Title: The Make it All Show
Artist: Skating Polly
Label: El Camino Media
Release Date: 11th May 2018
It’s very rare than I write album reivews, indeed I believe the “about” page of this blog specifically says I don’t. There doesn’t seem a lot of point in an age where people can go on to spotify and listen to the album for themselves and make up their own mind about it. There isn’t a lot I can add. All I can do is say “hey this is a great artist, go and check them out”.
Ocassionally I may make an exception in order to hear an album before the official release date, so why am I reviewing an album released a year and a half ago?
Well I was listening to it on the train to Edinburgh yesterday, I’ve listened to it countless times, usually whilst I’m working. Relaxing on the train I got to thinking about it and this album deserves to be a multi-million seller. I don’t have the influence or the reach of the likes of Rolling Stone, but if I spend 2 hours writing a review and the band get just 1 new fan from it, then it’s been time well spent!
When talking about a band that people may not be familiar with, we tend to look for something unusual or different about them. With Skating Polly, the first thing that jumps out is age. Founder Kelli Mayo is 19 – nothing particularly unusual about that, but what is surprising is that the band celebrate their 10th anniversary this Halloween!
It’s hard to avoid, but I don’t like talking about it as I feel it does the band a disservice. When we think about young bands, our first thought is rarely credibiity yet trust me when I say that their earliest album available online “Lost Wonderfuls” isn’t just an incredible album for a 13 year old and her 18 year old step-sister – it’s an incredible album full-stop! It needs no qualification of age, the fact that they created this album so young is mind blowing.
So what we have with “The Make it All Show” is a deliciously unique proposition of an album with the polish, the musicianship, the lyrical dexterity and confidence of a band who’ve been going for 10 years making their 5th album, coupled with the artistic purity, vision and ideas and sparkle of a band who’ve never had to compromise artistically, who’ve worked with credible artists such as Louise Post and Nina Gordon rather than some major label accountant whose only interested in shifting lowest-common-deniminator product.
There is absolutely no filler on this album, every track could be released as a single, lets look at some of those that have:
I don’t have a favourite Skating Polly song as they are all so good that I can’t choose one “best” song, but “Free Will at Ease” would definitely make the short-list.
Kelli does lead vocals on most Skating Polly songs, but this is one where Peyton does the honours, and it’s impossible for me to listen to her incredible soaring vocals without goosebumps! Coupled with a bass line Peter Hook would be proud of, and a fun video, it’s irresitable!
My initial interpretation of the video was that guys can be really childish (not fair, I’m off for a sulk in the corner!) and women find it cute/endearing at first, but after a while it becomes a pain in the ass, and after dumping the bloke she is so relieved she acts childish herself i.e. licking her plate. Unfortunately I’m crap at interpreting song/video meanings, fortunately the band have done a song-by-song explaination here! Which saves me embarrasing myself any further!
“They’re Cheap (I’m Free)” On first listen I thought “catchy tune”, but just listen to the word play in the lyrics, “You’re all incorporated / So you don’t get investigated / I’m not abbreviated or deflated / I’m trying to be appreciated” it’s the kind of stuff Shakespeare would be writing if he was still alive and in a band! Kelli’s cold accusation of the main character of the song “You know what I know son, don’t lie, you know what I know” is spine-tingling stuff..
“Little girl blue and the battle envy” what an absolutely epic track, from the slow rumbling bass of the intro to the explosive chorus, it’ll have you experiencing emotions you never knew you had!
“Queen for a day” written by Exene Cervenka is another Skating Polly song which would feature high in any list of my favourite tracks. It was the set opener in Manchester and was an early indication of what an epic night it was going to be when the first track is this good.
They have a knack or making serious social comment/political statements with subtlety and clarity, yet even if you don’t listen to the lyrics they still sounds amazing.
That’s a taster, I’ll leave you to discover the rest of the album and back catalogue!
So, why hasn’t this magnificent album sold in it’s millions?
Well one thing I learned very quickly when I started putting on live bands is that it is incredibly difficult getting people to listen to bands that they haven’t heard of. I’d describe bands on the flyers in terms of their influences or “the best band since…” or mad stuff like “Lou Reed meets Mark E. Smith in Sainsbury’s Elevator”. Where I received direct feedback, it was typically “never heard of them, not interested”.
Yet when I booked a Smiths tribute act on a whim to headline, people were queing down the block, and the venue which didn’t have draught facilities, had to run to the cash and carry to replenish their beer! It brought an audience in for the originals bands I had on that night, but it still didn’t feel right that, without knocking them, they were really good at it and their “Moz” was so much nicer than the real thing, but real bands having to support a band pretending to be another band. After all, my whole motivation for putting on a night was to give a platform to live bands I thought were good.
In the end I turned the night on it’s head and made it a club night where DJs playing the likes of The Fall, Joy Division, Cure Smiths, Cocteau Twins etc etc, with live originals bands influenced by these bands. That made it much easier to get people through the door, attracting them in with the established bands the DJ would play, and the bands went down well. When people came over to me at the end of the night to say one or all of the bands were amazing, you know that the hoops you went through to get that person there were worth it – they had a great night, the bands has a new fan, everybody is a winner!
