Stronger Than Fiction?

London quartet Fiction were booked for a live session on my Friday suppertime show last week by producer Hermeet Chadha – who told me nothing except that I was really going to like them. He certainly wasn’t wrong: check out the show – and their three live songs – for the next few days via the BBC iPlayer here.

We’ve heard an awful lot of skinny white boys from London playing guitars and drums over the past few years, yet within five seconds of them starting to play it was clear this was the most startling new live act I’d heard all year. There was no archness, no artifice, no selfconsciously clever-clever arrangements or knowing irony, just four gifted young men who seemed to have torn up the rule book and decided start over from scratch.

James Howard, Mike Barratt and Dan Djan

It all seems to stem from not having had a drummer… if some technically proficient percussionist had sat down behind a kit at their first rehearsal and kicked out a series of professional sounding grooves, the band might have been tempted down the usual well worn paths – and ended up sounding pretty much like everyone else. If they’d opened the lid of a laptop and selected a killer loop to build their first song around, it might have been much the same. As it was, frontmen Mike Barrett and James Howard bought a tambourine and couple of tomtoms and decided to stand up and take turns bashing the living daylights out of them – cheerfully singing lead vocals all the while and adding the odd wisp of onehanded synth.

Mike & Nick Barrett

The result is that standard riffs, grooves, lyrics  and chord sequences all got thrown out of the window. Instead of learning to play the same widdly widdly  riffs as everyone else, guitarist Nick Barrett transcended the limitations of his fingerboard technique with a mastery of his foot pedals to produce noises that even the late Les Paul never dreamed could come out of six strings and a magnetic pickup. Bassist Dan Djan is pretty much the only one of the four who uses his instrument in a conventional way, underpinning their wilder excursions with the rock solid foundation of his playing.

None of the individual musical elements in the band are new in themselves – but the combination makes for a fresh, playful and passionate sonic assault – with a rawness that makes even the astonishing Bombay Bicycle Club and King Charles sound postively showbiz by comparison. Highlight: their song about Schoedinger’s cat: “Curiosity” – you can  hear it  in decent quality and download their songs ‘Cross Purposes’ and ‘Nothing Is Heavy’ for free at

Fiction with TR

But above all, try to see them live if you can – for dates see their MySpace.  It’s in the lap of the gods whether “this band are going to be huge” as more experienced pundits are fond of predicting. But for sheer daring, adventurous humour and emotional charge here on the grassroots circuit, nothing I’ve seen this year has been stronger than Fiction.

Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More...

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