AUDIOBOOKS + MERMAID CHUNKY – PATTERNS, BRIGHTON 8.6.23
OK, I’m going to begin this review with a bit of a revelation! The Queen of Punk (Jordan Mooney) was a huge fan of audiobooks. There! Said it! I know what you might be thinking…”How on earth did Jordan love audiobooks, when she witnessed the formation of the Sex Pistols, was Adam & The Ants first manager, and loved bands that also included the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, whereas audiobooks sound a million miles away from them!”. Right then, let’s get to the bottom of this…..
Let’s forget what all of the above’s music sounds like, but in fact concentrate on their mentality and thought processes! There’s a common factor that links them all, that being that they all have operated at the fringes of society and the music business. They go against the grain, they think outside the box, and they do what they wanna do on their own terms! Society will simply have to catch up with them! This is very much the ethos of Evangeline Ling and David Wrench, who are audiobooks (note the spelling without the capital ‘A’) and are very much punk rock in their thinking.
Five years ago (in 2018) a mutual friend of Evangeline and David introduced them at a party saying “You’re a weirdo. He’s a weirdo. You’re going to get on great”. How very punk rock! The duo clicked and set about the business of producing their uniquely wonky electro ditties that came from their hearts and minds, but without compromising in any way…more punk rock. Backed by the fact that David is also fully aware of Jon Savage’s account on punk rock, I know so, he told me himself! audiobooks lyrics tell bizarre tales of things as far apart as little girls wandering the streets in search of lost dolls to toxic masculinity and its effects….more punk rock thinking!
audiobooks emerged from their recording sessions and on 18th May 2018 they performed at Horatios on Brighton Pier as part of The Great Escape new music festival. I was fortunate enough to have been in attendance at that showcase and reported thus:
“Evangeline Ling and the Rick Wakeman lookalike Anglesey born Welsh musician and studio producer/sound engineer David Wrench are Audiobooks. They are rather interesting people as David has also won the BBC Radio Cymru C2 ‘Producer of the Year’ award five times and has played in Julian Cope’s group Black Sheep. Whereas Evangeline is a fashion model along with her older brother and sister and she was also in a synthpop duo called The Linedots.
Audiobooks were one of the surprise package of the whole TGE for us. We weren’t expecting their look or sound to be honest. If you can imagine The Flying Lizards meets Bjork meets Let’s Eat Grandma, then you get the idea that this duo are quirky. We love quirky! We love Audiobooks! We love their random comical lyrics and jaunty synth rhythms. Their track ‘Swansea’ (which hopefully will see the light of day by the end of the year) will bring a laugh/smile to anyone’s face. They have just released their 4 track ‘Gothenburg EP’ and ‘Pebbles’ from said EP is a remarkable piece of music and deserves to be picked up and used in countless motion pictures!”.
Their debut album entitled ‘Now! (in a minute)’ on Heavenly Recordings followed on 2nd November 2018 and was duly purchased from Resident music in Kensington Gardens. If discombobulating observations over discomfiting oscillations is your thing, then ‘Now! (in a minute)’ is certainly for you.
Their second album ‘Astro Tough’ (also on Heavenly Recordings) followed on Friday 1st October 2021, and where else better to celebrate this second long player than with a live appearance at Resident music in Brighton on the actual day of its release – Read our review HERE.
On 12th April this year, audiobooks dropped their 4-track EP titled ‘Gulliver’, which features ‘Burnt Pictures’, ‘Beekeeper’, ‘Tryna Tryna Take Control’ and ‘Milan Fashion Week’. This charming innovative duo announced a welcome return to Brighton as part of their select 6-date UK tour in support of ‘Gulliver’, which saw them play Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, London, Cambridge and finishing off tonight at Patterns courtesy of concert promoters JOY. Suffice to say that with every return to Brighton, I’m ever present at the front in order to lap up whatever Evangeline and David have to offer in their awkwardly bemused style.
On entry to Patterns this evening, I’m pleasantly surprised that there’s only a small queue for the bar. Liquid refreshment is purchased and we head to the front of the stage, where we are greeted by friends and amazingly no metal crowd barriers! Someone’s clearly informed the powers that be that there won’t be any moshing and crowd-surfing this evening! This enabled a closer look at the equipment on offer this evening. The stage is awash with it and it’s clear that both acts’ props are already in place. We will come to the support later.
