SALAD/KEITH TOP OF THE POPS/DAN CROSS
AMP STUDIOS, OLD KENT ROAD, LONDON
Wednesday 25th May 2022
AMP Studios is buzzing tonight. The venue where, at the moment, literally all my current gigs and festivals take place may be proud to have Salad and Julian Cope guitar legend Donald Ross Skinner as our well-loved and highly personable sound engineer but it isn’t every day that we get to have Salad actually playing there. That Salad specifically chose AMP Studios to play their first London date in some time speaks volumes for how easily artists fall in love with this unique and wonderful venue. Donald is a busy lad tonight because not only is he playing drums (yes, drums!) for Salad but he is also lead guitarist with opening act Dan Cross. Dan, for those who don’t know, is a very busy landscape gardener these days but he is also a former member of Indie band Perfect Disaster.
The last time I saw Dan play live with his band was at one of my Trust The Doc Live nights at the Amersham Arms in summer 2021. They were good entertainment that night but tonight, in the more intimate atmosphere of AMP Studios, they seem all the more punchy and tight. Their sound is a hybrid of Electric Blues, Post-Punk, Americana and Psych. The bass and drums lock in tightly and provide a strong foundation upon which Donald’s crisp, effortless guitar jangle brings colour, allowing Dan to switch between chords and licks while his voice is gritty and powerful. At one point I go to briefly put my can of fizzy down on one of the reserved seats so I can clap and a woman kindly offers to hold the drink for me so as to avoid any spillage! I only realise later that the woman is Salad’s Marijne van der Vlugt! The audience warm to Dan’s convivial personality and respond positively to the strength of his songs and the band’s fine musicianship. It is a great start to the evening.
Next up it’s Keith Top of the Pops. Before they go on, I point out to Dan that he still has his earplugs in. ‘That’s because this lot are loud!’ he exclaims. And he has a point. KTOTP and his band definitely have their roots in Punk; full fuzztone bar chords, driving bass and drums and terrace anthem choruses all come to the fore. There are echoes of Chubby & The Gang and perhaps a little of Violent Reaction about them. But there is humour too and, when former Salad member Charley Stone combines her vocals with Keith’s, I am reminded briefly of The Rezillos. Darren Laurence, of Leg Puppy, remarks that one of their tracks has a little of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club about it which is also a good shout. The audience reacts enthusiastically to their energy and raw power.
KEITH TOP OF THE POPS
Salad are one of those bands who were always somewhere on my radar but I must admit to being a little late to the party when it comes to appreciating just how good they are. Like most avid music fans, I have always been aware of the classic Motorbike to Heaven and I played their last single Things in heaven numerous times on my radio shows. But I am painfully aware that I have missed out on so much of their extensive catalogue.
The current line-up sees Donald playing drums (and yes, he turns out to be a great drummer too) while Marijne van der Vlugt continues to be their lead vocalist and keyboardist with Paul Kennedy on Guitar and Jon Hunt on Bass Guitar. From the outset there is an amusing patter between Marijne, whose personality is bright and humorous and Paul, whose delivery is deadpan and deliberately self-effacing. They also playfully insult each other from time to time.
What is really striking about Salad is, however, the sheer quality of their songs. Even when the format is simple, straight major and minor guitar chords, solid bass and drums and engaging melody, there is an inventiveness about them that elevates them above the ordinary. The band’s chemistry is always evident and the instrumental interplay is fluid and cohesive. There are times when the chord changes and energy recall Pixies circa Bossa Nova. Contrastingly, Marijne’s keyboard melodies bring a quirky pop sensibility.
She is a compelling frontwoman, funny and personable, possessing a fine voice and easy camaraderie with the audience. At one point she tells a story about Charley Stone leaving the band and someone writing ‘I didn’t know you’d gone’ on their Facebook page which inspired Paul to write a song of the same name. She stresses that the song itself is not related to Charley’s departure. It’s in a slow tempo with some exquisite vocal harmonies. Evergreen is another in a slow tempo with great chord changes and keyboard figures. They have a liking for tritone intervals too. Marijne explains that one track is about her former husband who, judging by the lyrical content, is not held in high esteem! Things in heaven is glorious and I have not stopped singing it since! New single In the dark is another highlight. Marijne also makes sure to credit former Salad drummer Rob Wakeman, who is in the audience, for the songs they play that he wrote.
They end, encores included, with a track from the Ice Cream album. Marijne suggests they spent too much time working on it in the studio, much to Island Records’ chagrin, though Paul suggests they actually spent too much time in the pub! It’s been a thoroughly entertaining set and a reminder that I need to make time to get to know much more of their excellent catalogue.