The glamour and decadence of seventies Disco beats at the very heart of Hercules & Love Affair and the sleazy streets of Soho somehow seem a fitting setting for their London debut. Hurrying through the rain sodden streets, along Old Compton St – the capitals historical home of homosexuality – before turning into “Porn Alley” otherwise known as Walker’s Court with its XXXX shops and flashing “Live Sex” signs.
When Soft Cell wanted to capture the sordid essence of their “Non Stop Erotic Cabaret” album – example song titles, “Sex Dwarf“, and “Seedy Films” – they snapped Walker’s Court for the back cover. Indeed Almond once lived over the streets most famous venue, Raymond’s Revue Bar, his bedroom window looking in on the dancing girls and strippers as they changed between numbers.
The famous neon of Paul Raymond’s Revue Bar once proclaimed itself “The World Centre of Erotic Entertainment“, opening in 1958 as the UK’s first legal striptease venue. The doors closed a few years ago to be re-branded as the Soho Revue Bar.
As someone who grew up passing by on the way to the record store mecca of Berwick Street it feels very very strange to be going in… for a gig!

Inside is a world of wall to wall purple crushed velvet, it appears vast at first but as you take the walkway from one side of Walkers Court to the venue on the other, peering out over Soho as you cross, the main room turns out to be surprisingly intimate. It also still has dancing poles wither side of the seatng.

Back in April 07 I described Hercules & Love Affair’s debut as my most anticipated album for 08, verbally salivating at the prospect of Anthony Hegarty (of “and the Johnson’s” fame) riding a stomping Chicago house / disco beat. The place was understandably buzzing with the anticipation of seeing Hegarty in his new found role of Disco Diva, but perhaps it was a little naive to expect him to be out on the road with H&LA and as they took to the stage it was clear Anthony was still with the Johnson’s.

GEEZER MINNELLI

OK I want everyone in the crowd to welcome us by shouting…. Hi-za Minnelli!” It’s a little game we play on tour explains H&LA main man Andy Butler, who, and I don’t wish to shock or “out” anyone here, may be ever so slightly gay. The diminutive vocalist Kim Ann – introduced by Butler as the ultimate “gay boy” continues the theme… “When we leave, you all have to shout Bye-Za Minnelli“. As befits a group born out of New York’s East Village club scene they are as one reviewer put it a “bunch of beautiful oddballs“.  And they seem relaxed for their first London outing, with the bassist finishing the Minnelli themed crowd warm up in cod theatrical German “and when in Germany you must say unt Shiza Minnelli“.

Aside from Kim Ann, the main vocalist stepping into Hegarty’s shoes is Nomi, a stunning statuesque woman in the tightest shortest skirt with legs that only stop where the clouds begin. What most of the salivating straight men in the audience probably don’t realise is she was actually born a he.  Me? Well obviously I knew she was a transsexual before the gig and at no point was I admiring her/his curvaceous figure…ho ho. 🙂
The rest of the band sport black tshirts with a Greek head and the word “Banjee” in large white letters (apparently a Banjee is a kind of buff urban hip hop style gay… think 50 cent if his “Candy Shop” only stocked chocolate willies.

Perversely they start with the piano led album closer “True/False” and over the coarse of this and “Blind” B-side “Shadows” it becomes clear that despite Nomi’s fine voice and dominating presence the rel stars are to her right. The two guys on brass or “My horny men on brass” as Butler calls them are simply phenomenal. Before the gig I’d thought the band might be a little weak live, but would be rescued by the presence and voice of Hegarty, but it unfolds that Anthonys absence is more than made up for by the live band and the horns in particular. Track after track outdoes its recorded counterpart, songs that appeared weaker on record transform into complete belters live. Its simply the clearest, brightest and most urgent brass sound Ive heard in a long long time! Stunning.

Some reviewers focused on the albums obvious reverence to late 80’s dance and 70’s disco, ignoring the sheer depth of musicianship and songwriting on display. “Blind” i clearly one of the anthems of this year, but its disco stomp is topped off with a dose of masterful lyrical melancoly. Nomi may strike a note of hope when she sings “When I was a child I knew, That the stars could only get brighter‘ but its the crushed idealism of the next lines that make the song.. “Now that I’m older, the stars should light up my face… But when I find myself alone, I feel like I am blind‘. Again the brass that sounded thin on record explodes live taking the song to another level.

One of the albums other highlights, the glorious Hegarty penned “Raise Me Up” kicks off a killer three song section, although to my mind Kim Ann doesn’t quite do the song justice. That’s followed by an inspired take on the Blue Oyster Cults “Don’t Fear The Reaper“, covered by the Beautiful South a few years ago, who knew it could be so effortlessly transported to the Paradise Garage!?   Finally the song that first put me under H&LA’s spell way back in March 07, “Classique#2“:
The opening thud thud of the 4:4 house drum, a burbling acid bassline, snatches of twisted vocal samples and I’m in heaven. Even better god’s thrown some classic Chicago house on the turntable.

Nomi exits for a wardrobe change, returning looking pretty in a bright pink number for her duet with Anthony, “You Belong“. With the crowd baying for more its time to say “Bye-Za Minnelli” with one encore. The album’s littered with Butlers fascination with Greek mythology and closer “Hercules Theme” was by all accounts imagined as a chorus of women singing to Hercules. Its a fine end to the show, with the brass section given space and time to astound yet again.

And so its time to depart back into rainy London, exiting you nearly bump into the ordinary grey suited, maybe married men darting out of doorways, avoiding eye contact as their sweaty palms stuff paper bag covered copies of Barely Legal 17 into executive briefcases. A reminder perhaps that not all in the great gamut of human sexuality is as glamorous or as enriching as Hercules & Love Affair.

Setlist:

True/False
Shadows
I’m Telling You
Blind
Athene
Raise Me Up
Don’t Fear The Reaper
Classique (Change!!)
You Belong
Hercules Theme

Hercules & Love Affair – Myspace / Website

Listen:
Hercules & Love Affair – Raise Me Up (feat. Anthony Hegarty)” (MP3)
Free download of “Hercules Themeavailable on official site
Andy Butler guesting on Beats In Space – MP3 / Subscribe to beatsinspace

Buy:
Hercules & Love Affair – “Hercules & Love Affair” – Amazon / Loads of other sites + itunes exclusive track

Look/Watch:

My pics from Soho Revue gig
Brilliant pics and video’s from their first show (Stereogum)
BrooklynVegan has some fantastic pics of another gig

Hercules & Love Affair – “Blind” – Youtube / Making of vid

Andy Butler talks through the album track by track (below)

Read:

Red Haired Queer sacrilegiously suggests Nomi out-sung Anthony in Soho
This Is London’s review of Soho revue gig
Londonpreppy was there too
Sounds like the Heaven gig two nights later didnt go so well? – lastfm / dis
Musicohm interview with Andy Butler