The Woodentops
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The Woodentops

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Band Rock Alternative


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Does the world really need another band reunion? I'm not sure, but it's nice to be in the youngest ten per cent of a crowd simply by virtue of being under 40. And considering the band in question originally called time at the start of the 90s and never even troubled the pop charts in their 80s heyday (a couple of indie chart number ones, sure, but you could probably do that with about 800 sales if none of Stock Aitken and Waterman's pop puppets had anything out on PWL that week) there's a fair crowd in tonight for one of just a couple of UK dates for the recently revived Woodentops.

Shame most will have missed The Slow Readers Club; annoyingly we only catch a couple of songs ourselves. Had we known they were supporting we'd have... still probably missed most of the set, given that we catch the last two songs by being in the venue at ten past eight. One is old Omerta (much-loved local mid-00s band from which three quarters of them came) classic "Learn To Love The System", a brilliantly bouncy swipe at growing into conformity that might cause a twinge, should they be listening to the words, in any fortysomethings just here to reminisce over their indie-alternative youth. The other is equally bouncy and upbeat, with a driving electro-influenced bassline. It seems that after a darker and more brooding start The Slow Readers Club have effectively mutated back into Omerta - but given that Omerta were far too good to burn out as fast as they seemed to, this should be considered a positive thing.

You can't help it with reformed 80s bands: that initial couple of seconds after they walk on but before the music kicks in, you know you shouldn't but you're judging whether they've aged well. Mainman Rolo McGinty certainly has. There may be a thin patch at his crown but as preserved 80s indie fringes go it's a good one, and even his clothes are the sort of thing he wore in 1986. Drummer Paul Ashby, bassist Frank De Freitas (yes, the late Bunnymen drummer was his brother) and guitarist Simon Mawby are all veterans of the 80s line-ups with Aine O'Keeffe on keyboards completing the 2010 version. It's a kind of shambling start, but then we'd exopect nothing less (or more) from a band often placed at the forefront of the so-called shambling bands scene, but then they kick into frenzied early single "It Will Come" and something happens. The place wakes up. Band and crowd; the former seemingly losing those wrinkles in the reddish stage lights and the latter dancing like they're back at the student disco as they may have been when it came out in 1985. 1985! You know, Live Aid, leg-warmers, "Back To The Future"...

Back to the future indeed. If we're talking time slippage, you don't need a customised DeLorean tonight. Beacuse the sounds we're hearing from the stage are completely and utterly the sound of Now. Take "Well Well well" (another 1985 single) and listen - you hear those (what we used to call) World Music influences? That kind of Brazilian beat? And what's this elsewhere - mariachi rhythms (Ashby is nothing short of astonishing throughout both in his relentless pace and the sheer danceability of every last beat he hits) mixed into a jangly indie shuffle, or the pealing descending scale of an African influenced guitar? Sorry Vampire Weekend and friends, this pan-global indie-pop you seem so terribly convinced you invented was going on back when vinyl was your regular album format, not some retro indie cool thing. If a bunch of edgy looking twentysomethings from this week's fashionable postcode were playing this exact same set, note for note, NME would be messing its trousers.

And the hits (of sorts) keep on coming. "Sometimes you try harder for me than I try for myself" sings Rolo in "Good Thing" (1986), perfectly encapsulating 80s indie in one sentence. A couple of blokes down the front seem to be having some sort of dance-off, hop-skipping and twisting their legs out sideways; back in the crowd there are a few cardigans shuffling. Cardigans. The very essence of Shambling Band anti-fashion; eighteen-year-olds wearing a garment deliberately associated with middle age. The middle age they've now reached, but people don't wear cardigans below pensionable age these days. By the time the curfew kicks in (apparently it's the ubiquitous Club Night After that's responsible for tonight's ratehr early showing) the Woodentops have played a good hour and ten minutes to over a hundred delighted fans. That's probably more than they did back then - and from what I can remember, vaguely, from teenage nights of Peel coming out the mono speaker, they're sounding better than they ever did.

By Cath Aubergine -

"You’ve always been at the back of my mind…" Wyndham Wallace welcomes The Woodentops to Berlin’s Lido Club.

