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The Surfing Magazines at The Portland – Live Review

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On this happy Friday night in Cambridge, The Surfing Magazines, being blessed with members from The Wave Pictures and Slow Club, swelled onstage the newly swish Portland Arms venue carving a whole tonne of fun.

The fun was spread not only by the joyful band’s smiling and groove-laden faces, but by their brilliant style of music. They blend classically cool into an independent, quintessential mode, taking dues from the sunniest elements of classic rock with both Americana and British grandeur. It’s as dreamy as a pastel-shaded Californian motel and more romantic than a vintage Elvis holiday movie, but also attunes to a quirky English vibe with nearly-odd lyrics and a sophisticated sense of humour that subverts just like George Harrison. Where the Beatle was unfortunately compelled against lyrics such as ‘attracts me like a pomegranate’, The Surfing Magazines get to release ones like ‘pickled onion monster munch for lunch’.

Those are from ‘Goose Feather Bed’, one of the top songs from the set, (they all were, but this particularly for its ‘I Want Candy’ intro) oding to a teenage diner vibe with a Chuck Berry live charm. In his rock n roll rewriting footsteps they follow, sampling other classic intros too. I’m sure, for example, I heard the Kinks’ ‘Set Me Free’ melt into a Surfing Magazines original. They basically make musical milkshakes from which a sip causes nothing but smiles and boogies.

Their electric garage rock is kinetic and expertly engineered. Long, blissful guitar solos from crackerjack lead David Tattersall filled spaces created specifically for that purpose and he and his guitar wasted none with licks, fiddles, and finger dances across the fretboard. Some strums were more patient and refrained, eking emotion out from the crest. ‘One Of These Days’ is one that features a soft electric breakdown, the kind Eric Clapton would master with Derek & The Dominos. Watching that being performed is as spellbinding as you’d imagine. That song also carried one of the many examples of how beautifully the 3 singing members harmonise.

They all make wonderful and adept melodies together. Slow Club’s Charles Watson on rhythm guitar helps them ascend from the garage to the radio with bright and alternative pop muscle, making particularly the singles ‘New Day’ and ‘Lines and Shadows’ really stand out. The sunglassed bassist rolls out amatory beds while the drummer raises hips and heels, in tandem making you feel like you’re dancing on air. Of course, Tattersall’s voice and guitar are the cherrybombs on top. It all plays together so naturally. It might explain how they all had the same instinct when they couldn’t resist an extra beat at the end of a song. Clearly spontaneous but as tight as a kite. They repeated the beat again, and a third time to acknowledge the fun, and then threw a final jammy shakeout to a perfectly timed finish.

They so far only have one self-titled album, and on it features extra delights not seen on stage such as organ, saxophone, harmonica, a B-Movie voiceover intro to the song ‘A Fran Escaped’ and a booming villainous laugh to close the same. Although they were missed a little from the live show, their music gets on just fine with nothing but 2 guitars, a bass and drums. The crowd were also treated to a wealth of covers. Bob Dylan’s ‘Man in Me’, and Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ and ‘Vampire Blues’, because, as says Tattersall, “one Neil Young cover isn’t enough”. Each was as soulful as the last, and ‘Vampire Blues’ really stirred up their hot-blooded dark side.

Then came a surfari. Because in their own words, they are called The Surfing Magazines after all. We the audience had a choice between ‘Peeping Dom’ or the aforementioned B-Movie inspired ‘A Fran Escaped’ (both also seemingly inspired by drummer Dominic Brider and bassist Franic Rozycki). The crowd were brave enough to go for the latter, but it was OK because Fran didn’t escape (he tried, but the door behind him was locked).

They surely earned their moniker, perfectly evoking king of the surf guitar Dick Dale and more like The Lively Ones, The Trashmen and The Cramps. Even without what sounds like a coffin recording of Dracula on the album version, it’s a song for when the moon comes up and waves are ditched for bonfires and bottles of Amaretto and dressing up like Lost Boys to cause havoc in the local amusement arcade. Best of all though, it had a routine. The 3 guitarists synchronised during the chorus, holding their instruments out and slowly sweeping them across a bar before sweeping back again for the next. There were also wipeout style rolling descends and many other classic surf sounds nailed.

The Surfing Magazines are so much vintage cool, with modern pop intelligence and a freakishly fun live presence. They shot the pier at the Portland and it was totally bitchin’.

Words from Ellie Clarke