There are certain words that turn up alongside almost every mention of Summer Camp in the media – elusive, mysterious, 80s, nostalgia and “John Hughes”. John Hughes is of, of course, the man behind most of the great brat-pack films of the 80s – The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and even some that didn’t star Molly Ringwald. Try to remember the soundtracks from these films and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the prevailing sound on Summer Camp’s début album Welcome To Condale which featured on a lot of people’s “best albums” lists for 2011.
There may be a heavy 80s influence and people may categorise Summer Camp as “pop” but this is certainly not the cheesy-pop you might remember from Saturday morning TV, there’s a contemporary, harder edge to the album which becomes even more apparent as the duo, Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey, get going on the Louisiana’s stage (with drummer, Will) on this sold-out opening night of their UK tour-dates before the bus heads onwards to the cities of Europe.
Making their way, slightly nervously initially, through their opening tracks the sound loses some of the 80s processed sheen apparent on the album and is more conventional indie-pop with the occasional hint towards contemporary dance music. Jeremy and Elizbeth both get a chance to exercise their vocals, Jeremy stepping back and forth between electric guitar and a (suitably 80s looking) tiered stack of keyboards and synths while Elizabeth drops in the occasional sample and controls the video projections on the back wall – choice clips from the brat-pack canon – films that were released at least a few years before many of the audience were born but have since become classics.
As we reach the middle of the set Elizabeth takes a moment to humbly ask us “Are you all having an OK time?”. This slightly reserved manner is characteristic of at least the first half of the set – opening night nerves maybe. Perhaps though it’s that playing in front of people was not really the original plan for Summer Camp – the whole journey started when the duo recorded a demo and posted it on YouTube for nothing more than their own entertainment, doing so anonymously in case their friends would laugh at them. Either way, their laid back manner and relative humility is an endearing change from the arrogance many bands think they have to bring to on stage with them these days.
Spurred on by a sufficiently enthusiastic response to this question, the second half of the set is stronger. One particular highlight is an unplugged version of Losing My Mind for which they take the small step down from the Louisiana’s barely-raised stage to go for a wander through the crowd, who part to let them through and quietly join in with the song’s two brilliant hooks – “you don’t love me like you used to” and “this house isn’t big enough for the both of us”.
By the time Will kicks of the trumpet intro of the defiant Better Off Without You the crowd are ready to move their feet and, with the parade scene from Ferris Bueller playing on the screen, Sankey briefly steps down from the stage again before leading everyone in a joyous mid-song clap-along.
Closing with synth-led I Want You, which is a return to the earlier dance sound and would go down well in a club setting, they have saved the best video clips for last with this scene from Pretty In Pink and the “dancing in the library” scene from The Breakfast Club.
The Guardian still have the whole album stream on their website but if you can restrain yourself, why not buy a copy (and a leather jacket), put it in a drawer for a couple of months and then pull it out in June for the perfect 80s soundtrack to your summer?!