Spratleys Japs live review - The Lexington, London

Tim Smith's Spratleys Japs and Guapo team up for a Cardiacs friendly

A crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

Tonight’s show – DJ’d by Steve Davis, natch – is a double-header featuring two like minds. You can tell they’re like minds because sometime Cardiacs member and Knifeworld mainman Kavus Torabi (guitar) performs with both bands. He’s on full-time with the mighty Guapo and makes a cameo appearance for Spratleys Japs’ encore.

But whereas the latter – not surprisingly for an outfit originally helmed by Cardiacs leader Tim Smith – specialise in largely short songs marked by manic tempo twitches, Guapo’s set wholly comprises two extended avant prog forays. The first, the entirety of their multi-part 2015 epic Obscure Knowledge, opens with Middle Eastern sounds. It segues into discordant horror film-style keyboards before Torabi attacks his guitar with a giant chopstick.

Basically, every member appears to be playing a different song. There are parts that are dramatic and droney (think King Crimson meets Wire), and parts that are conventionally thrilling: from Krautrock to hard rock and back again. Sustain, reverb and delay get copious use. At 12 minutes, Tremors From The Future is relatively brief, but it also boasts hypnotic sections worthy of systems music, with multiple convulsive changes.

Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs, as it says on the giant canvas behind the stage, are making their live London debut and feature just singer Jo Spratley from the original line-up, plus a host of musicians determined to keep the band’s maverick spirit alive. Pony is a tempo-twitchy affair that elicits plenty of cheers and is prog at its more whimsical. Flash is prog punk, the audience joining in with the “whoo!”s. Burnt violently transitions from hippie to rhythmic post-punk, goes back to psych, fits in a Mothers Of Invention snark chorale, then repeats.

Vessel is four minutes of galumphing strangeness, inducing lots of head-nodding, if not actual dancing, among the assembled chrome-domes of a certain age. Curfew accelerates and decelerates between woozy and high energy. Sparrows contains elements of classical, psych and prog, during which Spratley sings like a Victorian girl trapped in an attic – her distracted, plummy English tones are a signature component of this mad miscellany. For Fear, she sings through an old fashioned radio mic to make her sound like a 1940s lady adrift in the modern age.

With their curious thrashy vignettes, Spratleys locate the weirdness at the centre of post-war English genteel society and culture. Torabi joins the band for a cover of the Cardiacs’ Flap Off You Beak, and suddenly ‘they are not alive’ becomes the catchiest refrain you’ve ever heard. File under barmy but affecting.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.