My first time seeing Kula Shaker, that most ridiculed of bands, and it turned out that they were, in fact, ridiculously brilliant.
“Well, to be utterly, inarticulately honest: WOW!”
Kula Shaker had first caught my attention two and a half years previously, when I was still dwelling in my dimly-lit bedroom in Perth. I’d always had a tendency to be drawn towards whoever was the new darling of the music press, and Kula Shaker were definitely that around the time of their first few singles. I liked them a lot, but I was terribly conflicted. From my diary in September 1996:
“aaaargh Kula Shaker! That CRAP Hammond, the two-thousandth-hand pseudo-Eastern quasi-philosophy, the frankly frightening Led Zeppelin aspect, the chord changes so cliched even Oasis would think twice, the lyrics so unutterably adolescent they’re like “Carnival Of Light” rejects, the whole “is it 1974 yet?” aura. Ah yes, that’d be the best new band in Britain, then.”
Despite these reservations, I found myself buying their first three singles and listening to them obsessively for a few months. But I was not quite ready to fully commit to being a fan of such a backwards-looking band, and by the time I moved to London that December, I had largely decided, like many others, that they were laughable and mildly offensive.
So what changed? In early ’99, I was about to turn 24, and was feeling very much ready to get my gigging life back into proper motion, after a sluggish 1998. However, none of my usual faves were active, and it began to look like I might have to wait until the summer festivals before I could spring into gigging action. This would Not Do. So I cast my eyes and ears around for something new to fill the gigless months, and this is where Kula Shaker caught my attention for a second time. Their recent singles “Sound of Drums” and “Mystical Machine Gun” had contained all the elements that had drawn me to them in the first place – an epic aptitude for melody combined with a sense of reaching out for impossible, magical things. This aspect is what makes them seem ridiculous, even risible to many – but, it turns out, it is also what makes them magnificent.
So off I went to Stargreen Box Office on the 3rd of March to see if I could pick up a ticket to their Kentish Town Forum gig at the end of the month. I came away with something entirely unexpected: a return for their sold out 100 Club gig just two days later. So my gigging life resumed much earlier than anticipated, and my first Kula Shaker experience happened in this tiny, legendary venue, the size of which being the first thing I noted in my diary on returning home that night:
“Where to begin? I was surely not prepared for the size of the 100 Club. Or rather lack of size! It was like watching a gig performed on the reception desk at work!”
I found myself a spot in the second row to the far right, and “waited and waited and waited and waited. No support band, just T-Rex and Rolling Stones tunes in excess. In fact “Paint It Black” was still bashing away as the band came on.” I was astonished by the proximity of the boys, “about 2 inches away. Well 3 inches maybe, ‘cos I got pushed back a bit in the ensuing excitement.”
The band crashed in with “Hey Dude”. “From the first careening chord all my suspicions about Kula Shaker were confirmed. That is, they are an astonishingly excellent live band. I would use words like “tight” and “proficient” which are entirely accurate but sound a bit insulting. But they are much more than that. Four boys on a postage stamp stage playing retro rawk’n’roll and it was so bloody ENTERTAINING! The guitar solos hijacked bits of your brain and started shaking them all about! The harmonies vibrated down to the very tips of your toes!”
But in true Scruffy style, I couldn’t properly love a band unless I had an artistically-cheekboned, quixotically-voiced boy to fixate on, and Crispian Mills provided all this and more. “It has to be said, Crispian IS the magical key. He’s not like my other boys, but he is stunningly charismatic. Rather like Brett, you just can’t tear your eyes from him. Whether he’s singing (and his voice is pure exhilaration) or thrashing about in guitar frenzy, you just know he’s doing it exactly as it should be done. Just watching him is a rawk thrill. Quite frankly, I really bloody fancy him.”
As I had not yet gotten around to buying their debut “K”, and their second album “Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts” wasn’t released until three days later, it was an evening of many unfamiliar songs, but this mattered not a bit. “Oh it was all fab, immense, perfect rawk, and hardly any moshing in my corner. A thousand gold lights like stars for “Mystical Machine Gun” and “Tattva” and “Govinda”. A lot of tunes I didn’t know that you just had to bounce to.”
But well, there was one main thing on my mind as I struggled to stay awake whilst scribbling my thoughts that shattered Friday night, post gig.
“Have I mentioned Crispian!!? The gorgeous skinny white thing, like Mick Ronson with decent hair, like a happy, well-adjusted Paul Draper. The music was great: makes you feel strong. But Crispian was the the real thrill. Can’t wait to see him, erm them, again…”
And so, after the outrageously mellow Crispian (“I think Crispy was a bit stoned, to be honest”) bid us goodnight – “thanks for coming here to see us on Oxford Street, in London Town” – it was over. The next day, being a Saturday, saw me off out to visit the record fairs, CD stores and gig ticket purveyors of said London Town, and by the time I came home, it’s safe to say I was fully converted.
“You know what I forgot to mention? “Govinda” was one of the massivest swayalong arms in the air anthems I’ve ever experienced. It’ll be even massiver at the Forum. Yes for now I have my ticket!”
I was well and truly a Kula Shaker fan now, with a ticket to my second gig of theirs snapped up just hours after seeing my first. And a damn good thing too, for I had some truly epic gig experiences from them to come, starting just three weeks later at the Kentish Town Forum.