Worlds collide

The Pastels mixed with Japanese avant-garders Tenniscoats

Music feature

Arriving stage left at the UK’s Moseley Folk Festival, Time Out is granted unrestricted event access by a five-year-old boy with a mop of blonde hair, cut bowl-like in the way that British parents often choose to disfigure their offspring. It’s testament to the family-friendly nature of the gathering that a child’s presence is enough to deter the general public from venturing beyond the barriers and into the cloistered artistic citadel commonly known as ‘backstage’. In truth, it’s perhaps better that they stay on the other side, carefully preserving their rock ’n’ roll fantasies. Time Out has arrived in what looks like a medieval shanty town, a ring of mud-spattered tents circling a central pavilion where a gang of equally mud-spattered musicians worship at a communal pot of tea.

Tenniscoats, the Tokyo-based avant-pop duo (their words) are huddled here against the British weather. This isn’t their first British tour. In fact, they’ve already toured the UK several times so far this year, each time building their ever-growing fan base. As soon as they’ve finished here they’ll be off to tour Australia, via a gig in Paris, before returning to their native Japan, where they are surprisingly little known.

An hour from now, they’re due onstage with cult Scottish legends The Pastels – a band who have found their way into countless musical footnotes since their formation in 1982, despite surprisingly few releases, inspiring a fevered fan base en route. Perhaps best known for their inclusion on the C86 collection (a cassette released by UK music mag NME and a milestone in indie history), The Pastels’ founder, Stephen McRobbie, opened 53rd and 3rd Records in the mid-’80s, a small label powered by DIY ethics that played a key role in the growth of such indie luminaries as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Belle & Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub. What we have onstage this afternoon is a cult collision on an international scale, and we’ve been invited to watch.

The gig that ensues is a bit messy; McRobbie explains that the ensemble’s first rehearsal took place at a soundcheck only two nights earlier. Still, the brief twilight performance does enough to impart the ethereal magic of Two Sunsets, the collaborative album they’ve only recently released.

It’s an album that collides in a fascinating mesh. Tenniscoats bring their twee innocence; The Pastels lend a grey-skies ambience. McRobbie’s fragile croak is countered perfectly by the songbird quality of the female singers – Tenniscoats’ Saya takes the lead on the majority of tracks, while The Pastels’ Katrina handles the spunky lead single, ‘Vivid Youth’, and the achingly gorgeous ‘Start Slowly So It Sounds Like a Loch’. Musically, it’s at once homely and epic: ‘Sodane’ has an almost Merseybeat quality to it (and will stick in your head like a melancholy Beatles special), while ‘Mou Mou Rainbow’ glides in and builds to a glistening crescendo, Takashi Ueno teasing starry vistas from his Fender Stratocaster (the song is, quite frankly, gorgeous).

‘It’s just nice for us to do something that has an end,’ McRobbie laughs, mocking his band’s sloth-like output. ‘The Pastels are slow, and Tenniscoats are good at finishing things.’ We wonder whether the long-awaited album will sit comfortably with The Pastels’ passionate supporters. ‘I think generally we’ve got a very interested fan base,’ he muses. ‘A lot of people who like our music are perhaps already connected with bands like Tenniscoats. It may be a bit surprising for other people who lose track of things or become interested in other things – they may be a bit surprised by the collaboration. But it seems very natural.’

Perhaps less natural is the clash of languages the collaborators had to contend with. ‘How’s my Japanese?’ McRobbie smiles. ‘Absolutely not there. Saya and Ueno learned English quite quickly – and learned to understand our Glasgow accents, which is maybe very odd for them.’ Did misunderstandings imbue the songs with any unintended poetry? ‘Katrina and I have a certain nonsense tendency in the way we speak to each other, and I often enjoyed the way Saya and Ueno would use English. I think languages die without new influences.’

Onstage, the two bands are hesitant but assured, riding the shimmering licks that Ueno specialises in. While there’s a tension among onlookers – mostly ageing Pastels fans, unsure what to make of the Japanese woman apparently fronting their favourite group – the youngsters in the crowd are certainly into it, not least the bowl-haired boy from earlier, now cutting a rug across the front of the stage. Music for a less complicated world, perhaps? As the sun battles with the brooding sky, it’s a welcome sound indeed.
Two Sunsets is available to buy online.

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