Live Review: Martha, Joanna Gruesome + The Spook School – Fortuna Pop! bows out at The Scala

What started with the low key release of a 7″ single in 1995 (‘Fallen Angel’ by Taking Pictures for those who are interested) ends more than 20 years later in a sold-out Scala tonight.

Fortuna Pop! have been churning out consistently excellent DIY indie pop gems for more than two decades: Allo Darlin’, Bearsuit, Chain & The Gang, Comet Gain, Darren Hayman, Simon Love, Mammoth Penguins, Milky Wimpshake, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Shrag, Tender Trap, Tullycraft, tonight’s quartet of Martha, Joanna Gruesome, The Spook School and Chorusgirl and many, many more besides have had releases under the FPop! imprint, making them one of the few truly independent labels that we’ve been able to wholeheartedly point to as a bastion of good taste throughout Joyzine’s 14 years of existence.  But with label founder Sean jetting off for a new life in Japan, we are gathered in our hundreds to give a label that epitomised the DIY spirit the send off it deserves.

Sadly, this being Mothering Sunday, diligent and caring first-born duties mean that I arrive just as the always excellent Chorusgirl clang out the final chords of a set that seems to have gone down exceedingly well with the already packed crowd, so it’s up to Scottish indie-pop quartet The Spook School to kick things off for me in earnest.  The Spook School are perhaps the archetypal Fortuna Pop! band – big singalong powerpop choruses with girl-boy vocals sung in regional accents with crunchy guitars and pummeled cymbals are part of what made the label great, and their outsider anthems about gender identity, shyness and love have all of the above in shovel-loads.  There’s a lovely atmosphere between band and audience too and when, during ‘Binary’, the room is suddenly filled with balloons the reaction is one of unbridled joy.

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Next up, Joanna Gruesome have been Joyzine faves ever since we first clasped ears on their Weird Sister album a few years back and the combination of swoonsome sugar-sweet indie pop and guitar thrashing shouty feedback breakdowns is in full effect today.  They’ve clearly got a lot of affection for their label, with every other song dedicated to head honcho Sean, who joins them in a set-closing ‘Sugarcrush’ to batter the drumkit in a white noise outro.

The task of giving Fortuna Pop! its final send-off falls to Durham four-piece Martha, whose anthemic powerpop tunes and easygoing charm make for a winning combination.  Guitars jangle, crisp drumbeats punch the air and vocal duties are swapped between all four members as the crowd pogo themselves silly.

As the night draws to a close, Sean is called to the stage where it’s revealed that he’s never crowd surfed before.  The situation is quickly remedied as he is passed overhead around the crowd to the strains of Martha’s excellent cover of 4 Non-Blondes’ ‘What’s Up?’, before the entire Fortuna Pop family gather together onstage for final goodbye, during which a large proportion of the audience, myself included, appeared to have something in their eye.

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Thank you for the music and the memories Fortuna Pop!  You will be missed.

Review and Photography by Paul Maps

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