Supporting Buzzcocks on their UK & European tour, Modern English made their first live appearance in the country for over five years. They performed a short set, currently promoting their new studio album, ‘1 2 3 4’, which was released earlier this year, although did not have their full lineup, with a touring lineup that was missing some of their original members, keyboardist Stephen Walker and guitarist Gary McDowell.

They began on ‘Gathering Dust’, the 1980 single release on the brilliant 4AD label. It was showered in electronic keyboard effects from a backing track, with wirey, rippling guitar throughout. They then played ‘Someone’s Calling’, a single from their second album, 1982’s ‘After the Snow’, with its distinct hammer-on and pull-off guitar parts, although at times the rhythm guitar would have benefited from being even louder. Frontman Robbie Grey’s vocals carry a live quality which harkens back to an ‘early days’ feel, with him also playing tambourine between lyrics.

The band soon moved to the new studio album with its singles, ‘Long in the Tooth’ and ‘Not My Leader’; for the second one especially – a defiant song about political leaders – there was lighter keyboard backing, so the more stripped down instrumentation came through, with both whirring guitar pedal effects and melting post-punk tones amongst a beating rhythm section, featuring original bassist Michael Conroy. From neo-punk they moved to classic punk from their 1981 debut album, ‘Mesh & Lace’, playing two tracks from this period: ‘Black Houses’, with the guitarist keying the fretboard to create a feedback effect at the start, and then their explosive non-album 1980 debut 4AD single, ‘Swans on Glass’, with scratchy pedal and wah wah effects. Grey strummed acoustic guitar for this song as well as their last one, their 1982 single ‘I Melt with You’, on which the band finished ahead of their fuller London headline show later this month.

22/03/24: Modern English @ KOKO, London.

Photos © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.

© Ayisha Khan.