I am far more than 10 minutes fashionably late for this particular dinner party but until I read about The Last Dinner Party, a quintet of women who perform, dress and behave most extravagantly, I was unfamiliar with the term ‘industry plant’. Turns out it is a derogatory expression meaning an act that has been calculatingly nurtured for instant success by power brokers in the music business, managed by a heavy hitter, signed to a label with clout and given the sort of VIP fast-lane treatment that assured wealthy Tory spivs of lucrative contracts to supply PPE equipment during the 2019 Covid outbreak, the most prominent of whom is the shameless Baroness Michelle Mone.
In my day ‘industry plant’ was called hype, and once this label attached itself to an act they had a hard time overcoming it. It took Brinsley Schwartz several years to live down the decision to fly music writers to New York to see them at the Fillmore in 1970, and among others that spring to mind are Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Transvision Vamp and Gay Dad, all of whom fell by the wayside pretty quickly. Then again, when you look at the circumstances surrounding their arrival, Led Zeppelin had all the advantages of an ‘industry plant’: powerful management, Atlantic Records and plenty of publicity. The big difference, of course, was that Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were seasoned musicians. And they did it the hard way, by gigging like fuck.
The members of The Last Dinner Party sound like seasoned musicians too. Their guitar player Emily Roberts paid her dues in a Queen tribute band while keyboard player Aurora Nishevci – and I hope to hell that’s her real Christian name – sounds like no stranger to the conservatoire. The focal point, however, is singer Abigail Morris, a Helena Bonham Carter lookalike, who channels Kate Bush and Florence Welch in athletic grace while reaching for high notes like Dusty, who always seemed to me like she was plucking them from the air above her beehive.
They’ve been around since 2021, sensibly putting in the work – and gathering a following – before recording Prelude To Ecstasy, their debut album, which was released to some fanfare earlier this month, and it’s shot into the album charts at number one, hence the ‘industry plant’ allegation. By all accounts, however, they honed their craft during Covid lockdown and emerged as fully-grown birds of a feather, drawing attention to themselves with their flamboyant period dress sense, all flounce and ladylike, Bennet Sisters meet Emma Stone in Poor Things, with added quirkiness.
The music they produce is as flamboyant as their look, a careful blend of prog rock, sweet(ish) harmonies and songs with unexpected twists and turns, Sparks meets early Roxy Music with Kate Bush taking over from Russ and Bryan. The first time I heard ‘Nothing Matters’, their single rising in the charts, however, I thought it was Abba, or at least Frida, letting loose on a variation of ‘Our Last Summer’, until it reached the chorus, a rip-roaring singalong that’s quite irresistible. “I will fuck you, like nothing matters,” sings Abigail, and I’m still trying to work out whether this means she’ll do so with extreme vigour or without a second thought, or both. Either way, it’s an impressive, seductive debut, and for safety’s sake they deliver a more decorous G-rated version – “I will hold you, like nothing matters” – where appropriate.
I first saw TLDP performing ‘Nothing Matters’ on Jools a couple of weeks ago and was struck by their look as well as its hook. I’ve now invested in the album and I’m not disappointed. It opens and closes with dramatic, orchestral fanfares, a bold start, like arriving on stage on a zip wire, which I wouldn’t put past them, or something like that. The songs that follow are produced to an exceptionally high standard of clarity by James Ford, whose CV reads like a Who’s Who of the best of this century’s British pop, and who has injected a dollop of Florence Welch’s melodrama into TLDP. There’s a gothic, slightly tragic quality to the lyrics, plenty of blood, some throat ripping, and while none of the choruses are as immediate as ‘Nothing Matters’, it’s growing on me, especially ‘Our Lady of Mercy’, ‘Burn Alive’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’, with its lilting melody and a touch of Godfather soundtrack in its haunting intro. ‘Gjuda’, sung in Albanian, is a choral wash that leads directly into the pulsating ‘Sinner’, another likely stage favourite.
A glance at TLDP’s website tells me they’re booked up to October when concerts at what used to be the Hammersmith Odeon (it’s called the Eventim Apollo now and holds 5,000) are already sold out. Before that they’re touring heavily in Europe and the US, all of which leads me to believe that they are approaching their calling by performing anywhere and everywhere. I take my hat off to them for doing it the hard way. As Led Zeppelin and a few of their peers knew, nothing matters beyond gigging like fuck.