The Ballroom of Romance is this occasional multi-band night, usually in the Lower Deck in Portobello. The bands on the bill tend to come from broadly the world of punk and avant garde music. It is usually an enjoyable night, even if many of the bands that play are not that great.
On the Friday after Indietracks, we made our way along to the latest Ballroom, partly as a palate cleanser after all the fey indie music we had seen the weekend before. We arrived a little bit late, missing the first band but catching the second, Kaplan. I liked them – they were loud, bassy, full of rock, very much the antithesis of what I had seen the week before. The fact, perhaps, that I had earlier had a load of beers with my workmates might have influenced my opinions. Maybe so, but even sober I would probably still have liked the chunking slabs of bass and the guitarist's solo riff action.
The next band were called Feed The Bears. Or maybe Free The Bears. They had joined the bill at the last minute because one of the bands (Hired Hands) had had to drop out, pleading swine flu. Like Hired Hands, Free The Bears have a mixed gender line-up and a somewhat folkie aspect. They were also not very rock, with their music being semi-acoustic. They also seemed a bit prog – not just in the sense of playing (some) long tunes with multiple movements and eccentric lyrics, but also in strange musical inventiveness. At times they seemed to be influenced by Congolese music, with guitar sounds reminiscent of Papa Wembe and then guitars managing to produce sounds like that of a thumb piano. I hope to see this lot again some time.
And finally we had Humble Grumble. At the Ballroom of Romance, the headliner tends to be the band who has come from the furthest away, but they always get to play for the least time, as the other bands all over-run, leaving the headliner up against the venue's curfew. So it was tonight. Humble Grumble are from darkest Belgium. They wear masks and dress up in funny clothes, of a sort that made me think that they might, at any moment, break into 'The Safety Dance'.
And they play funny music too, broadly of a jazz-influenced nature. It was of a high quality, if you like weirdo music. The lamer jokes of their guitarist/singer bloke only added to the quality – they seemed to come from a world of strangeness with no suggestion that they would be even remotely funny in the his first language. With the tunes themselves, maybe the one in which the guitarist kept calling out "I'm horneeee" (to which other band members reply "He's horneee") was the most memorable. This is not the same song as that 'I'm horny, horny-horny-horny' one from a few years ago, but the comparison is important – there is a big difference between two lovely ladies singing about how horny they are, and one big Belgian fellow telling us the same thing.
Closer examination of the lyrics suggests that this might actually be a song about animals with horns.
So anyway, we loved Humble Grumble so much that we almost invited them back to our place to shotgun scotch whisky, but instead we decided to just buy their CD. Our rubbish CD player is not so forward thinking and will not play all of this album properly. What we can hear does sound forward thinking, but they might be best appreciated live.