The Toy Band, with Violas and Palomino Party at The Halfpenny Theatre, The Bunkhouse, Cardiff, 17 December

22 Dec

A quirky venue, with bathtubs-cum-sofas by the bar, and seats, presumably bought cheaply from a real theatre, at the front. Some real thought has gone into the design of this bar-turned youth hostel, rather than being strictly YMCA-functional. There is a familiar, old fashioned feel (though Tiger bar on tap at an encroaching £3.80 had more modernity about it). You wonder though when a bar will break the mould and go 21st Century techno instead?

This was just the second event to be held at the newly opened downstairs area. Free entry to tonight’s gig guaranteed a good turn-out, but it also encouraged a few Christmas shoppers to wander in, laden with John Lewis bags.

I missed Palomino Party, although as they’re named after a type of horse, and do a cover of “My Baby Shot Me Down” (a song that shouldn’t really be messed with, notwithstanding reasonable recent reworking), I’m not sure if I’d have liked them. With their long faces, in fact, I like horses, but let’s face it, horses always equals posh.

I caught the last 3 or 4 songs by Violas. With outros the length of which have not been heard since the 70s, I was able to buy, drink, and order another beer before they’d finished (along with completing The Times concise crossword, and the day’s Sudoku, medium, puzzle, naturally). Far more than competent, with sombre expressions, and a contemporary feel (there’s a rolling drum beat reminiscent me of The Automatic and bands of that ilk), I enjoyed them enough to buy their limited, hand-painted EP. Not sure about the name: unless, like The Music, they pay a bit of money to Google (surely The Music must have, to guarantee the top search spot?), they’ll always be competing with viola manufacturers. With no violas on display, why not push the boat out and call themselves Guitars? That would have people worried, and make pushing for supremacy a really hard fought endeavour.

The Toy Band, dressed in primary colours (if you count green) had me seeing red, with their kind of Beatles-by-numbers basics. Inoffensive is the key word, I think; “what’s not to like about them?” the key phrase. I expect they’d go down well at a kids’ party, and with the front 3 sporting wedding rings, I wonder if they concentrate more on their families than their music career – the fact that the album’s available free as a download shows a slight lack of real ambition.

Opener and key track, “Are you knocking or are you making?” had me baffled – making what? Paper maché models? Balsa wood bi-planes? Cupcakes? “Fuzzy Lines” need only be re-named “Fuzzy Felt” to really reinforce their child-like appeal. They’ve penned just 2 new songs in the last year, and for me this is a further indication of a band without truly serious intentions.

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