I was in a bit of a daze after seeing Skating Polly in Manchester, trying to process just how amazing they were. But when I realised they were playing in Glasgow, I did a facebook post with the Hail Mary video (the song that got me into the band) with something like “Attention Scottish music fans with impeccible taste…” gave details of the gig and tagged in about a dozen friends from Edinburgh/Glasgow who I know go to gigs or are photographers.
First comment was from someone I hadn’t even tagged in because he doesn’t go to gigs these days “Wow, you’re not joking”. One person said it’s not for them as they don’t like female-fronted bands. She is female so I can’t even accuse her of being sexist! But then for example, I live in Liverpool which is synominous with The Beatles and whilst most people who grew up here are obsessed with the fab four, I also know some who hate them. So if someone who’s been going to gigs for 35 years says they don’t like female fronted bands, there’s no point me trying to coinvince her otherwise. There are no universally liked bands!
Then another guy said “I’m going to the cinema tonight, but it’s an early showing so I could probably catch them later”. I spoke to him later and he’d been watching their videos all day, and him and his mate went to see them that night and loved them! Introducing people to Skating Polly gives me a warm glow, knowing how much pleasure the band have given me, it’s fab to share with others!
Obviously 12 is too small a sample to base reliable projections on, but Skating Polly fans are a passionate bunch who love discussing the band amongst ourseleves in the fan group, imagine if we all spent a bit of time getting new fans on board!
The band sold out the 250 capacity Lexington in London, so, imagine if everybody at that gig tagged 12 friends and told them they should come to the next date. Potentially the band could sell out a 750 capacity venue! Rinse and repeat and before you know it, Wembley beckons!
From a purely selfsih point of view, I’d love them to carry on playing small venues, they are so lovely and down to earth and incredibly generous with their time to their fans (next time I will be better organised and not be running to catch a train, so that I can get a selfie with them!)
I do tend to be an over-thinker and worrier (useful in my day job, not always so much in real life). But I can’t help but worry that whilst the band are clearly motivated by the art rather than money (one of the reasons I love them) it’s one thing being in a band in your teens, living with supportive parents, money isn’t really an issue, but as they get older it may become more of a consideration, particuarly once they want to start families and stuff like that. I know nothing about the band other than what’s in press releases and interviews. Perhaps they already have day jobs or the band is doing well enough to support them, but I’d hate for them to be living on baked beans (do they even have baked beans in the US?) or worse, run out of steam due to financial pressure of all things. So as fans I don’t think we should take the band for granted, and do what we can to spread the word.
I was watching a band recently who were average at best, yet they’d sold about 2,000 tickets because people know who they are through a project they were involved in. Getting the right break is all it needs, and when Skating Polly get their break, I predict they will be absolutely massive!
Apparently people are always telling Kelli what they think she should be doing, but from where I’m standing she and the band are doing everything right. They just need to be heard, and whilst they await their big break, that’s something fans can help with.
I’ve got a few ambitious ideas which will take a bit of time to setup, but I try to do something every day to help get the name out there, even if it’s something small like for example BBC 6 Music (big UK alternative music station) asked people to leave a comment with the name of an artist and a 6 word review of a gig they saw in October, so I tagged Skating Polly’s page and put “Best gig of my life”. I normally wouldn’t bother, but it got 1 like, perhaps from a fellow fan, but perhaps by someone intregued enough to chech them out! Acorns, raindrops and other cliches!
I love spreading the word about Skating Polly because they are a band that I believe in. They’ve given me so much pleasure that it’s nice to know that others will too, plus if it helps the band in some small way then it’s giving something back.
What have you done to promote Skating Polly today? 🙂
The last band I was excited about was in 2012, we were checking out bands at Summer Sundae Weekender, and Clean Bandit’s early videos marked them out as worth checking out. Live they were phenomenal. But admittedly whilst I loved them, they were a bit too quirky for the mass market. When they signed to Atlantic, they polished out the quirkiness and sold 1.13 milion units of their debut hit, but I found it very bland and was embarrased when people were emaiing me “Is THIS the band you were raving about???”. I’m much more excited about Skating Polly, and I honestly believe that whilst the earlier albums may have a more limited potential audience, much as I love them personally, “The Make it All Show” is absolutely ready for prime time – accessible enough for the mass-market, interesting enough for the more discerning listener.
“The Make it All Show” is available directly from El Camino here. They only currently ship within the US, however there are several re-shipping services in the US who give you a domestic US address with a “unit” number which identifies you. Once they receive it you can buy other stuff from the US and send it in one box or ship straight away. I was quoted $12 for 5 day shipping.
At time of writing my transparent vinyl single has been shipped by El Camino but not yet received by the reshipper. (I always expect shipping within a country to be like the UK where if you put a first class stamp on a letter or package before 6pm it will typically arrive the next day – but of course the US is a much bigger land mass!).
I will update once it arrives.
Review by John W. King