For years, I had a vague feeling of musical dissatisfaction. Sure, The Heartbreaks tried their best to make me happy and, briefly, I was in love with The Slow Show. But deep, down inside, a still, small voice kept whispering to my middle-aged complacency, “Simo, Simo—. You’re more into Post-Punk than all of this Indie-schmindy and Americana stuff! Remember your Holy Trinity of “Metal Box”, “Unknown Pleasures” and “Entertainment!” I tried to suppress that voice for a long time until, in 2012, I began following the exploits of Jah Wobble, Keith Levene and Nathan Maverick (collectively, Metal Box in Dub), stumbling across an album featuring two of the three, “Psychic Life.” And then she hit me with that classic, one-two combination: – one in the breadbasket and one to the side of the head. Audenshaw/Manchester’s very own LoneLady aka Julie Ann Campbell.
In fact, tonight is my FIRST opportunity to see her play live AND in her hometown. We’re at Gorilla in Manchester, a small venue located underneath the railway arches of Oxford Road station. Not an entirely INAPPROPRIATE place to watch an artist with song titles such as “Bunkerpop” and “Into The Cave.” Since my initial exposure to Campbell through her “Psychic Life” album with Jah Wobble, things had gone very quiet on the LoneLady front. I resigned myself to second-best and carried on going through the motions of a mundane existence. That was until she returned this year with “Hinterland”; a lean, mean, Post-Punk Funk, wrecking-machine of an album! And I must say that I haven’t been THIS excited about a collection of eight or nine songs since “Infected” by The The in 1986!
Support for the evening is presented in the form of a DJ set courtesy of MAPS. Sad to say that my ONLY point of reference for this is 808 State and THAT’S how badly out of touch I am with anything dance-related, kidz—. The venue is half-empty as we slouch at the bar. MAPS’ set is not unappealing but I begin to drift off into cynical contemplation, “Why is nobody dancing? Has Manchester Music gone full circle? Or maybe it’s the same, old, boring twats who’ve been going to these gigs since 1982?” Perhaps mercifully, poor MAPS’ support slot comes to an end and polite applause breaks out, spontaneously.
We next find ourselves at the foot of the stage. So near, in fact, that we could reach out and touch the guitars standing upright in anticipation (if we had such a fetish). LoneLady appear before us to set up their own gear which is a refreshing, no-frills approach and also saves on the overheads, I guess? I’m VERY excited and I’ve already had one too many shandies. Suddenly, she’s ON and there isn’t time to buy another over-priced (half) tin of Punk I.P.A. from the stageside bar. First track off the new record, “Into The Cave”, begins with absolutely no introduction whatsoever. The propulsive bassline instantly gets my blood up. Added to snatches of synthesiser and the vulnerable vocals, it IMMEDIATELY draws in even the most casual of listeners. But there’s nothing “casual” about me tonight, oh no, sir. Richie Rochdale is UP for this and make no mistake! Second song is, also, the second one off “Hinterland” (as well as being the second single). I begin to wonder if they are playing said album in sequential order a la Peter Hook? With its infectious, trilling guitar riff, you can’t stop this “Bunkerpop.” “Is everyone alright?” Julie offers. Visually, she puts me in mind of a cross between a young Sinead O’Connor and the Julia character as played by Suzanna Hamilton in the 1984 version of, er, “1984.”
My alcohol intake is beginning to take effect. I’m feeling YOUNG and ALIVE, again! Images of industrial landscapes are projected onto a screen behind LoneLady as they perform. It’s a nod to Campbell’s inspiration behind the “Hinterland” or the Manchester of a bygone, Joy Division era; all Brutalist architecture and post-World War II gloom. “Silvering” breaks any imagined pattern to the gig and there will be other surprises along the way. Amidst Martin Hannett-style synth space, a funky, guitar lick rides along as our Heroine “wander(s) in this endless territory.” Indeed, we are treated to an extended jam after the group’s false ending teaser. Did I mention that I’m HUGELY excited? I can’t recognise the next one straight away but, of course, it’s “Intuition” from debut LP, “Nerve Up”, being Julie’s first single for her current label, Warp Records. Whilst the song itself is spiky and energetic enough, it will take me a few more listens to fully “get into” the material on the parent album but I’m sure that’s only a matter of time.
