Event review: Zara, Junkyard Choir and the Asif Outlaws play the Scream Lounge

By - Tuesday 29th August, 2017

A mixed night of music at a Croydon venue that’s still going strong

Photo author’s own.

With the nearby ‘The Edge’ having recently joined the long line of live venues in Croydon going dark and quiet, the Scream Lounge still stands proudly, if a little in the shadows, as one few places left in town to go to hear real music on real instruments played by musicians who give a damn.

I say ‘in the shadows’, not because it pales in comparison to its peers, but because it really is a tucked away, off the main drag, hidden secret of a place. There is almost no signage, and the entrance is a simple single door off of an uninviting alleyway between running down the side of the Café Havana in South Croydon’s restaurant quarter. You could be entering a storeroom, a kitchen, or a garage, until you open the door. Stepping in on Saturday we were practically knocked back onto the street by the thundering bass sound coming from the stage. Sarah from Zara was sound checking and it could be measured on the Richter scale. I think that someone reported there was too much treble. In Birmingham.

Adjusting to the light and the volume we made our way to the bar at the back of the lounge and spoke with Mark, who runs the bar and helps to organise the gigs here. A one-time member of ‘drunken sonic thrash’ merchants Bleed To This, he ran the grunge night over at The Edge until its demise and he wants to help to push the Scream Lounge into being not just a really good and ‘go to’ music venue but a proper community space. Local residents now occupying recently-developed flats might not be supportive though. Lots of people want somewhere to go, few want it in their back yard…

Photo author’s own.

Lights up on stage, and Zaras kicks off its set. Tonight it’s a three piece: Steve on guitar and vocals, new boy Roy playing his first gig with them on drums. Sarah Garrod, all rock chick chic in leather and fishnets, powers away on bass and lead vocals. This is her band, her songs. On her debut EP ‘Breakables’ she wrote it all, played it all, lyrics clear. But tonight they’re struggling with the sound. The vocals are too far back in the mix and the guitar is lost for the first two songs, ‘My Blood’ and a cover of Hole’s ‘Skinny Little Bitch’. Roy can’t hear what’s going on, and even tearing his T-Shirt off doesn’t help. With the third song, ‘My Beautiful Boy’, there’s a change of pace. Slower, and finally the guitar makes an impact, chiming and drenched in echo, transforming the sound. Then ‘Honey Inside’ and ‘Vampire, Vampire’. This is good heavy pop rock, with elements seemingly drawn from grunge and goth. The feedback finish of ‘Phoenix’ rolls into ‘Bad With Names’, probably the catchiest of the set’s numbers, and the crowd is enjoying it. Sarah continues to smile even after the microphone smacks her in the mouth. They close with Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and leave to deserved applause, a job well done in the face of sonic adversity.

Mark ‘Carlos’ Woods and Tommy Herbert are Junkyard Choir, a South Coast-based duo whose musical hearts lay clearly on the far side of the Atlantic. Their opener, ‘Let the Good Times Roll’ is a declaration of intent, a starter on a beer-stained and battered menu of Americana on the grunge side, with a heavy shot of Blues. Mark’s plaid-shirt surf-punk image accompanied by a gravel-laced voice akin at times to an adrenaline-charged Tom Waits. ‘Blue Moonshine Lady’ and ‘All The Rats’ follow. Mark’s intensity is balanced by Tommy’s constant smile, a man happy in his work banging three shades of…well, you know, out of his drum kit, a fact underlined when they thrash through the less than two minutes of near punk that is ‘Sun Moon Stars’, all the more shocking for having followed hot on the heels of dialled back, melodic ‘Sweet Mary Jane’. Their set is full of texture and variation and when they finish on the kick-ass ‘Monkey’, my only regret is that they didn’t find room tonight for their excellent recent single ‘Someone’.

Photo author’s own.

The Asif Outlaws are no strangers to the Scream Lounge, or indeed Croydon. As regulars on the circuit there’s a confidence about them that is given credence by their obvious abilities. Frontman Asif Ali knows every inch of his Les Paul and uses them all. Resplendent in his leather, straight from the ‘Rock Trouser Museum’, he has a swagger about him and a knowing gleam in his eye. His unlikely partner in pose is Dave Holdstock, whose moptop hair and casual attitude to stage wear belie a ferocious approach to his bass playing, fingers flying across the frets, body almost constantly in motion. Jackie, on saxophone, eschews histrionics for getting the job done, understated but professional. Pete, despite his statement ‘offensive’ t-shirt (mirrored by the one on his girlfriend in the front row) drums like a man re-possessed. It’s all there but he looks, well, a bit bored.

And that’s the problem. On a musical level, they’re good. Oh, they’re very good. But something, for me, just fails to ignite any real level of excitement. There are stand out tracks across the set, such as ‘Imaginary Hero’ and the macabrely titled ‘She’ll Eat Out Your Eyes’, but on the whole it feels all a bit samey. Cue guitar solo. Cue saxophone break. Bass run. End. I’d like to have seen a cover thrown in just to break things up, send the flow in a different direction. They write their own songs which is always commendable but they need to alter the pace or the tone in places. They should also bring Jackie’s sax to the fore on a few occasions, maybe, as she was a bit lost in the mix here.

A review of their album said that a number of tracks outstayed their welcome. On this showing, I have to go along with that. We didn’t, however. With a couple of numbers left to go, my wife turned to me and said “I don’t think we’re going to hear anything different. Shall we go?”. I agreed. And we did.

Paul M Ford

Paul M Ford

Writing, singing, acting, stand-up comedy, not to mention banking and marketing, Paul has not so much followed a career path as leapt blind-fold into a dodgem car and headed down life’s highway, probably against the flow of traffic. With a fascination for history and a seemingly anachronistic sense of fair play, he’s a born-again Coulsdonian, who wants people to realise that a vision for a better Croydon should extend beyond a half-mile radius of the Whitgift Centre…

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