With a 24-hour weekend tube service stretching to Zone 6, London can now rival New York’s claim to be “The City That Never Sleeps”. However, having the potential to deliver new and exciting nightlife experiences doesn’t necessarily guarantee their delivery, and – with independent spaces disappearing at an alarming rate and documents like Form 696 throttling elements of youth culture – some are even claiming that the city is travelling backwards. Still, on Saturday night in an oft-maligned corner of West London, something special and totally unique was happening. It’s just a shame that there weren’t more people present to see it.
Taking to the stage shortly after 8pm, Glowrogues are a septet from Manchester that ostensibly claim the genre of “jazz”, as you would expect from a gig hosted by promoters Jazz Plus Productions. Looking confident and with a palpable sense of camaraderie obvious from the get-go, they began their two-act set to an audience of approximately twenty that seemed more committed to the back of the room than the stage itself. In spite of the small crowd, brass swelled as the band settled into their groove, and by the third song (before which formal introductions were made) everyone present was on the same page. It was at this point that things got interesting.
Building from a distorted sample of Mumford-lite, Americana band The Head and the Heart’s “Rivers and Roads”, Glowrogues staked their claim as advocates for a novel approach to a marginalised sound. The smooth, funky, and ultimately heart-wrenching track built with the size of their audience, and by its completion more than thirty gig-goers were rapturously awaiting what came next. This proved to be a drum pad heavy ode to a Manchester café – North Tea Power – and an obvious statement that they cared little for genre conventions. While this tricky and somewhat-discordant piece was arguably better in concept than execution, it was more than enough to keep interest piqued. The first half of the set was then rounded out with a jam that featured an extended and meandering guitar solo, which triggered a series of woops and wails unlike those normally heard at jazz shows.
After a short break, and with Notting Hill Arts Club filling up for a Latin-themed club night that was to follow the band, Glowrogues returned to the stage. The second half of the set was less experimental, but took the listener on more of a journey, and definitely satisfied a crowd that weren’t primarily there to hear “jazz”. The first instrumental had more than a touch of 80s soft rock to it, yet (surprisingly) that is in no way meant as an insult. This led into a heavily-electronic track built around synths and a looped, slowed-down/pitched-up vocal sample – (unsurprisingly) this was more akin to early Four Tet or late Bonobo than Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. From this, Glowrogues gradually morphed into Phoenix soundalikes, underscored by a prominent organ and jittery guitar stabs, and then announced that the next song would be their last. The audience groaned, and momentarily looked like they were even considering dancing, before proceedings wrapped up with some summery vibes and a flourish of drums.
All in all, it is doubtless that Glowrogues’ performance was a resounding success. They pleased the audience that had come to see them and likely captured the attention of a second, similarly-sized group of new listeners. Equally, it’s definitely a shame that there weren’t more people present to engage with them in the first place. There’s clear irony in the fact that people complain about the homogenisation of London nightlife, but a unique, upcoming band playing an established venue on a Saturday night can only draw a small crowd. If we want musicians to keep pushing sounds and genres forward, we have to turn up in large enough numbers to cover their transport to the city, somewhere to kip for the night, and whatever drinks aren’t covered by their rider. So, if you take anything from this, I hope that it’s a desire to check out something new at a venue near you soon, whether it’s another Jazz Plus night or some fringe theatre. And, hey, I can guarantee that you won’t be doing too badly if that “thing” happens to be a septet from Manchester.
 Chi Chi Izundu and Jessica Furst, “Form 696: Concern over ‘racist’ police form to be raised”, BBC 27th March 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39181672