History has not been kind to The Woodentops. Though they achieved a moderate level of critical and commercial success during the late 80s to early 90s, in the succeeding two decades they have been forgotten by all but their most committed fans, a marginalised footnote to a footnote, occasionally namechecked alongside the likes of Thrashing Doves for their unlikely association with Ibiza's nascent Balearic scene. Even those committed fans, therefore, must have been surprised when Rolo McGinty decided to give The Woodentops another spin. The world hadn't exactly been crying out for a reunion, and they'd never been one of those bands that looked like candidates for critical rehabilitation anyway. Here they are, though, back on stage in Berlin for the first time since the Wall fell, with a run of dates in the UK ahead of them. But Berlin's not been kind to them either: there are less than a hundred people in the audience.
"Lots of room to dance tonight," McGinty jokes as the band arrive, but fortunately his good humour is well placed for, within a minute of opening track 'Get It On' beginning, this sparse crowd has entirely forgotten the disappointment of having to revisit past glories in these less than celebratory circumstances. The Woodentops always had a reputation for breakneck live performances, with songs from their two somewhat jangly albums given a generous dose of rhythmic amphetamine, and it's clear nothing has changed. Throwing down a couple of new songs as an additional bonus, they rattle through their catalogue as though their tour bus could leave at any moment and they don't want to skip a beat before it goes. But, even though this sporadically seems to leave McGinty struggling to deliver his lyrics in time, it's not a sign of impatience, especially given the hefty number of songs they call upon. It's simply the way they do things, and it's night on impossible to resist.
It's not just the pace of their performance that's athletic, either. The songs themselves have muscled up, with guitars ricocheting off one another and Paul Ashby's drums clattering like the repeated and synchronised collapse of a kitchen cabinet. The band may lack the attention to visual presentation that has become a prerequisite of 21st Century indie - McGinty himself looks like a carpenter who's taking a tea break - but it's clear that they have the stamina of a group half their age. Their amped up approach has other benefits too, revealing hitherto overlooked elements within their music: 'Good Thing' revels in an Afrobeat treatment that would make Vampire Weekend dizzy, while 'Last Time' hints at funk and disco in its revitalised DNA. Most surprising is the makeover given to 'Everything Breaks' in which a slouching, almost baggy beat builds towards a phosphorescent climax, Simon Mawby's Gretsch summoning the spirit of Johnny Marr's finest work with The Smiths, McGinty himself almost bellowing the song's final lines, "See the stars shine so brightly for me tonight".

Maybe its lyrics like these that are behind McGinty's desire to tear through their setlist. The Woodentops might have been credited with leading the indie/dance crossover but their lyrics were more often tender than hedonistic, even when given to ecstasy-glazed optimism. Consequently, perhaps, McGinty sought back then to bury his sentiments beneath this musical rush since they were at odds with the audience that found the band rather than the one that their label, Rough Trade, might have expected. 'Good Thing' is especially intimate, an understated tale of separation and reunion from a loved one - 'Thanks for the card that you sent / I hung it on the wall / I always read those letters, yes I do / Even if I've read them before, again and again" - yet tonight those words are lost in the mix. The tremulous vulnerability of his voice, however, remains firmly evident, not unlike Terry Hall's, and what the band lack of their studio albums' sparkling sensitivity is more than made up for by a performance that makes perfect sense of their popularity with late 80s Ibiza DJs. Songs are stretched to breaking point, simple melodic motifs repeated over and over again as if they were tied to a techno template, or - in the case of their original Balearic crossover, 'Why Why Why' - given an impressive if short-lived Trenchtown makeover. (The band, let us not forget, worked, albeit unsuccessfully, with Lee 'Scratch' Perry in 1986, and Skip McDonald also joined their line up late in their 'first' career.)
Furthermore, they're not afraid of cranking it up, as they do a number of times - 'Why Why Why' later falling prey to a delightfully extended squall of feedback - or combining unlikely styles, McGinty's wrist-snapping strumming of his semi-acoustic still dominating proceedings even when the rest of the band are lost in the kind of ska beloved of The Specials or the rock 'n' roll and doowop hybrid of 'Give It Time'. And though one or two of their tunes suffer from a structural similarity, Ashby intermittently battering out a slightly over-familiar tattoo, the undeniable truth is that this is way, way more than an exercise in nostalgia. In fact, were one to arrange a Pepsi Challenge style blind taste test, The Woodentops might well come out on top of most contemporary indie rock. If they can incite a middle aged crowd of balding Berliners to shake their rumps, then the kind of crowds that one hopes will greet their UK shows will definitely want to leave their coats at the cloakroom. The band that history forgot are back and at the top of their game, with such unlikely bending and blending of genres frankly as timely as it ever was, if perhaps a little too subtle for youthful ears. So while they may not have made the kind of lasting impact that other recently reunited bands have, you get the feeling they're not just here to pick up the fees. In fact, as McGinty laughs upon his return to the stage for a third encore, "we're suckers for this as well. " More than most, therefore, The Woodentops deserve another chance to secure their place in the history books. "Give it time," McGinty sang in 1986, but it should never have taken this long... -