Evangeline solely requires her microphone, whereas David is the technical wizard and throughout their 15 track 73 minute set, busies himself by flitting between the Ashun Sound Machines Hydrasynth, Nord Electro 6 keyboard, Roland drum pads, a laptop, and other boxes of pre-sets and samples, as well as two Fender guitars, and the rather wonderful compact Arturia KeyStep keyboard. The sound quality for this evening is crisp and bang on! Hat’s off to the sound engineer at the rear.
They grace the stage at 8:21pm to rapturous applause from the many fans in the packed crowd. There’s an air of anticipation and they commence with the thundering beats and twisting electronics of standout track ‘The Doll’, from the 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album, which is exactly what my friend Ang had hoped that they would perform this evening. Interestingly for this number Evangeline is wearing a wolf mask and holds the microphone under the gap at the bottom.
This is followed by the first of two unreleased “test tracks” which Evangeline declares is titled ‘Falsely Accused’. They test the reaction to the unreleased material and if response is favourable, then their compositions eventually see the light of day. Therefore based on this funky numbers delivery, expect ‘Falsely Accused’ to turn up on their next release! The lyrics include “brothers, sisters”, which immediately brought to mind Heaven 17’s debut single ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’ from 1981.
After song three ‘The English Manipulator’ (2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album), the duo performed the new ‘Gulliver’ EP in its entirety, commencing with ‘Bee Keeper’, which is a slow starter, but then beautifully morphs into a 1981 Kraftwerk ‘Computer World’ album style backing beat.‘ Burnt Pictures’ is a more traditional synth number which seriously benefitted from David’s use of the compact Arturia KeyStep keyboard. ‘Tryna Tryna Take Control’ has a decent Bossa nova beat going on and ‘Milan Fashion Week’ is a slow ballad number with comical lyrics which brings a smile to many faces.
A trio of cuts from their last long player ‘Astro Tough’ followed, in the form of ‘Farmer’, which is another ballad, followed by ‘He Called Me Bambi’, which saw David giving one of his Fender guitars a good seeing too. Arguably their most rocky number and choice of track of the night from my mate Mark (husband of Ang). The quirky ‘Blue Tits’ rounded off the three songs, with its juxtaposition lyrics which fly in from all directions!
One of only two survivors from their debut ‘’Now! (in a minute)’’ album (from 2018) followed, in the form of ‘Friends In The Bubble Bath’, which even saw the duo briefly swap places as David delivered a few lines centre stage and Evangeline had a go at one of the synths.
Normality resumed with Evangeline exclaiming “Hey Brighton are you ready for some heavy techno?”. Indeed we ALL were and they played my choice cut of the night, ‘Black Lipstick’ (from 2021’s ‘Astro Tough’)…..tuuuunnnneee! They kept the momentum going and dropped ‘LaLaLa It’s The Good Life’ from the same album, although this live version was even better than the recorded one! Derrick May Chicago House fans take note!
They signed off with another “test track”, which was introduced as ‘1,000 Shipwrecked Ships’. This was even better than the other unreleased song earlier. I can see this being a crowd favourite for years to come with its combined beat nod to ‘Dream Baby Dream’ (Suicide), ‘Pure’ (The Lightning Seeds) and ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ (The Velvet Underground).
Suffice to say it went down a storm and we cheered and were rewarded with an encore track, without them messing around by leaving the stage. They signed off with the funky ‘Dance Your Life Away’ (from ‘’Now! (in a minute)’’). At 9:34pm they were done and this gave them 26 minutes in order to sell their merch and talk with fans, including myself.
On our way out of the venue, my colleague Martin and I were in total agreement that this had been the best audiobooks gig we had witnessed thus far! Right then David and Evangeline when are you coming back?
