ENGLISH TEACHER + ALIEN CHICKS – THE HOPE & RUIN, BRIGHTON 29.10.23
I’ve seen English Teacher a few times before, but things looked a bit different even before the band took to The Hope & Ruin stage. Unlike their previous Brighton appearances, there was an extra keyboard, and a cello. The band of Lily Fontaine (vocals, guitar, synth), Nicholas Eden (bass), Douglas Frost (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Lewis Whiting (lead guitar) were joined by a fifth member, Blossom Calderone. She played both keyboards and cello and as we were to find out often both in the same song.
English Teacher’s set started with Nicholas’s unmistakeable bass line of their recent single ‘The World’s Biggest Paving Slab’. Instantly recognisable to anybody tuning into Radio 6 Music over the last few months. At the start Lily’s vocals were like a poetry delivery. Her voice and the music had a harder edge than the recorded version.
For ‘Mental Maths’ Blossom swapped from keyboards to cello. The cello added depth and another layer to the band’s sound. This song had a stark, almost eerie opening, (nothing to do with the reference to the “ghost in aisle 6” mentioned in the lyrics) and later jangly quick musical breaks. This song, as with many in the set, showed the band’s ability to flip between restrained atmospheric and frenetic energy within the same song.
On their promotion of their tour, English Teacher said it was a “preview of our biggest project to date!”. They shared several unreleased songs throughout their 15 song set. The first of which was ‘I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying’, which had hints of ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ by The Clash. The pace slowed for ‘Albatross’ with its gentler guitar and vocals. Saying that, the newest band member alternated between cello and keyboards on that song, so no slowing down there.
Lily introduced ‘A55’ as being about being hungover. It was another slow one with just Lily and guitar at the start. Douglas’s drums and Nicholas’s bass picked up and then slowed down the pace later in the song. Lily admitted she “loved playing that song”. It was interesting that they seem to play this slightly differently each time I’ve seen them.
Before the next batch of new songs, Lily informed us that they were “new songs, slow songs, piano songs and ballads”. There was some swapping of instruments for these. Douglas moved from his drum kit to the main keyboards. (He later told me that the piano was his first instrument, before he took up the drums.) Lewis also swapped his electric guitar for an acoustic one. The first of these new songs, ‘Mastermind Specialism’ was a mellow song with a dreamy atmospheric feel. The Hope & Ruin audience was perfectly quiet during this song.
There was a minor technical issue before the next song. Lily joked “I don’t need my guitar, it’s just me and my voice. And them.” as she looked back at the rest of the band. On ‘You Blister My Paint’ Lily sang with just simple accompaniment from keyboard and bass. There were extensive echo and effects on the vocals, but Lily’s powerful soulful voice still stood out and showed how she has grown as a singer.
‘This Could Be Texas’ started with Lily back to more of a spoken vocal to piano and a solid bass. There was a jolly upbeat instrumental in the middle of the song, which reminded me of ABBA’s ‘Mamma Mia’. Lily was back on guitar for ‘The Best Tears Of Your Life’. While the technical issue was being resolved, Douglas kept the crowd entertained with an impromptu drum session. This track was led by the bass and drums and built in volume with sound effects scrambled into the music.
These new songs from English Teacher were very different from their previous material, especially with the piano parts on the keyboards instead of the drums. They were mellower and gentler, and showcased another side of Lily’s vocal talents.
‘Broken Biscuits’ saw Lily on keyboards. The drummer and bassist were in perfect union, as the tempo and volume increased, before the song closed with a frenzy. ‘Song About Love’ with its straightforward thumping intro, saw Lily much more animated, dancing on stage. The synth effects were more to the fore in this song as it built to a frenzy before fading to close with the synth.
‘Nearly Daffodils’, their most recent single, was a faster song with an infectious bass line and quick drumming, both of which got even faster through the song. Most of the crowd was dancing along to that song, which judging by their reactions was the evening’s highlight for many.
As Lily retuned her guitar before the next song, Douglas on drums and Lewis on guitar seemed to be challenging each other to who could play the fastest. This must have been a warm up for the very fast version of their debut single ‘R&B’, which followed. It had one of the best bass lines of the set. By then, Lily was playing and singing right at the front edge of the stage. The next song ‘Good Grief’ was a great indie pop tune. It seemed to be played faster and more intensely than the recorded version with Lily shouting the lyrics.
English Teacher closed a brilliant, varied and entertaining set with another unreleased song ‘Albert Road’. The tempo and volume were taken right down as Lily sang initially to a simple accompaniment. The way she held the long notes on this song was very impressive. There was an almost marching band sound to the drumming as this song built to a finale.
As well as the interesting and different sound of the batch of new tunes showcased, the band played different interpretations of some of their older tunes. Compared to previous gigs and festivals or the recorded versions, they seemed to have a punchier harder edge. This kept the performance fresh and interesting. All this still fitted perfectly with the subject matter around everyday observations and clever wordplay.
It was a truly great set by a band on top form. Before the last song Lily said “See you again next time”, which was to be exactly a week later as part of ‘Mutations’ festival. From conversations afterwards many of the people at The Hope & Ruin would be catching up with English Teacher again as part of that festival. In the lyrics of ‘The World’s Biggest Paving Slab’, Lily sings of being “the world’s smallest celebrity”, but based on their performance, English Teacher could have a very big future.
Lily Fontaine – vocals, rhythm guitar, synth
Douglas Frost – drums and keyboard
Nicholas Eden – bass
Lewis Whiting – lead guitar
Blossom Calderone – keyboard and cello
English Teacher setlist:
‘The World’s Biggest Paving Slab’
‘I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying’
‘You Blister My Paint’
‘This Could Be Texas’
‘The Best Tears Of Your Life’
‘Song About Love’
Alien Chicks supported English Teacher on their UK tour and opened at The Hope & Ruin. The post-punk trio from Brixton are Joe (guitar), Stefan (bass) and Martha (drums).
Alien Chicks began with ‘Cowboy’, their single release from earlier this year. After only a few bars of this first song, their energetic powerful punk sound kicked in. No soft intro for the next song ‘Babe’ just two clicks of Martha’s drumsticks and it was straight in. The band’s fast tempo was driven largely by Martha on drums. Both Joe and Stephan on the guitars and vocals were very animated, moving and jumping around the stage.
To call Alien Chicks another noisy post-punk band would be selling them short. The next two songs ‘Woodlouse’ and ‘Say Fish’ were relatively mellower with the latter starting as almost a solo by Joe. That said, both songs fluctuated between loud and quieter parts, and Joe put everything into angrily spitting out the lyrics.
Stephan’s bass lines also set Alien Chicks apart from others in the catch-all post-punk genre. Some of these were very funky and soon got people at the front dancing. At times there was a jazz approach with more freeform instrumental breaks, where the guitarists were together, but almost competing. I’m not going to pick a winner.
Their latest single ‘Candlestick Maker’ featured some very fast singing from Joe, and what sounded like demented laughing. Alien Chicks closed a really good energetic set with ‘27 Stitches’, a single released last year. This was a real mix; it had a quiet start compared to much of their set, before becoming a real rock song, stopped and went funky. That sounds confusing, but it worked.
Joe – guitar and vocals
Martha – drums
Stefan – bass and vocals
Alien Chicks setlist:
More photos from this concert can be viewed HERE.