Album Review: Step Outside Love by the Black Cillas (2014) (Firestation Records)

In my London University days, Kentish Town’s Bull and Gate Pub was one a hive of activity for young music snobs. As such I used to regularly make the hour plus voyage from West to East London to see the coolest of bands that ‘were not quite making it’ (at the time a minimum requirement of ‘cool’).
There obviously were no resident bands. I do however seem to remember the Black Cillas often playing there especially in and around 88/89. Or perhaps not…it was just that I had more cause to remember them compared to other bands.

Initially they seemed to have a Kevin Rowland / Boy George penchant for frequent image change.  One week they were in the sort of ‘casuals’ 1980’s attire that the most ‘naughty boy’ football supporters adopted and the next, Nick Heyward style bouffant quiff haircuts and Billy Idol type sleeveless gym shirts was favoured. It was all very bizarre. Bizarrely alluring.
Equally, my memories of this band are stirred as the lead singer seemed incredibly surly. I remember  a fight erupting at one of their gigs among a group of delightful binge drinker types, over some serious ‘you looked at my pint’ type misdemeanor that always seemed to bring the drunken pugilist out in late 80’s youth.
As the fight tumbled towards the stage (actually this one may not have been at the Bull & Gate!?) I was swept along in the momentum, lost my footing and fell backwards onto the stage, in the manner of a somewhat ridiculous prostrate penguin. This was met by the front man standing over me and yelling at me to ‘go forth and multiply’, before referring to me as a rather rudimentary word for female genitalia. He then kicked me back into the melee which was being dealt with by several man mountain bouncers.

I suppose such treatment was only to be expected. In the times I saw them this was a band who did not appear to be at ease with each other. There appeared to be none of the camaraderie seen in other bands, in fact it was common consensus that they hated each other. They just seemed incredibly grumpy. Again, strangely enough, this also added to their allure?!

However, despite all of this, the matter of paramount importance that I remember the most about them was that they were totally brilliant. I vividly remember they had a core following that appeared to go everywhere they with them. It did not matter if it was a Monday night in Camden or a Friday night at the Bull, this crowd were ‘always’ there and in fact were as much a part of the Black Cillas as the band themselves.
Memories of the dance floor frenzy when their only single Sebastian (see above) was played will always stick in my mind. However the track that us fans used to go crazy for the most was the superb stand out track from this album, For John Osborne (see below) which typified the melodic jangle-pop / mixed with all things rumbling and chunky that the bass guitarists of the early 80’s post-punk movement had left the world as a parting present. The dance floor could have been empty, but as soon as the first few chords of the intro of this track started…boom (!) a frenzy of sweaty youth would whirl around the floor pretending they could dance!
For John Osborne
Just like my dearly departed youth, the atmosphere of these gigs and indeed the times in general can never be completely recreated. However, as is the way of the brilliant musical archaeologists at Firestation Records, this compilation of all that was good about the Black Cillas is as close as we will ever get.
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