Twenty-four years after Saint Etienne’s ground-breaking début album was released, the trio’s intimate performance at Hebden Bridges’ Trades Club – one of the trendiest smaller venues in the North of England – was testimony that both the album, and the band, has stood the test of time.
1991’s Foxbase Alpha was a watershed in the world of indie and house music. The weird and wacky ideas of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, matched by the distinctive, dreamy vocals of Sarah Cracknell, created an album that was both ahead of its time and yet perfect for the 90s club scene.
Stanley and Wiggs, the two mad scientists of the group, appeared on stage at the Trades on Thursday night clad in shimmering gold suits, promising an interesting night, to say the least. As they took their places behind a barrage of keyboards and samplers at the back of the stage, Cracknell and backing musicians emerged in noticeably more casual attire.
The full-to-capacity crowd were treated to a dazzling performance of the entire Foxbase Alpha record, in sequence, as the band celebrate their silver anniversary. From the moment they strode onto the tiny stage to This Is Radio Etienne, the album’s 45-second opener and launched into their hit cover of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Etienne had already won their audience.
The trippy Wilson saw Cracknell handing out sweets to the audience, fitting with the looped track, which repeats the line ‘Would you like some sweets, Willy?’
While Wiggs and Stanley performed a full seven-minute rendition of the psychedelic electronica number, Stoned To Say The Least, Cracknell and backing singer Debsey Wykes retreated to the back of the stage to have a glass of wine and a chat like a couple of old friends in a pub – a scene very typical in many Etienne hits.
The hour-long show was topped off with a three song encore of hits, beginning with the gorgeous Hobart Paving, which saw Cracknell well up upon hearing the audience singing along with the chorus. The more upbeat numbers Who Do You Think You are and You’re in a Bad Way topped off the night of feel-good pop.
A perfect setting for one of Britain’s most unsung pioneering bands.