18 July 2011

Elcka - Boho Bird

Label: Nectah
Year of Release: 1995

1995 was a confusing year if you happened to be reviewing music either for a living, or because you wanted to due to the tons of free records and tickets to gigs you got. Britpop had caught hold of the public's imagination, and you couldn't go to see a new band without witnessing at least one support act with either a fey English approach to guitar pop or a monstrously unsubtle demonstration of Ladrock (soon to turn into Dadrock). Many of the acts obeying the fashions of the day were actually perfectly good, but if you happened to be attending two to three gigs a week, you began to crave any band who seemed just a tiny bit like oddballs, and developed an irrational hatred for anything observing the NME approved template. Trust me, there was a review I wrote of no-hopers Powder at the time which was so vitriolic that these days I'm actually ashamed of it. Pearl Lowe's slightly smug performance pressed a horrible red button in my brain I hope nobody ever goes near again.

I managed to catch Elcka playing at a small provincial gig venue during this simultaneously exciting and somewhat trying year, and was immediately struck by their slightly bizarro approach to the more bohemian side of indie pop. The lead singer Harrold led the band in a flamboyant, airy way, seemingly beamed forward in time from some seventies Art College graduation ceremony. The songs were pure pop, but had enough twists and unexpected (and, even at the time, unfashionable) quirks such as harpsichord noises and MOR backbeats to stand out. There were some sounds occurring which seemed to be channelling both Steve Harley and Genesis's "I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe" as well as Bowie and Roxy, meaning unfavoured retro acts were creeping into their sound besides the more accepted ones from the canon of cool.

Then I picked up this single, and decided to go haywire with my praise for the band, telling anyone who happened to be bothered enough to read my writing - which was very few people - that they should Watch Out, because here was The Next Big Thing. That was utterly untrue, of course, and in reality the splash Elcka made went unnoticed by even some of the more hardcore indie kids. Listening back to their debut single "Boho Bird" now, it seems good enough to understand why I'd have managed to get carried away, but not quite good enough for me to fathom why I thought they would end up taking on allcomers. "Boho Bird" is at once odd and infectious, combining erratic keyboard riffs with swaggering vocals, but was ultimately just too subtle to find a larger audience. There are no big choruses to be had, and instead the track saunters along in the kind of considered, stylish way which might not have leapt out of anyone's radios.

Eclka eventually signed to Island Records, and in 1997 their album "Rubbernecking" landed, but by then it was far too late, and even I seemed to fail to notice its arrival, buying it a few years later after spotting it in a record store. For all that, the band have a web presence (and fanbase) of sorts, and in April of this year it was announced that they were considering reforming for some gigs. I await with interest to see what happens, and if they do get back together, I've no doubt I'll turn up to see them if only to relive that moment when I saw a brilliant live band and immediately supposed they'd be on the front cover of all the major music papers within the twelve-month. Sometimes you can still be impressed and have huge fun while you're busy getting things wrong.


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