Live Review – Hidden Charms @ The Bullingdon
‘Been tryna hide… from the sunny side’
The grit and gravel roar of Hidden Charms’ most prominent single to date rattles around my head as I make my way to The Bullingdon on a biting Thursday night, but it’s not just the symmetry of the phrase that seems to stick. It’s something of the knock-and-run spirit of a band whose online presence amounts to only two releases on SoundCloud and a scattering of fan filmed performances. A dig around blogs of the past twelve months, however, tells a tale of collaborations with retro clothes brand Chenaski, a shoot for the November issue of Tatler, and endorsement by Pretty Green – bags and labels bearing Liam Gallagher’s fashion imprint are strewn around the room pre-show. The relative radio silence of this South London fourpiece led regrettably to a doubt. Perhaps Hidden Charms are more style than substance.
Standing patiently still among the crowd during the second support act, George Taylor, the band look undeniably like a freeze in time – four mannequins of mods, each a frontman in his own right, armed with an array of patterned shirts, neckerchiefs, pinstripes, velvet and leather. But when they at last mount the offensive and guitarist and lead vocalist Vincent Davies chants ‘I don’t have apprehensions’ over a menacing bass buzz and relentless stabs of the keyboard, Hidden Charms’ dedication to their art is confirmed. It is no sanctimonious lament for eras past, but an infectious and indomitable love that they share with us. Five minutes earlier I had managed to steal a word from Davies himself as he lurked at the side of the stage. Asked whether the band ever felt underrated, treated like a tribute act to their sixties influences, he shrugs sincerely: “Nah, not really… they're the best bands aren't they? I'd rather be compared to them than the fucking Wombats!”
The youthful energy of the band has reached terminal velocity within seconds, and allows the elderly rocker at the side of the room with his flat cap and walking stick no respite until closing time. In fact no one can quite keep up at first, and when feedback pierces the tones of the bass guitar it seems there is no soundsystem, no eardrum, no hearing aid in Oxford quite up to the demands of the Charms. Following a quick exchange of bass guitars, the band rejoins us with the unreleased song ‘A Woman Like You’ and any lingering scepticism of their musical versatility is muted in the thunder. They slow the tempo, stomp to the heavy blues groove and we stomp back, and Davies’ voice strains with the kind of precision that almost whispers of classical training. The band as a whole is perfectly off kilter, and dancing at the edge of control the boys dare the crowd to keep up as they power headlong into the helter-skelter ride that is Sunny Side. We may have needed persuasion but now are we moving.
‘It’s Time’, a single released earlier that day, sprawls sleazily over the closing moments of the gig as a showcase to the many sides of the Hidden Charms. The snap, crackle and analogue pop of the bass struts alongside raspy vocals, but their dark drone is punctuated with light, sun-soaked vocal harmonies, crying guitars and blips of the keyboard solo. Hidden Charms’ music is instilled with the unashamed swagger of a group who have full faith in their craft, but their lyrics betray a distinctly modern impatience: ‘watching truth come grain by grain… tell me it’s time’ Slowly indeed did the truth in their music reveals itself at first, but by the time the maracas make an appearance for the final meltdown ‘Mona’, we are more than ready to believe it.
Hidden Charms are releasing singles on SoundCloud – https://soundcloud.com/hiddencharms – and have finished recording for a bigger release later this year. The band resume their tour of the UK, after two shows in Los Angeles, from February 22nd until April 17th.