Back to 2015, now, and the band continue with “(I Can See) Landscapes.” Very much in the mould of “Unknown Pleasures”-period Joy Division, the song is both skeletal AND upbeat. Its sound draws me, not unpleasantly, towards nostalgia for early Factory Records and makes me feel 26 years old rather than 46 years old. Incidentally, LoneLady live are Julie herself on lead vocals, WICKEDLY played guitar and bass guitar, Gareth Smith (Stranger Son, Vanishing) on keyboards/samplers and drum pads, Tom Long (Easter) on keyboards/samplers, bass guitar, guitar and drum pads and Liam Stewart (Plank) on drums. Apart from Stewart, all of these musicians switch and swap instruments onstage in a Velvet Underground kind of way. Certainly accomplished, they lead us into “Nerve Up”, another track that I have difficulty in identifying—. That Funk bass is once more in my face, however, and something STRANGE is happening to my feet. Could it be that I’m getting primitive urges to groove? Surely not. As if in answer to that question, Campbell straps on a bass guitar and treats us to one of the surprises of the concert, “Fear Colours”, a track recorded during her residency at the Barbican Centre in London in July. A bit of an “Arty-Farty” type of happening, yes, but the song produced sounds AMAZING live! And why do I keep on seeing the word “groovy?” And why isn’t anyone dancing???
”Favourite Simo Moment Of The Evening” approaches as I finally recognise something off the first album. “Marble” is a mournful but, paradoxically, catchy tune with Nico-sounding harmonium-keyboards/sampling and it showcases Julie Ann’s voice quite beautifully. By this point, I’m becoming rather more “emotional” than “tired.” Some stumbling can be observed near to the bar area. Killer track “Groove It Out” (the lead single from “Hinterland”) follows on and my joy is uncontained. I want to dance! Look, they’re all dancing, THANK GOD! The perfect combination of all things funky, Post-Punk and percussive, “Groove It Out” defies ANYONE not to move to it. Unquestionably, I’M MAD FOR IT! DANCE YOU INSANE FUCKERS, DANCE!!!
Phew. Luckily, things come back down to earth with “Mortar Remembers You”, tense/dense second album closer. This song illustrates Campbell’s enduring fascination with the lost, Industrial environment in and around Hulme as she tells us,”That world is under the rubble.” A rare moment of audience interaction, “Thanks very much for coming out”, precedes “Hinterland” itself. Cello-sampled rifferolla is accompanied by a Nile Rodgers/wah-wah guitar reminding me of Prince for some reason? We sense that the end is near as, sure enough, one final, extended jam signals “goodbye.” A short but sweet, “Thank you, goodnight”, and that’s yer lot. Eleven songs, (probably) a one and a half hour set. Dynamite delivery, maximum impact. I, honestly, couldn’t have asked for more being GENUINELY thrilled and delighted by what I’ve just witnessed (er, with the EXCEPTION that I’d have liked her interpretation of New Order’s “Cries And Whispers” from the Mojo tribute C.D?)
Perhaps we can crow about LoneLady’s influences (and, okay, let’s list Gang Of Four, A Certain Ratio, Betty Davis, Parliament/Funkadelic, blah, blah, blah) but these influences are mixed skilfully and playfully to create something vibrant and urgent and with a real Pop sensibility at its core. “Hinterland” is a quantum leap past “Nerve Up.” Live, they’re the BUSINESS and, possibly, just possibly, there could be a very subtle form of eroticism at play here, too—(something around objectophilia, perhaps? Or maybe that’s just my dirty mind at work?). Anyway, if Julie Campbell is good enough for Arch Mancunian Paul Morley then she’s good enough for the rest of us. Actually, she’s ASTOUNDING. Now, how the hell do I get home from here?
LoneLady (live) are:-
Julie Campbell- lead vocals, guitar, bass guitar
Gareth Smith- keyboards/samplers, drum pads
Tom Long- keyboards/samplers, bass guitar, guitar, drum pads