Review: These Charming Men: The Underground, Draperstown

Now I know that there are those people who will baulk at the very idea of going out to see a tribute band, particularly so when the object of their homage is one of the defining bands of 80’s indie cool. However, These Charming Men are not your average tribute act! These guys are a credible, and pretty accurate facsimile of Moz and his mates and let’s face it, the closest thing we are ever likely to get to seeing The Smiths in the flesh, since the longed-for reunion seems destined never to happen.

As the band came onto the stage to Prokovfiev’s Montagues and Capulets the authentic Smiths gig vibe was set from the start. I was spirited back to my formative years when they belted out Ask, one of the navel-gazing anthems of my teens. Then came Nowhere Fast which got the dancing started early, and William It Was Really Nothing kept the revellers on the dancefloor.

During The Boy With the Thorn is his side, faux Morrissey cast out bundles of flowers to the crowd and one-and-all we swirled them round our heads, fixed them in our hair and hung them from our back pockets in honour of the great and powerful Moz. Though I have seen both Morrissey and Marr several times on their solo tours, I was never lucky enough to get to see them together for real so getting the opportunity to dance to the songs of a band that have been a life-long love of mine, is thrilling.

Now I am not saying that this singer sounds, or even looks exactly like the real Stephen Patrick Morrissey, but he certainly commits to the performance. The attitude, the gesticulating, the Queen is Dead placard, the swinging mic lead – he does the whole bit and it’s remarkably effective. In the right light it could almost be him. More importantly the musicianship is spot on. The Marr style riffs are deadly accurate and that’s really what makes seeing these guys perform, such a fantastic experience.

Just recently These Charming Men played a tour in honour of the 30th anniversary of the release of venerated Smiths album, Strangeways Here We Come. Several tracks from that album then formed part of the setlist; Girlfriend in a Coma, Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, and the sardonic Paint a Vulgar Picture.

Other favourites included were Accept Yourself, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me and of course, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Hearing these classics live reminds you just how ground-breaking The Smiths were. I’ve never been a proponent of the theory that their music was depressing or that Morrissey was “The Pope of Mope”. To me the mordant humour of the song writing is its greatest feature, and there is a legacy of material so important that it is great that someone is still out there playing this stuff to the people.

A few Morrissey solo hits were next, and the dancefloor was a heaving, sweaty mass of bodies spitting out the scornful lyrics to Irish Blood English Heart and First of the Gang to Die. Then it was back to the glory days of The Smiths with The Queen is Dead, opening with that unmistakeable music hall recording, “Take me back to dear old blighty, put me on the train for London town…”. Adding to the spectacle was the swinging noose during Panic with its notorious chanting chorus of “hang the DJ”. The sweat situation didn’t improve during the finale of Bigmouth Strikes Again; everyone in the room it seemed had jammed together and were carousing on the thronging dancefloor.

Draperstown is not necessarily the first place to come to mind when you think of au courant music venues, but The Underground is actually the perfect scene for a band like this, having as it does a clientele of hardcore music fans. What owner Robert Donnelly is doing to bring live music to mid-Ulster is commendable. This place really is a hidden little gem and at the risk of upsetting the regulars who might like to keep it to themselves, I recommend taking any chance you get to visit this cool little spot.