'Time for some hypnobeat live in the Avalon field, where The Woodentops are frantically playing their (almost) hits - Get It On, Move Me - at a speed that belies their vintage. Fans of Vampire Weekend should check out the Tops' Good Thing is they want to hear what that guitar sound sounded like 25 years ago.' - Q Magzine Glasonbury Review 2010

Das letzte Mal, als wir in Berlin gespielt haben, hat die Mauer noch gestanden", sagt Rolo McGinty, der kleine hibbelige Frontmann der Woodentops. Das ist lange her. Damals, in den Achtzigern, als die Londoner Band als große "Indie-Pop-Hoffnung" galt, basierten ihre rappeligen Songs hauptsächlich auf akustischen Instrumenten - Gitarren, Akkordeon, Trompete, Marimbas, Geige - mit denen sie alle möglichen musikalischen Stilrichtungen ineinander quirlten: Pop, Folk, Punk, Rockabilly, Reggae. Und schließlich auch ein bisschen Electronic. Anfang der Neunziger, nach ein paar Hits und zwei regulär erschienen Studioalben, löste sich die einst gefeierte Gruppe auf und geriet in Vergessenheit. Irgendwann müssen sie sich dann allerdings gedacht haben: Was manche dieser jungen Bands heute so machen, haben wir doch schon vor fünfzehn Jahren besser gekonnt. Und sie beschlossen, wieder aufzutreten.

Im spärlich besuchten Lido machen sie ordentlich Dampf. Mit rasend schnellem Gitarrengeschraddel, beckenlos vorwärts hämmerndem Schlagzeug, gelenkig hüpfenden Bassläufen und einer quäkende Quietscheorgel bringen sie die wenigen, aber umso enthusiastischeren Fans zum Tanzen. "Move Me". "Why Why Why". "Well Well Well".

Manchmal klingt es nach "Talking Heads", ein bisschen monoton, dann wieder wild wie Iggy Pop, eine rasende Polka, Calypso-Rhythmen, Rockabilly-Beat, Flamenco-Anklänge. Das hört sich nach abwechslungsreicher Vielfalt an und tönt doch seltsam gleichförmig. Fast jeden Song beginnt McGinty auf seiner Elektroakustikgitarre mit seinem typischen, rasanten Rhythmusschrabbeln, bevor die Band einsetzt und sein nervös überdrehter Gesang. Es rattert und knattert, schnell und laut. Und Simon Mawby erweist sich mit seiner roten Gretsch als unaufdringlich einfallsreicher Gitarrist mit außergewöhnlichen Sounds: Feedback, Gequietsche, Geheble am Tremolo-Arm und schönen Surf-Soli. Bis McGinty nach etwas über einer Stunde von der Bühne springt, um sich von einzelnen Fans per Handschlag zu verabschieden. Was viele jüngere Bands können, können die Woodentops allemal. -


1984 Plenty (single)
1985 Move Me (single)
1985 Well Well Well (single)
1985 It Will Come (single)
1985 Straight Eight Bushwaker (EP)
1986 Well, Well, Well (single)
1986 Good Thing (single)
1986 Love Train (single)
1986 Giant (album)
1986 Everyday Living (single)
1986 Get It On (single)
1986 Give It Time (single)
1987 Hypnobeat Live (album)
1988 Stop This Car (single)
1988 Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway (album)
1988 Wheels Turning (single)
2003 Bamboo: The Best of the Woodentops (album)
2007 The BBC Sessions (album)
2010 3rd Floor Rooftop High (single)

A full discography with commentary of The Woodentops' releases is detailed on our website:



Bred on a bed of electronic influences but with no budget for the equipment, The Woodentops began life in the 80s as an acoustic mirror to Kraftwerk and Suicide. A relentless cannonade of independent hits preceded their top 30 mainstream album "Giant". With the first clubfloor crossover, "Why Why Why', the band continued to produce music ahead of its time, backed up by incendiary performances around the world and the support of visionaries like John Peel.

After a break during the 90s, an extraordinary night at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall last October saw the band back on top form, collaborating with original album cover artist Panni Bharti. This was swiftly followed by a successful European tour with the band taking their unmistakable sound to Belgium, Germany and France, delighting fans old and new with a heady mix of original hits and stunning new material. Tighter and more frenetic than ever, The Woodentops were this summer's must-see band, with appearances at Glastonbury, Summer Sundae, Belladrum and La Merce (Barcelona) festivals.

Weaving breakneck beats through sparkling melodies and rolling basslines, the band have recaptured the spirit and energy of their early years. Hugely influential on many different music scenes, the eclecticism of their music continues to inspire many new artists.