It’s been a trying time for South African punk rock chicks The SoapGirls of late, having gained many friends and followers with their relentless touring of the UK, they’ve also had to endure what appears to be a co-ordinated hate campaign. They’ve had their Facebook page deleted, forcing them to rebuild their following from scratch; the individual profiles of both girls (bassist Camille ‘Mille’ Debray and her guitarist sister Noemie, a.k.a. ‘Mie’) as well as their mother/manager Sam Debray have also been subject to various temporary bans. The reasons for this are unclear other than somebody definitely doesn’t like them, and are trying to stop them from performing. Indeed, days before this date, one planned gig in another city was pulled by the venue (which I shan’t identify, since I’ve no desire to give that place any mention!) and another scheduled for this week has also been cancelled. They’ve also had to fend off some quite outrageously untrue allegations, which could have been rectified by spending just five minutes talking to Mille, Mie or Sam. Nonetheless they are made of sterner stuff than their ‘haters’ reckon with – hey, they’re from South Africa and they come tough there – but they are definitely doing something right, with some of their fans prepared to travel up and down the country (and into continental Europe, where they will play more dates this year) to see them play.
Their controversial image stems from their stage attire – sometimes little more than body paint, boots, and a few tattered remnants (!) and other times, leotards and hand-written slogans on their arms and legs. They’ve also been known to involve fans in bizarre challenges such as drinking their ‘voodoo’ cocktail of whatever alcoholic drinks were around at the time or ‘persuading’ fans to get on stage dressed in just outsized ‘nappies’ – these antics have been scaled back of late however, with the trio (they’re accompanied by a touring male drummer, currently Sam Ogden) preferring to focus on showcasing new material from a forthcoming album. This performance in Wigan was actually a headline set for the venue’s Summer Festival, an all-day event featuring numerous bands from the North West and set in the Vault room at this former court house turned music and arts centre.
I caught some of the other bands on the bill, two of whom I made mental note of to look out for in future were stoner rock trio Shallow Waters. These guys badly want to be Kyuss, playing some trippy, out there jams featuring tons of overdriven guitar, and Neptune Valley who immediately preceded the SoapGirls. These were a four-piece who, despite some loud shirts, had a neat line in pop-rock but still with enough guitar riffing and soloing to please an ageing headbanger like me.
By the time the SoapGirls themselves were due to come on it was already well past 11pm; fortunately it was a bank holiday the next day so I wasn’t worried about the night running too late and as I was driving, also not worried about getting home! Opening with ‘Society’s Rejects’, the title track from their last album, it was clear from the off that Mille in particular was in fiery mood. She was all over the stage, having a bit of room for once to throw shapes, she made the most of it. If she wasn’t storming all over the stage, she was bending backwards (she actually fell over twice doing that during this set, before reasoning that it’d be easier if she took off her high-heeled boots!) or doing the splits. All while still playing the bass! When she wasn’t performing gymnastics, she was delivering some from-the-heart speeches, slating politicians (‘none of them care about you or I’), and urging those present to make the most of their time (‘you have one life’) by not pandering to what others – be it work bosses, family members, whatever, expect from them. Mille is a driven, passionate performer at the best of times but on this night she seemed particularly angered.
Meanwhile over on the other mic guitarist Mie seems to have taken a more active role with lead vocal – she took lead vocals a lot more than I’d seen her do in the past, which did free Mille up more to perform her acrobatic routines. Her voice has got stronger in the past year too, she has always been the slightly more restrained voice of the two but now she’s roaring almost as much as her elder sister. Of course Mie’s guitar riffs are as heavy as ever, she sets that Ibanez Jem and Blackstar amp to destroy! All backed up by their redheaded sticksman from Stoke-on-Trent; Sam Ogden on the drums drives the sisters along splendidly, and you know how highly they regard their current drummer by the amount of stick they give him between songs! For all the seriousness of some of Mille’s speeches, she hasn’t lost her sense of humour, there were some quite ribald jibes aimed at Sam on the kit. All in jest, of course! The new songs they unveiled in April have become a big part of this set, in particular ‘My Development’. A song written after a confrontation with a neighbour back in South Africa, who objected to their playing practice at home, they’ve given said neighbour short lyrical shrift in this number! For ‘Bad Bitch’ they invited two people up on stage, only one took them up on it but another appeared, holding a sign stating ‘We Stand With The Soap Girls’. ‘Sam’s On Crack’ and of course, their party anthem for the downtrodden worker ‘Champagne Cocaine’, ended the set with the floor still bouncing despite the late hour.
As ever, both Mille and Mie were straight out afterwards, still in what passed for stage wear (!) to chat with the attendees, sell CDs and T-shirts, or just chat and have a picture taken. Mille, fiery and fierce on stage, reverted to a sweet and friendly figure once off, happily chatting to whoever was around, while Mie also mingled with fans and posed for pics, still with her headdress on! They know many faces from the gigs now, but have time for everyone. This aspect goes to show how much they put into their night, they must be tired after such an energetic set but still give their time to their fans. They have a few weeks left playing dates in continental Europe and some more in the UK after that, before returning to South Africa over the winter months. I hope to see them at least once more before they head home, and when they return in 2019 there should be a new album (their fourth) available. They are quite the live experience, and seeing them while they’re still playing small venues is recommended.