REAL GONE GOES OUT: Salad – Star Shaped Festival, Kentish Town Forum, London 21/9/2019

It’s only about twenty past three in the afternoon, but the crowd at the Forum have already experienced superb sets by Mark Morriss and Chris Helme. For so early in the day, the venue had been surprisingly full for the Seahorses and Bluetones frontmen. At this point, it’s less full than it had been, but even the most enthusiastic Britpop fans have to go and eat! It’s a shame that so many have chosen to do so just as Salad are about to appear, but looking at the whole day’s events, Salad are the least traditionally “Britpop” of the day’s acts – only really considered Britpop by virtue of timing. That, and the fact that they’ve always seemed to be one of those “Marmite” bands, so in some ways, the thinner crowd sort of makes sense. Many of those still in the venue have almost certainly come to see Salad specifically and are ready to give their all.

As the house lights dim, a few shadowy figures take the stage. Over on stage left/audience right, bassist Pete Brown cuts a slight and wiry figure. On the other side of the stage, guitarist Charley Stone holds a distinctive presence with peroxide mop and Keith TOTP t-shirt. Eventually, Paul Kennedy picks up his guitar and Marijne van der Vlugt strolls confidently to the microphone. The last time Salad stood on the stage at the Forum as a complete band was during the 90s, and It feels good to have them back. Even before a single note is played, memories of their Carter support slot on 16th March 1995 flood back; memories of Marijne’s sprained ankle and of an especially dark outing of ‘Diminished Clothes’; memories of a raucous ‘Your Ma’… That was a great night.

Amid the sounds of an enthusiastic crowd, the opening notes of the classic ‘Granite Statue’ ring out. A should’ve been massive hit, the cult favourite sounds great this afternoon. Despite a slightly muddy feel, it’s easy to pick out the differences between Kennedy and Stone’s guitar sounds and styles – and Marijne sounds great, delivering the breathy notes of the chorus with a great enthusiasm. Sliding into the underrated ‘Cardboy King’, there’s a sense that this set could be front-loaded, but that doesn’t matter. The lead single from the band’s original swansong ‘Ice Cream’, I feels a little faster than usual, but that could just as much be about audience adrenaline as anything. Nevertheless, it’s a good performance, particularly as the band seem to be having as good a time as the audience. Maybe an even better time.

‘In The Dark’ provides the first dip into new album ‘The Salad Way’ with something less perky, but this rendition allows an opportunity to watch and hear Charley weave various grungy guitar lines in and out of an almost tribal drum part, while  Marijne appears to have launched into an impromptu dance with a lot of arm waving…  Of all the new songs, this one comes across much better live.   before the set’s first big highlight ‘Motorbike To Heaven’ (“a song about a motorbike…to heaven!”) throws the audience back into the middle of 1994 – somewhere they’re more than happy to go. Throughout the number, Kennedy’s rhythm guitar work carries a much dirtier sound than expected, but this is contrasted by a great vocal. Any musical wobbles can be forgiven since Salad, at this point, seem hell bent on giving those who’ve forgone a trip to Nando’s an hour to remember. The fans have nothing but love for Marijne and this comes through during the intro to another new track ‘Your Face’, which suffers a false start when the singer is distracted by someone in the second row…”smiling too much”!

An announcement in Dutch provides amusement when it isn’t clear whether she’s addressing the whole audience or someone specific near the stage, but either way it’s “none of [our] business.” This kind of unrehearsed banter just adds to the fun. Sticking with the current album the much faster ‘Underneath The Wrapping Paper’ captures this line up of Salad at full tilt; the dual guitar sounds have a huge presence. Early single ‘Kent’ opens with a crushing riff, along with Marijne gyrating and throwing her microphone around in pure Roger Daltrey mode – something that more than makes up for it arguably being the set’s weakest track – before another new number, ‘Details’, shows off some sharp indie chops. “I wrote this about him!” van der Vlugt says, pointing to her left at a non-plussed Paul Kennedy. “He annoyed me, so I wrote a song about it!  We wrote it together.” The world is lucky they had a squabble, since with it’s spiky Elastica-esque and Wire-infused charm, it’s the best track on ‘The Salad Way’ and in turn, one of the highlights of this mid-afternoon romp.

Kicking off the set’s second half, ‘Diminished Clothes’ is really bass heavy, which combined with a wall of distorted guitars, draws from influences closer to Pixies et al than any Britpop. Regardless of style, it remains a killer track and with Marijne facing sideways to fulfil various keyboard duties, visually it has a much stronger link to the Salad shows of decades past. Recent single ‘The Selfishness of Love’ floats past quickly without actually making much of an impact, but it isn’t long before the far more familiar ‘On A Leash’ gets the first couple of rows moving. ‘On A Leash’, as usual, sounds like prime Salad and with Marijne in relatively good voice, even this far into an energetic set, it’s another highlight. A bouncy ‘Got The Job’ (the last track to be pulled from a heavily promoted new album) is greeted well, before a “naughty song” is announced. There surely isn’t anyone left in the room who doesn’t know what’s coming…and sure enough, an incredibly intensive and distorted ‘Your Ma’ raises the roof and watching Marijne doing a 70s glam rock stomp (complete with thumbs-in-pockets) suggests she’s loving every moment.. Finally, a very jangly ‘Drink The Elexir’ gives Marijne one last chance to dance (in this case, she’s opted for doing the “bees knees” move from The Charleston, rather unexpectedly) and.reach a couple of high notes while the front row burns up some excess energy. Finally, at the end of a superb rendition of an old favourite, she lifts her keyboard high, smiles at the audience and gradually the band makes a fairly unceremonious exit.

This has been a ragged performance, but watching a band motoring like they could come off the rails at any moment can be so much more fun than experiencing a slick performance where everyone is striving for perfection at all times. For years, it seemed like Salad were consigned to the past and rosy memories of twenty-something gig goers, and so, their return has been a welcome one. With ‘The Salad Way’s best material slotting in between old favourites, even with a few flaws, this afternoon’s set has filled an hour with some great tunes and greater spirits.

‘The Salad Way’ is out now.

Words by Lee Realgone.
Photo by Anna Williams. Used with permission.

Read a review of Mark Morriss at Star Shaped 2019 here.
Read a review of Chris Helme at Star Shaped 2019 here.
Read a review of Salad – The Lost Album, Volume 1 here.
Read a review of Salad Undressed – Good Love Bad Love here.

September 2019