Playing to an audience that’s on the meagre side even for this small venue – and a number of whom they seem to know personally – might be a bit of a facer for a band which has been going in various forms since 1999.
Pugwash | Rating: *** | The Hug And Pint, Glasgow
But Thomas Walsh, the main creative force of this 60s-inflected Irish pop outfit, seemed to take it as a cue for sardonic humour, joking that in years to come people would speak of this night like the time the Sex Pistols first played Manchester, claiming to have been among the cool few to have been there.
That’s rather a stretch, but there’s certainly a cult element to Pugwash. Though they’ve only produced five albums across their lifespan, those five are beloved by other musicians including XTC’s Andy Partridge, the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Ben Folds. And Walsh’s recent side project with Hannon, the two peculiarly cricket-themed albums under the moniker The Duckworth Lewis Method, did surprisingly well, pushing him to probably his highest prominence and even involving collaborations with Daniel Radcliffe, Matt Berry and Stephen Fry. Did it go to his head? More jokes about his immense pride in being nominated for an Ivor Novello award for Duckworth Lewis while “still signing on the dole” suggested Walsh has a canny grasp of pop’s vagaries.
Such banter veered wildly, sometimes self-indulgently, between songs which kept to a narrow range of upbeat tunes and pleasant vibes.
The rocky Kicking And Screaming, a recent single, sets out Walsh’s philosophy of celebrating positivity while acknowledging the dark side of life, while Darkness Makes Us Blind, one of their earliest songs, finds beauty in melody. Their obvious influences – The Beatles, ELO, XTC, The Byrds – are perhaps over-cited but in their layered guitars and harmonies it’s hard not to make the comparison as Walsh’s appealingly mannered voice swoops soars above a surprisingly big sound. String samples boosted the pretty ballad Here while the effortlessly catchy Apples showcased their unusual chord arrangements.
Some songs, like It’s Nice To Be Nice, veer too much towards the twee, and as the show wore on, many seemed to blur together into a generalised, shimmering, psychedelic pop coo that became far too samey. Still, Walsh and his collaborators – Tosh Flood, who also plays with Divine Comedy, Shaun McGee and Joe Fitzgerald – kept spirits up with amiable japes like impersonations of a stuck Beatles vinyl album.