I go to a lot of gigs, but even I rarely go to five gigs in five days as I have over the last week… It began on Wednesday with Nick Lowe at the Royal Festival Hall. I’ve been a fan of Mr Lowe’s since I was small and, as his appearances seem to be quite infrequent nowadays, I thought I would make the effort for this one. I suspect that this infrequency probably began shortly after the time that Curtis Stigers covered one of his songs on The Bodyguard soundtrack album, which sold something like 15 million copies (almost entirely due to the fact that it also contained Whitney Houston’s lip-wobbling performance of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You, a ballad nauseating enough to make a rat vomit. The path to wealth is clearly not always an obvious one!). For some reason, I had been under the misapprehension that Mr Lowe had been living in L.A. for the last few years. I can’t remember where I picked up this piece of misinformation and I always thought that it seemed rather out of character, so I was pleased to learn that he does still live in Brentford after all. Anyway, a friend of mine called me up the day before the gig to ask if I was going, because he had just been offered a free ticket by a friend of his who was Nick Lowe’s tour manager. This was surprising because I thought this friend of mine knew no-one in the world of music apart from me – and I’m not so much in the world of music as clinging on to the edge with breaking fingernails… But let me get back to the point (if there ever was one). Unlike many rock artists, Mr Lowe has chosen to grow old gracefully it seems and, if his performance lacked a little of the excitement of his late 70s peak, he now has a sort of mature, dignified gravitas which suits him very well. After the concert, thanks to my friend, I managed to worm my way into the after-show, which was in a small room surrounded deceptively by mirrors so that it looked like a big room. It was crammed full of sweaty people and I think I accidentally jostled Mr Lowe at one point in my rush to get at the free beer which is, of course, the only real reason for going to such things – well, that and the opportunity to impress your mates by casually telling them you were there and trying to make it sound more exciting than it ever actually is.
The following evening I was back at the Festival Hall, this time for Ron Sexsmith and Anna Calvi. I know some people who would probably sneer at Mr Sexsmith for being MOR or something but, personally, I love his wonderfully warm voice – and some of the songs are simply superb. There was also a nice surprise duet with Meltdown curator Ray Davies on a Kinks song I was unfamiliar with and it all ended well when the night finished with Lebanon, Tennesee, my favourite Ron Sexsmith song.
Earlier in the evening there was a set from Anna Calvi, an artist I had not previously heard, although I was aware that she was one of those currently being hyped as the “next big thing”. For once, the hype seemed deserved – Ms Calvi has an exciting and individual electric guitar sound, a soaring voice, a very cool stage presence and at least a couple of great songs. I came away a fan.
The following night I popped into the 12 Bar Club to see Ed Tudorpole (pic 1). I was a member of the Tenpole Tudor fan club when I was about ten years old – and I still have the badges to prove it. A lot of Mr Tudorpole’s songs are a bit throwaway and are mostly in a humorous rock ‘n’ roll vein, but the man is such an engaging character it would be almost impossible not to be entertained. Unlike Nick Lowe, he seems to be much more of the determined-to-grow-old-disgracefully school, playing a seriously battered acoustic guitar with his chest bared and swearing quite a lot. There was something heartening about this though, and he went down well with a punk-friendly crowd, most of whom were considerably younger.
I was all set to have a quiet night in on Saturday when a friend called me up at about 4pm offering me a free ticket to see The Sonics (pic 2) and Wire that very night – so it was back to the Royal Festival Hall for the third time in four days. On my arrival, I was introduced to Viv Albertine from The Slits, who seemed very nice and still looks fantastic. Anyway, for reasons too tedious to explain, I missed the first half of Wire’s set. After seeing the second half I was quite glad about this. They were not terrible, but it simply did not do much for me. The Sonics, however, were far better than I had dared to hope they would be. I understand they’re all around 70 years old now, but my god they rocked! When they did Strychnine the place exploded and the RFH’s “no dancing” policy went out the window as the middle-aged audience abandoned their seats and swarmed down to the front of the stage to jump around like much younger people.
On Sunday, it was up to Leigh-On-Sea for their free folk festival. I missed my train by about ten seconds so I had to wait on the platform for another half an hour for the next one; entirely my fault, of course, but annoying enough to make me curse God for letting it happen anyway. I always find things a little strange when I venture outside of London. The people look different – they seem to be an odd mixture of those who clearly do not care how they look and those who have tried very hard to look a certain way and failed spectacularly. And they don’t walk along quickly, barging you out of the way with a contemptuous / murderous expression. Strange. Anyway, I stayed by the stage outside a pub called The Ship where my friend Simon Onions (pic 3) was playing. Simon is a highly skilled guitarist who plays psych folk and blues on a 12 string. It sounds amazing in a place with good acoustics but was a little dissipated in the breezy back yard of The Ship. I also saw Deferred Sucess (pic 4), who deliberately spell their name wrong which is a little annoying as I feel I have to point it out rather than be taken for a halfwit. They had previously played at one of my Dogfishtrombone nights and are a sort of anarchic skiffle punk band with a lot of energy and enthusiasm which totally won the crowd over. Later on, I saw The Lucky Strikes (pic 5), an excellent five-piece rock band with folk and Americana influences who play a wide variety of instruments – definitely a band I want to see again.