My one and only chance to see the band who introduced me to indie.
Sometimes, revisiting my diary entries from these old gigs makes me feel, well, old. Very old indeed. None more so that this. Before I headed out to King’s College, I wrote this:
“It’s that I’ve entered the Twilight zone feeling. All day at work thinking I’m going to see Curve tonight! has been rather akin to thinking I’m travelling back in time tonight! XFM is playing”Help The Aged” and”Demons” which assures me that it is in fact, ’97, even though what I’m going to in an hour or so can surely only happen in ’92… Curve, for Christ’s sake! It’s a lunatic notion.”
Yes, I was flummoxed by the fact that I was going to see a band who’d been out of action for a few years. Curve had come into my consciousness in the early 90s, when I was still in my dimly-lit teenage bedroom in Perth, and they had been my introduction to the world of UK indie music which was to become my obsession over the course of the decade. So the five years that had passed since their debut album “Doppelganger”, containing in it my journey from that bedroom to this new gigging life in London, seemed like an eternity. These days, if I see a band who last released an album four or five years ago, I’d think of that as recent. But I’d changed so much since Curve had first entered my life that even these few years they’d spent out of the limelight felt like an entire lifetime.
So this was a new kind of gig for me. Being, as Curve were in ’97, a relatively obscure prospect compared to their heyday of ’92, there was no need to race to the venue early and sprint down the front. And given that this was the first gig I’d attended after my working hours had expanded from 18 hours a week to full time, that was probably a good thing. From my diary:
“Tho’ I didn’t get there ’til 7.30 there were still very few people already arrived, and they were all crowded around the bar, so there was no point whatsoever in hangin’ about down the front. So I went upstairs to hang out there instead. There were these big cushy booths, but they were all full so I just leant on the balcony and watched the absence of people below grow into something vaguely throng-like. Had a good view of the VIP bar area and scoured it for stars but no luck.”
The gig space itself was something of a novelty for me as well, having become used to larger spaces like the Brixton Academy or the Forum. “A new type of gig to be sure. Very tiny gig space on the fourth floor, with no barrier at all between throng and stage. The stage itself was only about thigh high!”
Support came from Witchman, who provided “a cacophony of crazed beats and noisy bits and thoroughly excellent despite being as visually exciting as, well, a non-descript bloke standing there twiddling some knobs.” I came back downstairs towards the end of his set and managed to manoeuvre myself into my beloved down the front position. “I was squeezed between a photographer and a security bloke who was sitting on the edge of the stage, and more or less as close to middle front as it was possible to get. The crowd consisted mainly of old school indie kids, many of a goth bent and a few boys even sporting Curve t-shirts which must have been dragged out from the back of their cupboards.”
And the Curve came on, “to muted cheers ’til the unmistakable presence of Toni Halliday appeared and everyone, especially the boys, got very excited. They started as they would continue for almost the whole set: with a new song. Before, when I’d managed to catch a glimpse of the setlist and noticed several unfamiliar titles I was worried that they’d be playing no classics, but as they careered thru this first song, I began to think that that might not be such a bad thing. To be sure it was familiar Curve territory, the menace of monster basslines and terrifying techno assaulting the rotting corpse of rock. But after such an absence they have everything to prove and were patently possessed by a pressing sense of purpose (with apologies to the Law of Sensible Limits on Alliteration).”
And apart from the second tune in, a “positively sparkling” “Fait Accompli”, it was all tracks from their as yet unreleased new album. This was probably a slight disappointment at the time – and certainly now, when Curve are no more and highly unlikely to ever reform, I do regret that I never got to see them perform their early 90s classics – at the time it seemed to me to be a very wise choice. “While I would have loved to hear “Coast Is Clear” and many others from the olden days, this was by far the best path they could have chosen for their comeback gig. Instead of a timewarp evening wallowing in nostalgia the focus was well and truly on the future, and if they are indeed to have a future that’s what they’re going to have to do.”
I was very impressed with Toni as a frontwoman. “She grinned with evil dementia and surveyed the crowd as though preparing to come in for the kill. Being so close I was able to get handy tips on advanced eyeliner and glitter methods from viewing her cosmetics arrangements.” And here is where my diary entry becomes a little uncomfortable for me to read in the arguably more enlightened 2018. “Toni, despite a vaguely silly exploding hairdo, is such an impressive frontperson that every other woman in the sprawling indie world must hang their head, quite frankly.” Why did I feel that, in order to praise one woman, I had to disparage all others? And this was not the only rampantly un-feminist statement from my diary report.
“Who says you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? It seems you actually don’t know what you’ve been missing ’til it comes screaming back into your life. Curve have flung themselves with ease from yesterday to today and I re-welcome them with open arms. Perhaps, then, this time next year I won’t have to write “there are no great women in pop” in the Woman Of The Year bit of MM’s reader poll.”
I’m not sure if I actually did send in a reader’s poll with such a statement, or just thought about it, but if I did, then it’s me who must hang my head in shame. It’s true that my pop and indie icons were overwhelmingly male in my youth, but what about Bjork? or Kylie? I’ve no doubt there was a ton of internalised misogyny going on there, but that’s not all it was. Looking back on my 22 year old self, I think a big reason why I failed to develop any female pop icons was that I felt very uncomfortable with femininity and all that women were expected to be. I didn’t really know how to behave like other women, with all the make-up and shoes and bags and everything we were supposed to care about. I just wanted some trashy eyeliner and glitter, and footwear that was sturdy enough to survive jumping about at a gig. But neither did I identify with the drinking, swearing ‘ladette’ culture that seemed to be the only other alternative in the 90s. So I looked to men to be my idols, as they didn’t bring with them any uncomfortable notions about how I was or wasn’t performing correctly as a woman. Still, I’m happy to report that I have plenty of female pop and rock faves in the current decade. Better late than never, eh?
The gig carried on somewhat crowded with incident. “Just before they were about to launch into the final pre-encore tune a security voice cried out “Toni! the fire alarm’s gone off” to which she mused “as usual at a Curve gig” and we all trooped out of the building to wait for the fire trucks to come wailing along, fire blokes to to wander in and confirm that yes, it was just the over-enthusiastic excesses of the smoke machine, and the fire trucks to bugger off again. We all get haphazardly back in, wait for Curve to come on and do two more songs and leave. Then we waited for the technical blokes to reboot a computer so they could come back on to do one more song. The jagged thrashing outlandish techno punk of the last few tunes suited the exasperation of the situation. They could probably have done without such a fiasco, but it mattered little.”
And so ended my one and only Curve gig. I did buy their new album when it finally came out in 1998, but it didn’t light my imagination anywhere near as much as I had expected it to this night. And then they dissolved into yet more obscurity, with internet only releases in an age where the audience for that kind of thing was woefully small. I do wish I’d had the chance to see them live in their heyday, and if Toni and Dean ever do decide to make a new go of it, I’ll be down the front in a shot. Til then, I’m just glad I have this one Curve gig to look back on.