Little Fish have a lot to live up to tonight. The Oxford duo have in the past been chosen as a support act for some prolific female-fronted bands such as the newly-reformed Hole, Juliette & The Licks and Brody Dalle’s Spinnerette, to name just a few. After catching the end of one of their sets supporting Hole on their latest tour, I distinctly remembered being reasonably impressed. So much so that I decide to brave the horrendous Manchester weather and venture out to The Roadhouse to see what all the fuss is about. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I should have bothered. (Although I do have to give a massive kudos to whoever wrote “The Chamber of Secrets is now open!” on the door of one of the venues’ ladies’ toilets, though. That brightened up my night no end.)
The first mishap of the night comes along when Little Fish’s frontwoman, singer and guitarist Julia Heslop (who goes by the name Juju, but I can’t bring myself to call a fellow grown woman that) appears on stage to announce that, due to some booking error or other, no support bands have been confirmed to play. So, instead, Little Fish’s musical mates have been roped in at the last minute to play some songs. First up is Fi from Manchester’s own Geek Girl, who treats the small audience to a short but sweet solo folksy/country-style acoustic set. Fi alternates between belting out sleazy old school rock n’ roll lyrics and comedy songs about bedding the girl from the chippy, and displaying a softer side, singing a couple of sentimental numbers also. All in all, Fi seems to go down very well as an impromptu support act. This, I’m afraid, can’t really be said of Richard Walters, who plays us some really nice, downtempo acoustic stuff. Softly-sung lyrics and gorgeous keyboard sounds backing him up can’t take away from the fact that he is most definitely on the wrong bill, due of course to no fault of his own. Which is such a shame, because were he not sandwiched in between two loud, energetic women in the line-up, Walters would be an intriguing one to watch.
The second mishap of the night comes along when Little Fish take to the stage. Harsh, yes, but, as I discover throughout the course of the night, this band are just not for me. If you were to take a glance at a biography of the band, or look for a description of their music (more specifically, Julia Heslop’s singing voice) you would find one littered with comparisons to Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, and Skunk Anansie’s Skin. Whatever confused soul came up with these comparisons could not have been more wrong (or insulting to the almighty Janis’ memory). As soon as Julia Heslop starts singing, I am irrevocably reminded of Linda Perry, of 4 Non Blondes fame. And both Julia and Linda grate on my nerves a little bit, in terms of singing voice and stage mannerisms (i.e. running up and down the stage, pulling unusual faces and wearing unnecessary hats whilst performing). This is a personal preference, of course, and it is probably entirely unfair to be instantly prejudiced towards the band just because I can’t shake this comparison. That aside, Little Fish’s repertoire of songs on display tonight are largely average, despite the best efforts of Julia and drummer Neil Greenaway, both of whom are clearly talented enough individuals. But the punky, simplistic guitar sounds and standard “quirky” lyrics of ‘Darling Dear’ and ‘Am I Crazy’, have been done before, and have been done better. One only needs to listen to bands like Cadallaca, Bratmobile, and an array of nineties bands to hear some real ballsy, female-fronted rock. However, the little-played ‘Heroin Dance’ and an untitled new song do show some real promise; when Julia turns down the distortion on her guitar and focuses on her singing rather than running about and fooling around with a megaphone, the effect is astonishingly different. As much as I usually love loud, plucky frontwomen, I can’t help but feel that Julia’s voice is so, so much better when it’s reigned in just a tad, and her vocals become surprisingly blues-tinged. It’s a shame that I only start to really appreciate Little Fish upon their penultimate song, a slowburner which I believe is entitled ‘Perfect Stranger’, which is a definite highlight of a disappointing set.
Long story short, Little Fish aren’t going to change your life. That said, the rest of the audience seem to absolutely adore them, and most sing along to every word. And with recommendations from Courtney Love, Brody Dalle and Juliette Lewis, they must be doing something right. But whatever it is, I’m afraid I just don’t get it.