Belgium is not a country that tends to get people – other than Belgians – excited. Somehow it has mostly been associated with faceless European bureaucracy, fries with mayonnaise, and soulless Stella Artois. Ok, so these are fair enough, but the image conjured doesn’t do anything like justice to the country that also gave us Tintin, Jacques Brel, a huge range of excellent ales, creamy chocolates, two types of waffle, and inspired the excellent film In Bruges.
The country also has a thriving alternative rock scene with a number of excellent bands. Ghinzu is one of them.
I’d already seen their name once or twice on local posters for minor rock festivals and a friend had raved about them, having seen them live during a trip to Belgium. Being overworked, ill and broke, I ended up squirrelling the information away for later investigation.
Comes the year 2010, with the children finally grown up and possessed of a driving licence. They even start bringing home music which – after some shouting because they weren’t playing it loud enough – convinced me that there were still some decent bands out there, despite the depressing crap that seeped through whenever I turned on the radio, whatever the station. There was usually only one half-decent song in the charts that spring, sung by some guy who sounded like a younger Midge Ure; we’ll deal with him later with any luck. Time to dust off that list of bands I’d been assured I’d love.
Right. Wander around Myspace, watch a video or two, notice that Ghinzu are even recommended by this scruffy-looking lad. Riffling through the CDs in my local record store one day I found a copy of their second album, Blow, which was triumphantly borne home and played. Loudly and regularly. It is an excellent album, full of sex and rock’n’roll. It is, for example, practically impossible not to dance to Do You Read Me. Mixed in with the “noise-pop” moments are some beautifully reflective melodies and soaring guitars. Add to this John Stargasm’s smoky voice and some expressive keyboard-playing, and you’ve got a winner.
The more recent Mirror Mirror – also strongly recommended – is a little more poppy on the whole, but you can still rock out to it. Which they do.
Influences? Oh, loads. Among many others, I could swear there’s some Tom Waits in there. Someone else found a resemblance to Muse circa Absolution (that scruffy-looking lad and the Midge Ure soundalike again). There’s post-punk, definitely, just as there’s classic rock’n’roll: listen to Kill The Surfer and dare tell me that ain’t so.
I saw them live in Toulouse last month. An unshaven Stargasm loped onstage looking for all the world like a younger House, followed by the rest of the band, all seeming relatively normal except for guitarist Greg Remy, who appeared to be aiming for the prestigious title of Worst Dressed Man In Rock in next year’s NME Awards. I’d vote for him. The set opened with the haunting Mother Allegra, a perfect softener before launching into the harder rock of (not in order) Cold Love, Mirror Mirror, Take It Easy, Do You Read Me, The Dragon, 21st Century Crooners, Mine and more.
Stargasm’s keyboard was placed right at the front of the stage, with an unexpectedly cheap-looking chair behind it. Some worried that this meant the show might be a little static; this fear was soon shown to be entirely unfounded. Except when he was playing, Stargasm was up and bouncing around the stage, with two roadies rushing across the stage like ball-boys at Wimbledon as they picked up fallen chairs, replanted uprooted mikestands, untangled wires, and generally prevented the man from becoming a walking Accident Zone. Twice during the show he actually got up and danced on his keyboard. Which, as he ruefully admitted to us halfway through the set, didn’t do it any good. Never mind, soldier on despite the dead key, dance on it again and wiggle your bum at the audience as the damage is done now.
It was a great show. They finished with Blow – well, they weren’t going to leave until they’d played it anyway – and left some 1000 fans (the venue isn’t licensed for more) deliriously happy. Except perhaps for the lack of merch: I’d certainly have bought a T-shirt.
Ghinzu are an excellent, seriously underrated band who deserve wider recognition. Their studio work is of a high standard, and their live show electrifying. Go forth and spread the word.
Ghinzu’s Youtube channel