wears the trousers magazine


theoretical girl: live at cobham lodge, westcliff-on-sea 19/06/09
June 24, 2009, 8:03 am
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Theoretical Girl
Culture As A Dare @ Cobham Lodge, Westcliff-on-Sea ••••
June 19th, 2009 

I am in Essex searching for the young cultured rebels but I can’t find them anywhere – where are they hiding? The Southend Fringe has begun but nobody has told the locals. My only cultural encounter so far has come at the apostrophe-less Sunnys Café where a tattooed army man and the owner finished a tabloid crossword with a flourish of a betting shop pen. Whoever dares bring culture to this particularly English seaside ghetto is either very brave or very foolish, or perhaps both. Ah, but beware those first impressions. This is, after all, the seaside town that forgot to close down and conform to the Essex stereotype. A town that has nurtured Ipso Facto, The Horrors, Get Cape.Wear Cape.Fly, and now Amy Turnnidge aka Theoretical Girl.

Tonight the seaside spotlight falls upon the Culture As A Dare club night in the suburb of Westcliff-on-Sea. Deep down in a basement, below a street so unassuming that Mr Benn, Clark Kent and Peter Parker could reside pleasantly undisturbed for years, there is a quiet revolution. A crayoned poster outside the seaside B&B of Cobham Lodge is my only guide to what might be inside. As Glastonbury warm-ups go, this is a cosy chat around a campfire. There are even free homemade cakes on offer at the back of the room. By the time Amy and her band take to the stage the venue is crammed. “I’ve made a schoolgirl error,” admits Amy as she walks on. “I didn’t go for a wee before starting.” It’s not the kind of opening statement you’d expect from a homecoming queen, but it certainly breaks the ice.

Amy is the latest in a line of crystal clear English vocalists. Sarah Nixey (Black Box Recorder), Sarah Blackwood (Dubstar/Client) and the cult of Virginia Astley are just a few to have preceded her. At times, she even recalls the prim innocence of Petula Clark, especially on her opening song ‘I Should Have Loved You More’. Yet despite her deadpan delivery on her records, she’s not the ice cool singer I’d expected. Instead, she seems coy and rather nervous, even admitting “This is the scariest gig I’ve ever done!” – probably because she’s performing before friends and family. She even reveals that her dad has lent her his guitar.

Her nerves have an unexpected effect as grins and giggles take over and Amy and her backing band, The Equations, play in a carefree manner. They sail through ‘Rivals’ with Amy conceding it to be “a completely different” version of the recent single. She just isn’t taking herself too seriously. A photographer keeps snapping away and she enquires with a frown, “Am I looking really goofy?” She is similarly self-deprecating when introducing her beautiful new single, ‘Divided’, the title track of her debut album out in August. “This is my cheesy song!” she smiles shyly before quickly adding, “but my manager has told me to stop saying that!” The song floats in with such an ethereal feel that I half expect her to segue the song into a cover of something like ‘White Horses’.

The tales of unrequited love continue with ‘The Boy I Left Behind’ coming across like Black Box Recorder without the cynicism and spite. Then comes the, er, dance routine. “I’ve made my band learn some dance moves,” says Amy, justifying it with “I saw David Byrne doing them…” The angular ‘Red Mist’ begins robotically and Amy and the band synchronise a jump and a turn while brandishing their guitars, and even this is performed with a smile. A cry goes out for ‘Dancehall Deceit’ but Amy isn’t in the mood. There’s no encore either, but it’s almost midnight and the really big Somerset gig is just a week away. Those who dared indulge at this basement bash don’t leave disappointed. Like the seaside outside, Theoretical Girl provides good clean fun.

Don Blandford
photo by Sally Saveall 


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