February 29, 2024

Carducci and his band are tremendously good musically and visually, providing a real show for the punters, and their sense of having fun on stage is as contagious as Covid.

It’s not very often you see a drummer dressed up like a sugar plum fairy, complete with wings, but that’s what occurred during the second part of Frank Carducci’s set. That wasn’t the only unusual costume of the night. Carducci himself dressed up as the Mad Hatter during Alice’s Eerie Dream, the band’s reworking of the Alice In Wonderland story, and Mary Reynaud was attired as a dominatrix, strolling around the stage to keep the band in order with a horse whip. Not what Lewis Carroll envisaged, I dare say, but Frank Carducci & The Fantastic Squad certainly know how to put on a show!

The evening at The Bedford in South London started off a little more calmly. It’s a small venue and the fact that it was packed fifteen minutes before the support act came on was an indication of the anticipation in the air.  That support act was the duo Storm Deva, who played five enjoyable numbers from their debut album and their more recently released EP.  Stuart Clark’s guitar playing was mostly in support of Carollyn Eden’s keys and vocals. Eden favoured slow-paced ethereal vocals, something of a mix between Kate Bush and Enya. In many ways, Storm Deva were the perfect foil to Carducci: all British understatement and earnestness compared to Carducci’s French flair.

Carducci’s solo acoustic spot

‘Understatement’ is not a word that would ever be associated with Carducci’s band.  As they walked onto stage, you couldn’t help but notice their clothes which were all glitter and glam that silently screamed ‘We Are A Rock Band’. There was a clever soundtrack as they walked out: a bunch of five-second snippets from classic ‘70s and ‘80s rock (Jailhouse Rock, Ace Of Spades and others) that gave a hint at their own influences. Carducci himself was oddly wearing sunglasses and a straw hat for the first song, Slave To Rock ‘n’ Roll, an energetic upbeat rocker that elicited a thunderous round of applause from the audience.

Carducci was the perfect front man, encouraging crowd participation as well as cracking jokes in his strong gallic accent. But this was very much a band performance, and the Fantastic Squad were ‘fantastic# in both senses of the word: very good technical players but also slightly surreal in their behaviour and dress. Guitarist Barth Sky looked like he’d wandered in from a power metal band as he reeled off some incredible licks while prowling the stage like a caged animal and shaking around his very long hair (and goatee!).  In contrast, keyboard player Cédric Selzer looked somewhat naked behind his single tiny keyboard (a bright red Nord Electro 6) but he got a great range of sound out of it and did some fantastic organ work. Drummer Léa Fernandez showed off her impressive biceps in the first part of the set, prior to adopting the fairy costume, and bashed away the whole evening with a manic smile on her face. Last, but not least, Mary Reynaud provided variety to the vocals, as well as playing acoustic guitar and theremin, and being the band’s general muse.

The set was evenly spread out across the group’s career, and nicely balanced too between punchier numbers and the ten-minute or more prog epics. The latter included Achilles and Alice’s Eerie Dream, both excellent tracks from Carducci’s 2011 debut album, Oddity. Carducci teased the audience with ‘You don’t like long songs, do you?’ but they certainly did. A new composition, The Betrayal Of The Blue, was also a highlight, especially the remarkable theremin part. Theremins are usually played with slight movement of the fingers, but Reynaud was a lot more flamboyant and seemed like she was doing the Dance of the Seven Veils! Two of her other vocal contributions stood out too. The first was in the Ennio Morricone piece The Ecstasy Of Gold (from the film The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly) where her vocalizing was extraordinary. What a great idea to play that piece. The second was in The Angel, a curious dirge-like song, almost in doom territory. Here, Reynaud sang initially in total darkness but then activated the lasers on her gloves to give a quite spectacular light show.

It was clear that Carducci has a loyal set of followers. He asked at a certain point who had been at their gig in Camden last year and there was a widespread cheer. The two fans next to me had come up all the way from Ashford in Kent to see the group again. This sense of loyalty to an established but still minor band might seem puzzling, but if you see them once, then you’ll understand why. Carducci and his band are tremendously good musically and visually, providing a real show for the punters, and their sense of having fun on stage is as contagious as Covid. I left with a smile on my face, and I think every other member of the audience did too.  

This was the first of a short UK tour that finishes in Peterborough on 10th March. If you are anywhere near any of those gigs then it’s one not to miss. 

Such a colourful bunch!