"Can you stand up a bit?" a voice shouts, prompting hollow laughter from diminutive singer and guitarist Johnny Bramwell. "Fuck off," he says dryly, puncturing the awkwardness inherent in playing such a small venue. It's an exchange that sums up I Am Kloot, who are on a week-long tour of London pubs: cheeky, stinging and real.
Since the release of Twist, in 2000, their kitchen-sink dramas and gritty romanticism have found a devoted audience. Yet, despite being perpetually tipped as the next big thing, Bramwell, bassist Peter Jobson and drummer Andrew Hargreaves have yet to step out of the shadow of Manchester contemporaries Doves and Elbow.
But that could be about to change. New material from forthcoming album Gods and Monsters reveals a more optimistic side to the dour trio, the minutiae of relationships coated in a poppier sheen, the inventive rhythms moving on from the band's acoustic roots.
There's an intimacy to their songs that becomes almost oppressive in these tiny environs. Storm Warning crackles with latent violence, while Stop has the cutting rebuke: "God made me ugly, so don't string me along."
They look more like Saturday night regulars than stars: Bramwell appears bemused and dazed as his voice plays up its Mancunian drawl, adding a gravelly heartbreak to every word. Hargreaves hunches over his bass guitar, chain-smoking. Yet as a disco ball throws spots of light over the band as they play the haunting Here for the World, it's clear this nod to a past life of gigging in pubs has been just that. Now they're ready for the big time.