Norwood Park, London
8 June 2013
They came in search of cool cats and dogs and found plenty of both. The dogs were exactly that - a mutley crew of pedigree chumps and pampered pets - all competing in Norwood Park’s annual dog show. The cats? They were The Lovebirds, one of south London’s finest live acts, who’d bravely volunteered to play the weirdest gig of their 10-year career.
Norwood Park may not have the cache of, say, nearby Crystal Palace Bowl (which itself is no longer the rock Mecca it once was), and its rolling, hilly landscape, doesn’t make it an ideal open air venue. But the park’s an unsung gem with spectacular views across the capital, so someone had to make the first move. Good on The Lovebirds for taking the plunge on a bright early summer‘s afternoon, next to, er, a café called Hungry Hippo.
Rock bands love to support worthy causes, but in reality few can be arsed to stir for low-profile, suburban community events like this. It’s all very well playing to musically literate bright young things in the ‘right’ pubs and clubs, but if roots-influenced rock musicians can’t occasionally be bothered to perform free for people who almost never get to hear this stuff live, where’s their heart?
The Lovebirds are usually found in sweaty, dark places which serve strong pints to people with no intention of going for early morning jogs, but they’ve also appeared at Glastonbury and know how to work a crowd. That said, it was a huge leap of faith and logic for the dog show’s organisers to have them entertain sarf Londoners who’d have been happy just to take a look at the pooches on parade.
Granted, Blur managed to turn Walthamstow dog stadium into a place of worship by simply shooting an album cover there, but no greyhound ever suffered their din. A spot of feedback could have transformed man’s best friend into a pack of wild hunting dogs. As it happens, the mics and amps were well behaved and the only bemused expressions were on a few human faces who’d never been serenaded by the devil’s music before.
The Lovebirds ’do’ subtle when the mood takes them (file under ‘trippy-folky-electro-acoustic‘!) but they’re in their element once they’ve let their manners slip. As the five-piece stomp through a three-chord boogie like ‘Where’s Your Mamma’, you’d swear lead vocalists Graeme Dalton and Lucy Wearing had been raised on the bayou. ‘Devil’s Song’, meanwhile, is so filthily infectious it must have been dredged from a southern swamp. Some gentler, melodic moments reveal an affection for country-flavoured ’70s MOR bands such as America, but those heavy blues rock and garage riffs are never far away.
Covers of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’ fit unobtrusively amongst The Lovebirds’ original material, and they ended with another - a wryly-chosen version of The Stooge‘s ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Having opened to a muted response, The Lovebirds departed to the sound of wolf whistles and, perhaps, even a distant bark or two. They’d charmed a stone cold sober (no bar, alas) south London park filled with ordinary families and their kids. On this evidence, The Lovebirds should allow themselves off the leash a lot more often.