The Monochrome Set at The Ivy House in London on June 17, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Monochrome Set

The Monochrome Set at The Ivy House in London on June 17, 2023,

Jun 30, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

A journey to The Ivy House, a pub in Nunhead, South London, inevitably involves a few modes of transportation. Yet, a band playing here on Saturday night is worth such a forced march. Trailblazers of the London New Wave scene The Monochrome Set first performed at the pub in 2015, seven years after their reunion. Now, with the divisions of their old and new fandom in force, they mesmerize again.

Once called the Newlands Tavern, the venue was a hotbed of pub rock in the 1970s. Its stage is still draped in ballroom fashion while walls are embellished with old posters from that era advertising key bands of the movement, particularly Dr. Feelgood and Ian Dury. Although now casual conversations revolve around current-day topics such as AI-generated artworks, the old legacy and atmosphere seem intact.

Just like the venue where temporal dimensions merge, the current version of The Monochrome Set captures the transition in time. The line-up features original members singer/guitarist Bid and bassist Andy Warren as well as newly-joined drummer Stephen Gilchrist and keyboard player Athen Ayren. Throughout the band’s history of reformations, The Monochrome Set have managed to maintain attractive quirkiness equally appealing to their senior fandom and younger followers. One of the fans remembers his Monochrome Set gig in 1979 in Deptford, while the author of this review sees the band live for the first time.

The Monochrome Set show takes place a few hours after the event at Bloomsbury Theatre (also attended by Under the Radar), featuring The Beatles’ biographer Mark Lewisohn and his guest guitarist Johnny Marr. There, the founding member of The Smiths, with a passion of a true music fan, gives praise to the “heavy and swinging” rhythm section of the early Fab Four. Years before that, Marr admitted that it was The Monochrome Set that defined the course of The Smiths. Funny organ riffs, dreamy undulating guitar parts, and crooning vocals on their early releases pinpoint the source of influence.

Back to the Ivy House, The Monochrome Set start their set with the eponymous opening composition from their 1980s debut Strange Boutique. With an electric organ sounding a bit like the Shruti Box, the band sets on an exotic journey through Klezmer-esque harmonies and syncopated rhythms. They continue with songs from different eras of The Monochrome Set, including the title track from their latest album Allhallowtide, the first three albums, and sprinkles from the rest of their discography. While genre-wise, these songs cannot be put into any box, the sound is distinctly Monochrome. Interviewed by Sounds’ Giovanni Dadomo in 1979, the band explained their name as the one describing what they had been playing in 1978. They added it had no relation to the sound they were creating at the time the interview took place. Opposed to what it means (British parlance for black and white TV), The Monochrome Set have soaked in juices and energies from contrasting realms such as jazz, chanson, bossa nova, and punk. Andy Warren’s Rickenbacker bass is certainly the engine of the band, endowing them with irresistible force. His instrument, a 1999’s version of the original 1963 model, also hints at the temporal collision.
With wine and an extra fan provided, the band manage to navigate through their setlist despite the hot and humid environment. While Bid tries the medicinal qualities of red wine to restore his vocal cords, Andy Warren delivers jokes in a deadpan manner. At the end of an hour-twenty-minute set, the four members line up before the fan to catch a flow of cool air. This Mount Rushmore mise-en-scène reminds one how cinematic but real they can be.

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