At some point a girl I used to know told Gordon from Ballboy she thought his band wasn’t ‘avant-garde enough’ for her taste. Fair enough: churning out sub-Gedge indie platitudes over jangling guitars is hardly Gertrude Stein. Whatever, I’m sure she forgot the comment soon enough. But not Gordon. Oh no. Not only did Gordon go and write a song about it – in which the primary school teacher sneers at the girl who worked in a record shop – but he still seems intent on venting his anger at every possible occasion. Tonight, a home-town gig at The Venue in Edinburgh, he snarls his introduction to the song with real vehemence, 2 fingers aloft to the audience like one of his schoolkids misbehaving on a bus trip.
For Gordon, on tonight’s evidence, is an angry man. His T-shirt features a picture of a teddy bear and reads ‘Fuck Off’. His new album is entitled ‘The Sash My Father Wore and Other Stories’, and commits the long-term Ballboy live favourite with the chorus ‘You’re a big fat bigoted asshole’ to posterity. (As Gordon also points out, the joke’s really on the Celtic fans who think it doesn’t apply to them too). Indie anthem ‘Sex is Boring’ (with me) rages against difference, against pretension, against rejection: ‘I hate hip-hop, I hate trip-hop, I hate punk rock, I hate house music’. Tonight, his face given a skeletal mask by the lighting, he rants and rages over the heads of a crowd of local following and freshers from the uni out to see a Peel-fave. (NB The Edinburgh scenesters have long-since stopped coming to see Ballboy.)
Nor is it clear what he’s got to be pissed-off about, to be honest. For a concern which is always going to attract a limited following (Wedding Present by numbers with a dash of… well, whatever Scottish indie band your lazy reviewer feels like adding in this time round), Ballboy are doing pretty well. They get played on the radio — but they’ll never crash the playlist; they get reviews — but never more than 3 stars, ‘it’ll do if you like this sort of thing’; folk turn up to their shows; they get support slots (with, erm, Cinerama…).
Admittedly, if I were Gordon, I be pissed off about the god-awful sound tonight: standing in the centre of the audience is like listening to a dodgy bootleg, vocals way up in the mix, keyboards and guitar a sludge down below. And Gordon’s singing, it has to be said, sounds better when the rest of the band can take up the slack more: exposed like this, its a frail thing, and frankly a bit off-key. Besides, the audience know all the words, so they don’t need to hear him. But then if I were Gordon, I might have turned up on time, tried to keep my guitar in tune, and generally looked like I was having more fun.
Something about Gordon suggests an impotence: the impotent rage of someone who knows he’s never, never, going to be avant-garde enough, but feels really pissed-off that anyone should even expect that of him. Insecurity and shyness — about which so many of Ballboy’s songs, in traditional indie-schmindie vein, revolve — can often be accompanied by a surly, thuggish arrogance. There’s a fine line between ‘I wonder if she’ll sleep with me tonight?’ and ‘fuck you bitch why won’t you say you want to sleep with me!’ Tonight, ‘fuck you world’ is definitely the message that comes over most clearly.