Even by their own lofty standards, it’s been a good year for Bella Union, with the much-lauded indie label juggernaut overseeing releases from the heaviest hitting artists inhabiting their roster. Records from Beach House, Father John Misty and John Grant have all thrust themselves into the arena for album of the year accolades, both within the label’s output and further afield.
With these names occupying space in Bella Union’s release schedule and the zeitgeist of critical acclaim, it’s surprising that for us at least, the label’s standout album and jewel in the crown of 2018, comes not from the aforementioned names but instead from American born, Manchester based, BC Camplight. Deportation Blues is the follow-up to his 2015 label debut How To Die In the North and has undeniably catapulted a peripheral figure into the spotlight. His authoritative ownership of off-kilter synth balladry alongside the use of strikingly indeterminate, but glaringly obvious lyricism made for compelling listening and afforded him the attention of the music world. It’s been a big few months for BC Camplight and just as the dust feels like it was about to settle, the runaway train stopped in to visit London’s Omeara.
Undertaking the evening’s support slot is the self described “hypnotic, chiming bedroom pop” band, Penelope Isles. The four-piece bring with them a considerable setup of synthesisers, guitars, FX pedals and all manner of musical majesty. Their jangly, dream-pop guitars are complimented with chunky baselines with enough weight to effectively cut through the baggy haze. Lusciously deft vocal harmonies wash over the songs outlined with a reverb soaked falsetto; this combined with their dream-pop instrumentals yields an impressively dynamic sound reminiscent of genre stalwarts Beach House. While there are moments of Deerhunter-esque psychedelic intricacy there’s also capacity for unadulterated heaviness with a weighty post-rock exorcism during the set. It’s a short, five song slot, and one that is hugely enjoyable. What’s plain to see for all housed by the small South London venue is that it won’t be the last we hear from them.
It’s an important night for BC Camplight. On the horizon is a run of shows in considerably larger spaces, which were announced in the months following the furore around Deportation Blues, perhaps in part to appease the unlucky individuals that were left out in the cold tonight. It feels like an “I was there” occasion, and one that if all goes well will continue to stoke the fervent fire of intrigue around the hugely compelling, somewhat oddball character of BC Camplight. Arriving bang on the dot of his stage time, clad in his now synonymous guise of blazer layered t-shirt, trucker hat and shades combo, he takes position centre stage in front of an alter-like piano. The set begins with the title track and album opener ‘Deportation Blues’. A spiky synth jaggedly outlines the song, accompanied with Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies, all of which are juxtaposed with bombastic choruses that wouldn’t seem out of place in the most fatuous of rock opera.
Whether it’s his eccentric appearance, subversively off-centre songs, or the endearing stage patter which through gritted teeth-reluctance can only be described as banter, there’s a real transfixion from the crowd toward the character gracing the stage. A cry of “Fuck you, Theresa” emanates from the crowd in response to the politically-minded opener, greeted by a retort of “good to see Boris is in the crowd there” and introducing ‘You Should’ve Gone to School’ by informing Boris that he “should’ve gone to school”, which was met with thunderous approval from the audience. The evening’s most tender moment came in a self-proclaimed love song to his dog in what, on paper sounds like a ridiculous pastiche of an indulgent songwriter, but really serves to convey one of the purest communications of his mastery over intimate, stripped back balladry.
Clutching a bottle of white wine, and taking intermittent and progressively more substantial swigs, he finds himself at the end of the bottle and ourselves reaching the evening’s conclusion. Dedicating the final song to the overseer of his deportation, pantomime villain, and chief numpty of the Brexit process, BC Camplight tells the story of his anger towards the then Home Secretary following his deportation from the UK. ‘Fire in England’ brings a synth-rock knockout to the evening, channelling rage of mammoth proportions and sending those on stage and in the crowd into passionate rapture against the clashing lights soaking the venue in red tones. In perhaps what is the shortest and least concealed encore performance in the history of live music, the band hustle back onto the Omeara stage after a departure that totals around 20 seconds. The set culminates with ‘I’m Desperate’, the standout track from the album and the one that perhaps encapsulates Deportation Blues. With manic synthesisers undulating throughout, clashing with the paranoid vocals, icy instrumentation and distressed themes of doubt and exile.
It’s a streamlined set, with a careful sprinkling of highlights from previous works and a nimbly curated selection of songs from ‘Deportation Blues’. It feels like the night is concluding too soon. For a Thursday evening show and one that falls towards the end of an extensive tour, it’s a particularly spritely performance from all on stage. With a magnetic, if unorthodox, charisma seeming to come from all angles, while I doubt there was any member of the audience that stood unconvinced, it seems unlikely that they would remain that way after tonight. BC Camplight gave a performance that boasted the full package, complete with eccentric balladry, caustically piercing synth pop, and white wine-fuelled 50s rock ’n’ roll. In what was an important night for all involved, any fears or doubts were quickly quashed with a compellingly convincing argument to support the importance of both the music, message and story of BC Camplight.