THE SEAHORSES Do It Yourself (Geffen)
After the painful death-throes (both pre- and post-John Squires departure) of the once wonderful Stone Roses, their sainted guitarist (surely the best British guitarist to emerge since punk made the concept of musicianship something you wouldnt even pogo on, argumentative letters to be written on a thoroughly studied copy of the solo on The Stone Roses "Tears", please) speedily (i.e. takes less than five years) forms a new band with three guys he found busking in York, of all places (it being the hometown of Shed Seven would seem to discount it as a breeding ground for musical excellence) whose name just happens to be an anagram of "He Hates Roses".
"Do It Yourself" is their swiftly-assembled debut album, produced by veteran Bowie and Bolan collaborator Tony Visconti, who also exhumes his Mellotron and theremin when required. Unsurprisingly theres a strongly 70s vibe to the Seahorse sound, not diminished by Chris Helmes definitive 70s voice, which reminds me of Miller Anderson after extensive Benilyn therapy for some reason, or Squires fascination with heavily diluted Free and Led Zeppelin riffs. As a package this doesnt succeed all the time, witness the disappointing first single "Love Is The Law", here presented in an extended (by use of the rack or some other instrument of torture, probably) version, and the interest level flags during the final four tracks. The going is made even more tortuous by Squire and Helmes habit of writing a really contorted melody line when something catchy and radio-friendly wouldve done, but there are moments, for example "Blinded By The Sun", "The Boy In The Picture" (which just has to be about Ian Brown, and check the string arrangement, as inspired by Massive Attacks "Unfinished Sympathy") and "Love Me And Leave Me" (co-written with Liam Gallagher and thankfully entirely devoid of the DefinitelyMaybeisms that crop up elsewhere on the album (e.g. "A giant squid/He stole my wife and kid/Full story and pix/Ten pence off your Weetabix")) that suggest that maybe, just maybe, The Seahorses have enough class, staying power and intelligence to succeed where their illustrious predecessor imploded in a shower of acrimony.
THE SEAHORSES/THIRD EYE BLIND Newport Centre, 17 December 1997
Due to the organisational inefficiency of my gig-going companions we arrived at almost exactly the same time as Third Eye Blind were finishing their set (with a sort of "Thank you good people of Newport, you look beautiful from here!" congratulatory vibe), but judging from the number of times I heard the phrase "Ill probably buy the album" bandied about in the bar afterwards they seemed to have made a good impression.
"Ill probably buy the album" is not the sort of phrase youd expect to hear regarding The Seahorses, since much people appear to have so already: "Do It Yourself", their debut, has already gone platinum, an undoubted commercial success albeit an almost total critical flop. My two cents worth says that it has about four or five classic tunes and a deal of throwaway filler. No matter, at least tonight would allow the faithful to pay homage to the greatest guitarist of our generation, the mighty John Squire, the former Stone Rose who got out before their descent into pantomime at the Reading Festival last year...although it appears that their penchant for Tap-isms is beginning to dog The Seahorses as well, a year old and already on their third drummer.
Anyway, after an agonising age of the kind of soul tunes that seem to be a staple of Newport Centre intervals, on they trot, singer Chris Helme in a full-length black leather coat that turns him into a dead ringer for Paul McGann in "Withnail And I". In deference to Squires status the set begins with a guitar solo - heavy metal or what?! This fretwarming exercise lasts about a minute, and then they launch into "Round The Universe", one of the pleasant, unmemorable ditties stacked up towards the end of the second side of "Do It Yourself". Amazingly, what comes across as filler on the album has suddenly mutated into a razor-sharp, bouncy little number, Squire ranging around the stage with fringe akimbo. And this sets the pattern for the evening: what sounded weak and uninspired on vinyl is elevated to a kind of pub-rock-in-heaven excellence. When Noel, quite rightly, dismissed the last Oasis album as "the usual old pub-rock bollocks", he should have taken notes from the live Seahorses experience to see what it couldve sounded like if done properly.
The best bits, naturally, were the highlights of the album: "Blinded By The Sun", their best song by a hefty margin, "The Boy In The Picture" with the taped "Unfinished Sympathy"-esque strings at the end and the Gallagher Jr collaboration "Love Me And Leave Me". Surprise best bit of the night, though, was "Love Is The Law", which closed the main set. A song I have no love for, dogged by the sub-Gallagher drivel that constitutes its lyrics, tonight they dispensed with the verse-chorus-verse-chorus bit as soon as possible to allow Squire to concentrate on the serious business of guitar soloing. Without wanting to come over all muso, this was terrific, certainly the best piece of live guitar work Ive ever seen and heard. Despite being broadly the same as that which closes the album version, in concert it was utterly transformed into some kind of soul-rock devotional experience (in fact the frequent chants of "Squire! Squire!" between songs were the strongest scenes of adoration Ive witnessed since I went to a Morrissey gig over six years ago) with the guitarist stealing moves from Chuck Berry and Hendrix - four minutes of absolute bliss.
Downers? They only played for around an hour, but then again they did air thirteen of their eleven songs, so you carnt moan, can you. And they werent a patch on The Stone Roses, who played this very venue two years to the month previously, as my sister (who went to see them) was at pains to impress upon me (who didnt, seethe, fumes of jealousy etc. etc.). No matter; The Seahorses have roundly trampled on the doubts of their detractors (myself included), and, if as Squire has hinted, their next album will be the complete opposite of "Do It Yourself", i.e. be loved by the critics and sell about 10,000 copies, their future greatness seems assured.