Evangeline Ling – lead vocals
David Wrench – synths, guitar, vocals
‘The Doll’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘Falsely Accused’ (unreleased)
‘The English Manipulator’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘Bee Keeper’ (from 2023 ‘Gulliver’ EP)
‘Burnt Pictures’ (from 2023 ‘Gulliver’ EP)
‘Tryna Tryna Take Control’ (from 2023 ‘Gulliver’ EP)
‘Milan Fashion Week’ (from 2023 ‘Gulliver’ EP)
‘Farmer’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘He Called Me Bambi’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘Blue Tits’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘Friends In The Bubble Bath’ (from 2018 ‘’Now! (in a minute)’’ album)
‘Black Lipstick’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘LaLaLa It’s The Good Life’ (from 2021 ‘Astro Tough’ album)
‘1,000 Shipwrecked Ships’ (unreleased)
‘Dance Your Life Away’ (from 2018 ‘’Now! (in a minute)’’ album)
Support this evening came from the intriguingly named Mermaid Chunky, who are Freya Tate and Moina Moin and they refer to themselves as a “live film and experimental music performance duo”. They were hatched in Gloucestershire, Stroud to be precise, and their band name is taken from a local type of wool. Although, we were informed that they first met here in Brighton. For the next 30 minutes (7:20pm – 7:50pm) we are under the maidens spell.
Freya is also notably a member of The Umlauts which was formed by Alfred Lear and Oliver Offord, with the later addition of vocalists Maria Vittoria Faldini from Monaco and Annabelle Mödlinger from the Austrian Alps.
With a 7:20pm start, it was inevitable that folk were continually arriving throughout the Mermaid Chunky set and I suspect many of whom were wondering what exactly had hit them! In reference to my analogy (above) regarding the audiobooks mentality and ploughing their own furrow, Freya and Moina also very much fit into this mould. An example of this being the fact that they only performed four songs within their allotted time, and the last of those, a sub two minute ditty titled ‘Newbury Bypass’ was tagged on to the end of the set, as the punters wanted more and the kind sound guy gave in, when Freya pointed out that they have a song that is only a minute long. It was about double that, but we weren’t bothered!
“So what happened before this final number I hear you ask?”. OK here goes….
They graced the stage in historical looking dresses, those which are currently being made fashionable again by The Last Dinner Party, Lime Garden and Wet Leg. Not ‘Holly Hobbie’ style but more ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ if you catch my drift. If only Jordan was still with us, then she would tell me exactly what they are!
The instruments of choice were as far ranging as their ‘out there’ set allowed, hence with the normal synth, saxophone and tambourine, there was also recorders (that young kids used to play when I was at school) as well as a swanee whistle, which many folk of a certain age will associate as the voices of ‘The Clangers’. Also on offer was a VTech Little Smart Phonics A to Z Learning The Alphabet Toy and even some chattering wind up teeth! Throughout their 30 minute set, they were lit by their specially made experimental films that were being projected on the rear wall of the stage.
Their first two songs I believe are thus far unreleased and go by the titles of ‘Improv’ and ‘Cèilidh’ (a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering). They had set out their stall, so to speak. The initial crowd sniggering of the first few seconds, suddenly switched to intrigue and absorption and the wonder of where the girls are going next with this. Loops were very much the order of the day and layers of sound were built atop each other, which was clever stuff. No wonder audiobooks had them as support on all six concert dates. The remaining two tunes ‘These Girls’ and ‘Newbury Bypass’ were both culled from their ‘VEST’ album, which dropped two years back.
It’s funny because on the way to the gig, I played the 1979 12” version of ‘Money’ by The Flying Lizards, a song that was (and arguably) still is out there! Especially Deborah Evans-Stickland’s very British vocal delivery, which is very much like Evangeline’s as well. Clearly this had unknowingly got my brain in the zone for both of tonight’s acts.
Mermaid Chunky, I thought to myself, are ‘Folktronica’, a genre that I thought I had conjured up during their performance. I hadn’t! It exists already! So I will elaborate further. To my ears, I heard elements of another young female duo, Let’s Eat Grandma, especially with recorder parts, although unlike them Moina occasionally burst out laughing whilst playing. Then there were the quiet parts, which reminded me of the 1970 ‘Beat Club’ performances by Kraftwerk. It even veered to a poetry reading as Moina read passages/lyrics from her mobile phone to accompanying keys from Freya.
It was an unpredictable transfixing set, filled with an edgy vibe of improvisation and carefully laid out patterns, rhythms, loops and karate chopped keys. Put it this way, if Delia Derbyshire was still with us today, she would be Mermaid Chunky’s number one fan!
Mermaid Chunky can be found on Bandcamp.
Freya Tate – vocals, electronics, drum machine, synth
Moina Moin – vocals, saxophone, recorder, percussion
Mermaid Chunky setlist:
‘These Girls’ (from 2020 ‘VEST’ album)
‘Newbury Bypass’ (from 2020 ‘VEST’ album)