Tall Poppies – Alienation (Isle of Wight)

TALL POPPIES - Alienation

review by Tony Lee

Playing live as a duo, Tall Poppies are a class act despite a set list of only half a dozen numbers, including Drinking LifeButterfingersTime Machine (complete with their silent-movie stylised promo video that, curiously, seemed to benefit from the shabby condition of the backdrop screen), Funky, and Only A Nomad... This last noticeably weaker measured against the richer studio version, its lack of a string section leaving too big a hole in the sound-scape. They also did an appealing rendition of old standard, Fever, as encore.

Preceded on stage by the macho blues-rock onslaught of Leeds' band, the Volcanoes, the more quietly confident Hay sisters struggled to capture attention, at first (simply too funky?), and it became clear the busily gossiping locals present were not going to be Tall Poppies' most sympathetic audience. However, the Tall Poppies' cool sophistication shone through, even from a nearly-midnight start and, it's amusing to reflect on how the beguiling storybook qualities of the Poppies' evocative standout, Time Machine, contrasts with the Volcanoes' unfortunately hyperbolic King Of The Hill (about skateboarding!). While, stacked against this Friday night's cheekily amateurish electro-pop openers, I Love Audrey, with their Toyah Wilcox sound-alike vocalist, and farcically troublesome electronic keyboard (hmm, was that really a stylophone?) supported by an ironing board (somebody's mum wants it back intact!), the Poppies' charismatic presence is the absolute epitome of refined professionalism.

Sometimes enigmatic, always delightful, Tall Poppies demonstrated an eclectic range but I did wish the sisters had played all their liveliest material, as the superb Chameleon and Better Off Dead would have been very welcome. As stunning twins, Susan and Catherine Hays' neatly choreographed switching of acoustic and bass guitars, and sides of the stage, isn't merely a theatrical gimmick ("Which one's which, again?" ... "Susan's in the red frock, umm... I think."); it's a remarkably astute statement about identity, too. Certainly, there could never be a dull moment for the initiated. Download their album (or buy the CD), but catch them live if you can. Tall Poppies are a rare and wonderful treat.