LIVE: Jamie Lenman / HPBC / Frauds @ Scala, London

By Jay Hampshire

Those familiar with a certain era of the UK underground rock scene will identify Jamie Lenman with his work with old band, Reuben. Others will know him from his illustration career or solo material, specifically 2014’s rousing ‘Muscle Memory’. Regardless, those who descend upon the Scala tonight all know him well, and the anticipation is palpable.

Croydon duo Frauds open things up with a playful scramble of guitar loops and busy drumming. While throwing down chunky riffs peppered with jarring, chaotic segments and atonal vocal yelps might make them sound suffused with punk seriousness on paper, in reality they approach their set with the jaunty tongue in cheek vibes of a heavier, more angular Weezer. Songs about sandwiches and tightened anuses sit atop slow builds and explosions of almost nervous tension that evoke a slightly less sleazy Queens Of The Stone Age.

Despite sounding like some kind of building society, HPBC specialise in big, ballsy grunge. Satisfyingly dense, they’ve got some mean swagger and even meaner riffs. Their drummer is a ball of energy, indulging in frequent snare abuse, keeping the pace high. Wringing bluesy licks and the odd squeal of protest from the guitar, turning on a dime, the two piece make a hell of a racket, getting the crowd to stomp along with them. Perhaps not as varied or attention grabbing as tonight’s openers, but a good time for sure.

A heaving Scala is testament to the enduring cult appeal of Jamie Lenman’s music. When he takes to the stage, Droogishly dressed in all white finery, there’s uproarious celebration. Laying in with latest cut, ‘Waterloo Teeth’, he and his erstwhile drummer have the audience hooked. ‘Fizzy Blood’ explodes with snarling hardcore fury, inspiring the first roiling moshpit of many. Despite the fact it’s just the duo onstage, they sound absolutely massive.

One thing that marks Jamie Lenman out is his keen awareness of, and appreciation for, his own musical history. He doesn’t run from his tenure in the much missed Reuben, indulging almost immediately in nostalgia with a bouncy rendition of ‘Parties Break Hearts’, and later on catering to the oldest of the old school fan with a moving ‘Blitzkrieg’. But this isn’t phony nostalgia, or pandering for the sake of pandering. The focus is kept very clearly on the here and now (or at least the ‘a few years back’). ‘Mississippi’ encourages an impromptu shouted-along spelling lesson, ‘All The Things You Hate About Me (I Hate Them Too)’ rages with seething self-deprecation, and ‘No News Is Good News’ raises hairs with its all too timely railing against press corruption. To the delight of those in attendance, Lenman even shows that his eye is turned to the future, with airing of brand new cut, the nightmarish ‘All Of England Is A City’.

As you’d expect, Lenman’s penchant for tonal variety is more than catered for during his ‘folk ass section’. The resonator guitar comes out, and ‘Ain’t Your Boy’ sets an emotive tone before ‘Shotgun House’ bears down with a speakeasy swing and ‘Hard To Be A Gentleman’ acts as an honest, crooning confessional. The crowd belt every word back at Lenman, bouncing energy like a mirror, and he seems truly humbled and grateful for the turnout and the opportunity. There’s an honesty behind the snappy banter and relaxation in tuning his guitar onstage, a rare connection bereft of self-indulgence. Jamie Lenman isn’t just a talented musician, he’s a raconteur, a rounded entertainer, and that’s what tonight is; a thoroughly enjoyable tour through history and the eclectic nooks and crannies of his mindbox.

Jay Hampshire