If the name alone wasn’t enough to tip you off, Owen Ashworth, aka CFTPA, trades in tongue-in-cheek, bleak introversion. There was a particular moment in the set when he cut out the backing, and it’s just this big, clumsy, incongruous bearded guy singing “When you’re kissing someone new/ but you know that your heart’s not through/ with the last boy/ do you say to yourself this’ll do, this’ll do?” and everyone in the audience kind of did that inward little gasp like they’ve been stung, and we all had a moment. Imagine someone who took the sound of Belle and Sebastian’s “Electric Renaissance” as their starting point, and set forth armed with a gaffer-taped assembly of drum machines, electronic effects and a Casiotone, a bleak sense of humour and a way with words that inevitably prompts comparisons with Morrissey. Over The Atlantic opened proceedings with a set drawn mainly from debut Junica that was enjoyable, but their complex layers of sound suffered from some average mixing, and I felt they were holding back, particularly on last song ‘Flying to the States’.
Then for more than an hour Owen had the packed bar transfixed with his scruffy, DIY synth-pop and lyrics that painted heartbreakingly accurate pictures of love, loss, small-town claustrophobia and homesickness. Sure, these are old themes, but he renders them instantly familiar, detailed and rich with the sparsest sketch of a few well-chosen words. His endearingly inept performance may have been down to real technical malfunctions that had him asking the crowd for AA batteries at one point, but came off more like a tongue in cheek poke at his own material, something that prevented the performance from straying into overwrought earnestness.
He constantly forced the audience to reconsider the position between his songwriting persona and his performance self, negotiating the Smiths fan’s wet dream territory by placing himself in the position of audience, realizing how ridiculous it all is and laughing along. When he covered (electronic, brilliant) ‘Graceland’, someone yelled “that’s the best cover of Graceland I’ve ever heard” and someone else yelled “Yeah fuck Paul Simon!” Owen stopped playing, looked at the offender and said, perfectly seriously, “Dude, you did not just say fuck Paul Simon.” Then he did a version of “Streets of Philadelphia,” just to top it all off. Willfully lo-fi, almost atonal, battery powered and sketchy at best, I hope he never stops doing what he does.
30th August 2006, Happy