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LIVE REPORT: International Teachers Of Pop & Róisín Murphy
Anna Wood , July 19th, 2018 10:14

On the weekend of Trump’s UK visit, we self-medicate with a double dose of demented pop and a blast of beloved Róisín Murphy

Leonore Wheatley close-up by Zoe Coleman

Last Friday, we saw ace new band International Teachers Of Pop in The Social, drunk and sweaty (us) and brilliant (them). Then we got to see them again a couple of nights later, in the rather more chi-chi environs of Somerset House. Most bands take more than 48 hours to get from a 160-capacity concrete basement to a 3000-strong la-di-dah festival crowd, but International Teachers Of Pop, for various reasons, are able to circumvent usual procedure.

For one thing, the band was started by Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer, the Sheffield synth blokes who have had their fingers in excellent musical pies for decades. In the past couple of years, though, they’ve outdone themselves, as founders of The Eccentronic Research Council and then The Moonlandingz and now this gang of demented parallel-universe pop stars. It is brilliant.

Up front and centre, Leonore Wheatley and Katie Mason are lead and backing vocals. They have slightly off-kilter dance routines - daft, bored, funny, cool - to match their funny, cool and gorgeous singing. Leonore Wheatley has the kind of rave diva voice that makes you a bit giddy. They are in charge of the room, louche and fabulous, through the touches of Kraftwerk on ‘Time For The Seasons’, sci-fi rave on ‘Interstella’, tumbling disco glory on ‘After Dark’, and first single ‘Age Of The Train’, which does sound a bit like the Chorlton & The Wheelies theme tune (a foundational influence on me, for one) if it had been covered by Girls Aloud. Wheatley & Mason are a bit Rita & Sue and a bit Susanne & Joanne from the Human League; there’s a dynamic between them that is wonderful and not quite like anything else I’ve seen in a band.

For these gigs, Dean Honer is awol and the magnificent Marta Salogni is in his stead; Rich Westley’s on drums. Salogni and Flanagan are two different kinds of cosmic as they stand behind their synths; she is cool and straightahead, while he is one of those rare musicians who likes to heckle his own band, and occasionally he just mutters to himself like a slightly groovier Jack Duckworth. Flanagan also has that pleasing impulse to shit-stir - “You all here for the Tommy Robinson thing?” he asks on Sunday when they play at Somerset House, then he glances up at the banners all over the venue and deadpans: “Sponsored by American Express.”

It might seem odd to International Teachers Of Pop to be playing in the fancy courtyard at Somerset House, but aside from the corporate logos it all makes sense. They’re here to support Róisín Murphy, and they’re a perfect choice: as the sun dips, their daftly deftly catchy songs pull the crowd forward and spark off little dance routines and a lot of bouncing and grinning.

By the time Murphy appears, we are completely ready to accept the curative powers of pop with a solid dose of squelchy rave. She is loose, lackadaisical, commanding, fabulous. She skips about in hi-vis jacket and a builder’s hard hat, changes outfits loads of times - there’s a feather boa, there’s elbow-length black gloves, there’s a brilliant pair of trousers that look like watermelon skin - and she is somehow both menacing and welcoming. After a strange weekend, where we’ve spent far too much time thinking about Tommy Shitting Robinson and Donald Fucking Trump, there’s a solid seam of rage in this set but there’s solidarity too. The four-four beats and the divine disco brings sense, security and joy. The last song is ‘Sing It Back’ and we do, the whole crowd. We sing it back, bring it back, sing it back to Róisín. It’s lovely and it’s powerful; maybe pop music doesn’t kill fascists, but it’s definitely helping.

International Teachers Of Pop play this Friday, 20 July, at the Bluedot Festival; then Green Man (16 August) and Electric Fields (31 August). ‘Age Of The Train’ is out now