Stuffy/The Fuses @ Brixton Windmill
Brixton Windmill. 23jan09.
“Join me or die” goes the lyric of the 2005 Stuffy/The Fuses single Where’s The Captain. My ‘single of the year’ that year as it goes. It’s an iconic phrasing, one which suited the title of their debut album, a brash statement of intent. Now, here at the last ever Stuffy/The Fuses gig, on the table manned diligently by Stuffy’s mum, is a limited edition t-shirt that features an unfussy statement of lament; “nobody joined us, so we died.” Combined with the last line of In The River, “peace at last and it’s all over”, coming towards the end of the main set, it is clear they are keen to press our emotional buttons tonight.
Stuffy, or Steven Gilchrist to the middle-aged lady behind the closing down sale stack of CD’s and bits, has long had trouble holding onto musicians. There are always three Fuses alongside Stuffy but it was a completely different trio that recorded the Join Me Or Die! LP. The second record Angels Are Ace was the product of Stuffy on drums and vox, Jen Fuse on guitar and occasional lead vox, Jon Fuse on bass and Lucy Fuse behind the keys, and it is that foursome which has stuck until this untimely denouement. With other projects eating into their respective time, it is as amicable a parting of the ways as you’ll get. In my interview with Stuffy for the final Vanity Project fanzine he said, “2006 – the classic line-up. I wouldn’t want to do this band with anyone else.” Now, of course, he never has too.
I’ve been to this type of thing before: what was supposed to be Sidi Bou Said’s last gig at the also much missed Highbury Garage ten whole years ago,. Mind you, they did come back for an encore a year later, then formed Tetra with the exact same line-up (but, in fairness, with a completely new set of songs). Happy as one might be to get that one final chance rather than it all petering out, these things are always bittersweet events. Happy/Sad/Happy/Sad. It makes for an odd night of entertainment.
This perhaps explains why early in tonight’s set, there is a distinct lack of vim about Stuffy and his Fuses. However, the affection in the room acts as one final gale of wind in their hitherto sagging sails, and the momentum gains. “We should split up more often” he states with a cheery grin slapped across.
The Brixton Windmill is and isn’t an ideal venue for this type of thing. South East London is their manor, and the Windmill’s admirable ethos of spit and sawdust independence and ramshackle good times is entirely in keeping. Yet the sightlines, being a back-of-the-room-with-only-a-foot-high-stage-and-massive-pillars type joint, aren’t exactly conducive to allowing all present to soak in their one last look. It’s like holding a wake in a school youth club, one in which the upkeep of the place has been left in the care solely of the children.
And who wouldn’t want to get a good look and to stare at Stuffy one last time? The public school blazer, most likely bought from a charity shop; the fidgety drumming married to that unlikely yelp; the massive collapse of curls on his big potato head looking like a guardsman’s bearskin after an excited mauling by a feral cat – it’s fascinating, always bringing an extra animation to t’riffic tunes such as Evel Kneivel and Joe C (Is An Idiot).
As stated the evening builds from slender beginnings to a portly climax befitting the occasion. Father & Son Divorce starts the elasticated crescendo, sounding anthemic and magnificent, but it is the three song encore that seals the deal. Friend has long been a live favourite and features Stuffy leaving the confines of the drum-set to stagger about the crowd giving hugs and lyrics projected into startled ears and faces from about an inch distance.
Ahhhh Song follows, striking a triumphalist chord as the combined vocals of band and crowd dig deep into the lungs to roar with full gusto. The last song Stuffy/The Fuses ever play is Where’s The Captain? and the forgotten verses matter not a jot . In fact the sudden memory-jogged brain burp of “join me or die!” after a period of looking at the ceiling scrabbling around for the correct lyric is perhaps appropriate – the final rallying cry, very nearly overlooked.
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