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The Senior Service - The Half Moon, Putney

It’s really hard for me to know where to start … I mean, there are two other bands on the bill tonight, but really (for me anyway) there is only one. I’m travelling down from a snowy Edinburgh to The Half Moon in Putney, London to see the debut gig of The Senior Service.

Nerves kick in; as they inevitably do when I’m on my own in a strange place. I order a drink in an effort to calm them down. The gig is a sell-out, and it’s very busy already at just after 8pm. It’s a smaller venue than I had anticipated, and the audience is distinctly mature, so I’m in good company.

Of Arrowe Hill, a three piece from London, are already in situ. And they are pleasant enough with their ‘60s tinged indie rock. One particular song ‘Serendipity’ stands out, with is Sgt Pepper-esque vibe.   

Middle billing are French Boutik. Steve Worrall of Retro Man Blog and the organiser of tonight's proceedings, announces that the band have flown in especially for this performance tonight. They are a lively ‘60s influenced modernist band from, funnily enough, France. They have a beautiful sounding Rickenbacker guitar – just gorgeous, and singer Gabriela Giacoman has a very sweet and soulful voice. They are light, bright, poppy, and have a very clean, fresh sound. By their last number, they finally seem to be settling in and begin to let loose a little; I’m willing them to be wilder, but they are way too cool, and unfortunately it’s time for them to wrap up the set. The crowd love them.

And so to the main dish. For those not familiar with their history, let me give a brief introduction. We have Jon Barker on Hammond organ, Darryl Ryan Hartley on Bass, Wolf Howard on drums, and Graham Day on guitar. So that’s ex members of The Solarflares, The Prisoners, Buff Medways, The Gaolers, I could go on. And what’s this? Day and Hartley are sporting some kind of Mexican moustaches. Actually the whole band are very well turned out this evening, looking very dapper.

As The Senior Service are an instrumental band, it has created the space for the instruments to do all of the talking. To most of the crowd (myself included) the songs showcased here tonight are brand new, and yet they have a distinct familiarity, because of course they are based on the music we all love dearly. Whether that happens to be the original ‘60s go-go dance stuff, or the TV and film soundtracks and not forgetting Day’s own distinct songwriting – he’s a fan too; but has the extraordinary ability to take all the best bits and make them into something new and original, dare I say better?

For instance ‘Caballo Sin Nombre’ a number for which Paul and his trumpet are welcomed onto the stage for the first time; the trumpet adding yet another dimension of sound. It has that haunting Morricone Spaghetti Western feel. I can really feel the emotions rise as he hits the high notes, and the crowd are really still; totally mesmerised. Anyone not getting goose-bumps must surely not be in the land of the living.

Debut single ‘Depth Charge’ (review here) really gets the crowd moving, it’s just so upbeat, dance-able and gorgeously groovy...

...and there are many more to come in this vein.

It's songs like slower paced ‘The Intruder’ where Barker’s Hammond really gets it's chance to shine. For the most part he really pushes the organ to its limits, and then some. The depth and fullness that the Hammond lends to the overall sound, when paired with Day’s dynamic guitar playing, creates a tangible and very vivid textured effect - who needs lyrics? Lest we forget the percussion of course. All parts are equally necessary, and each one is fully present; working together in perfect unity. It’s quite special.     

A projection behind them shows various clips of go-go dancers, Captain Scarlet, Batman and a very sexy stripping Sophia Loren, which some of the band seem quite distracted by, but honestly, who can blame them? Dangerous curves indeed.

He’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Day goes through three guitar changes tonight – all of them are works of beauty and look pristine.

The crowd and I are very pleasantly surprised to hear a few covers in the set; 'Come To The Mushroom' and 'Explosion On Uranus' by The Prisoners, and 'South Avenue' by The Gaolers, the latter of the two dedicated by Day to fellow Forefather Alan Crockford, who is in the crowd this evening, looking on like a proud Dad.

For the encore a rendition of Maestro John Barry’s James Bond theme ‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’ (although I notice that on the set list it’s been renamed as ‘On Her Majesty's Senior Service’, which is sweet), and The Prisoners 'Find And Seek'. “You can sing the words if you like” Day dares the crowd. He literally sneaks in the very last word “al-o-one!” And that wraps up a very successful evening at The Half Moon. Oh, and the crowd go predictably wild.

A huge thank you to Retro Man Steve Worrall, who did a fantastic job in presenting and organising this event. You are truly a star, keep on keepin’ on. With this scene it really is the dedicated music loving fans that keep it going, that includes the record labels and bands themselves – we’re all in it together, and I really got a sense of that at tonight’s show. Steve's blog can be found here

I have it on good authority that all the tracks have now been mixed, and The Senior Service debut LP Girl In A Glass Case will be released shortly on Damaged Goods. It’s safe to say that I’m quite looking forward to that … 

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