gave them a sore head, or the lover who just left them. That’s why so many blues songs begin with, “I got up this morning”. They’re singing about things that really happened to them, or could conceivably have happened. For an Englishman in the 21st Century to sing about the Mississippi river or something like that is totally ridiculous and naff — they may as well be talking about aliens and cyborgs. But what Flame Proof Moth is doing really has the spirit of the blues about it, because he sings about the things that really happen to him with humour, sadness and a poet’s eye for beauty in everyday experiences.

Tim used to call himself the Boycott Coca-Cola Experience (“I changed the name when I realised they weren’t going to sue me”). He wrote a song called ‘Women Should Be In Charge’, which caught the attention of the artist Bob and Roberta Smith, whose sloganeering artwork has a similarly laconic humour. So when Bob and Robert got himself (it’s just one guy who calls himself Bob and Roberta, I assume for the purposes of gender neutrality) a show at the ICA, he named it after the Flame Proof Moth song and invited him to play there.

The show began with Tim’s mate from up north, Dave Mankind, introducing the band in the style of Mark E. Smith and telling people in the audience to shut up. “Tonight-ah, you kids are gonna witness the new sound of the few-cha!” And they did a bit during the first song — which may or may not have been rehearsed — where Tim pretended to quit playing because the room was full of feminists, and “I’m not a fucking feminist”. “’Play Women Should Be In Charge’,” shouted someone from the audience and Nathan, the bass-player, told them to shut up. Just like Dave Mankind had done earlier. Then the band started singing the refrain, and Tim came back to the mic-stand and howled the refrain too. “I can sing and play guitar at the same time. Watch this!”

He really can, and they really did. For half an hour Flame Proof Moth was tender, funny and original in a way that I’ve only heard the best artists from the so-called anti-folk movement sound. Like when Jeffrey Lewis engrosses an audience with his broken tales of heartbreak and failure at the aquarium, when Dave Tattersall yodels that song about buying his lover bras instead of pickled eggs for Christmas, or when John Darnielle (is he anti-folk? I’m no good with genres) tells us about the kid who was sent to jail for selling acid to a policeman: they evoke universal emotions while telling esoteric tales from their own lives and imaginations.

If the ICA seemed like a cavern at 2pm, by evening it felt like home. The last song, ‘Everybody Suddenly Got Real’ — about being amazed at modern technology’s ability to send us up hills faster than walking pace and giving us a switch that can light the corners of rooms — felt like Flame Proof Moth measuring the distance between himself, his music and the motorway of fake blues that maps the airwaves. The lights went up, and as often happens after a great performance, we felt like the world before the singer had turned on his torch had been nothing but darkness and confusion.

Photo and videos courtesy of Lou Smith – http://lousmithmedia.wordpress.com/

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