Going to see old punk bands in 2013 can sometimes be a bit of a gamble, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t slightly expect tonight to be a bit of a cringe-fest.
A half-filled room of half-interested ex-punks, now in their 50s, buying rounds like real people whilst a band that consists of one original member (often not even the frontman) and a couple of touring musicians that’ll probably never perform under that name again play songs about Thatcher and things that are not really that controversial anymore – we see this quite a lot these days.
In fact, you only need to watch the identity parade on Never Mind The Buzzcocks to be reintroduced to some forgotten punk who is apparently “still touring with the reformed…” or “now writing material with his new band…”. Maybe it’s time to pack it in? They couldn’t have been that great in the first place if even Phil Jupitus can’t pick them out of a line-up.
The Toy Dolls were never the most serious of bands, in fact they are probably one of the daftest bands that have ever existed. Despite having one foot in the category of ‘old punk group that’s gone through thirty years of line-up changes with only one remaining original member’ there’s still a whole lot of fun and energy in the band.
The crowd is a nice mix of young and old punks and The Haunt is completely rammed, even for support act TV Smith.
TV Smith, for the unsure, was the frontman of UK punk originals The Adverts who had a couple of Top 40 singles during their short-lived career in the 70s. At fifty-seven years old TV Smith still has plenty punky spunk left in him, even down to the way he dresses, while his voice actually sounds better than it ever did before. Surprisingly, we find that a lot of the subject matter in his material still holds as much relevance now as it did in 1978, and The Adverts’ hits translate really well to his acoustic approach.
The Toy Dolls come out and the crowd erupt with cheering and laughter. Immediately the band are running up and down the stage in matching suits, grinning from ear to ear. We find it hard to believe that this band could have ever sounded better – the energy and passion they put into their live show would put most modern punk bands to shame. They certainly haven’t lost their touch and frontman Michael ‘Olga’ Algar seems to have become even cheekier with age.
We are attacked with a confetti cannon during ‘Credit Crunch Christmas’ and the humorous lyrics of ‘Dirty Doreen’ and ‘Spiders In The Dressing Room’ remind us how much fun punk rock can really be if you don’t try and take it too seriously.
Olga claims “this is a new one” before they burst into ‘Nellie The Elephant’, the well-known novelty tune that reached number four in the UK charts back in 1984. As expected, this is the one everybody becomes the most involved with and it genuinely feels great to be a part of it. A real timeless classic that can get any party going: don’t try telling us you haven’t seen the dancefloor of an uncle’s birthday party completely transform when this one comes on.
It’s impossible to imagine that bands such as The Vandals, Dropkick Murphys and NOFX would have existed if it wasn’t for The Toy Dolls, and it’s evident how much they still love doing what they do, jumping up and down so much that it makes Busted look like they were lazy on stage.
Later in their set they play a few short instrumental versions of popular pieces including ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ and Bach’s ‘Toccata And Fugue In D Minor’, by which point they have stripped off their suits to reveal further matching outfits underneath.
We are told that Olga is feeling “rather thirsty”. He then leaves the stage and returns with a giant inflatable bottle of fizz with an enormous party popper attached to it. They fly into ‘Lambrusco Kid’ in a storm of brightly coloured foil and we really feel for the Haunt employee whose job it is to sweep the floor after the gig.
TV Smith makes another appearance during the encore, coming out to do vocals on a Toy Dolls-backed rendition of The Adverts’ hit ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, clearing up the mystery as to why he didn’t play it in his own set. They follow it up with ‘Dig That Groove, Baby’ and a second encore of ‘She Goes To Fino’s’. There’s nothing very punk rock about doing an encore, but tonight we don’t let that bother us and would’ve been happy for them to keep going for hours longer.
As we brush metallic pink foil from our jacket and pick confetti out of our hair and pockets, we leave feeling great about the fact there are still punk bands out there that aren’t just dragging it out for the sake of it or trying to earn some extra cash by preying on nostalgic middle-aged people. The Toy Dolls still have that fire inside them, perform like they are eighteen years old, and most importantly, know how to have a bloody good laugh.
Haunt, Wednesday 6th November 2013
Words by Chris Biggs
Photos by Fran Moore