Tuesday, 31 March 2009
“The artist walks where the breath of the spirit blows him. He cannot be told his direction; he does not know it himself”.
Maynard Keynes, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1945.
It’s a lofty quote to associate with Peter Doherty but he'd appreciate it and even with an acclaimed album (Grace/Wastelands) and a series of well received shows nothing should be taken for granted. Of all the things he is, predictable isn’t one of them. So easily blown off course – by accident or design – you never quite know what you’re in for. So, tonight, Sunday 29th March 2009, where’s he at?
Doherty bounds on, three-piece suited and booted, drops hat on head, picks up guitar and we’re into the Libertines “Music When The Lights Go Out”. Almost immediately there’s a noticeable draught in the air as eyebrows are raised in unison; he’s in fine voice, strong and clear. He also manages to play guitar properly; all the way through with no mistakes. This is promising stuff. Of course, this should be the least you’d expect, but from someone who on another night can barely remember his own lyrics and whose fingers work like sausages, this is definite progress.
Graham Coxon and Adam Ficek, the first of countless musicians that come and go through the night, join for “Arcady” which is given a more Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two feel than the version that opens Grace/Wastelands.
There’s not been a great wealth of QPR-related lyrics throughout the years but Doherty’s on a mission to up the percentage. Current groove laden single “Last of the English Roses” – number 67 with a bullet - has the finest Loftus Road moment yet: “She knows her Rodneys from her Stanleys”, doffing the trilby to legendary number tens Marsh and Bowles. When a beautiful “1939 Returning” – complete with string section - is followed by the swirling, cinematic “A Little Death Around The Eyes”, it appears Doherty is playing the album in order, seemingly confirmed by “Salome” up next. But proving you can rarely second guess Peter, instead of “I Am The Rain” we get the non-LP “Through The Looking Glass”.
By now I’m thinking this is the best I’ve ever heard him. No incoherent slurred mumbling, no songs falling apart, no forgotten words – totally focused and together. Professional rather than Potty. Even an annoying woman behind me, fog horning out every word, can’t spoil it; although I’m close to telling her to button it, before thinking I might just be being unreasonable.
From here on in, there’s the rest of Grace/Wastelands and more, including the towering “Broken Love Song”, with another QPR reference, and an endless procession of guests, most taking Doherty’s lead in being on their best behavior. A full Babyshambles line-up does “Unstookietitled” and even Mik Whitnall, whose guitar “skills” often match Peter’s, comes up to scratch. And Wolfman, who mangles every tune within earshot, keeps it respectfully toned down on “For Lovers”. Dot Alison adds little, Lee Mavers of The La’s means jack to me and he can stick that fuck awful song he’s milked for decades, and Stephen Street dresses as a Native American.
Street did a fantastic job on Grace/Wastelands (such a clumsy title), turning good songs into (largely) great recordings but I appreciate it’s “over produced” for some. Peter’s solo acoustic spot of “The Good Old Days” and “Can’t Stand Me Now” redressed the balance and he absolutely nailed them.
The chilled vibe of music and the salubrious surroundings of the Troxy (refurbished 1930’s Art Deco theatre) quenched the anarchic atmosphere of classic Libertines and Babyshambles gigs but it did tune the brain to the music. People listened. I love the mini-riots in tiny venues but that’s despite the music not because of it. But Peter couldn’t resist provoking some minor mayhem during the encore. “This is the last night of the tour and no-one has got up on stage yet”. A blistering “Time For Heroes” and “Fuck Forever” soon see the invasion commence.
This was the type of performance that supporters will point to as reaffirmation of their belief in someone who tests their patience like no other. This is why they’ve kept faith; this is why they put themselves through the mill. It’s nothing to do with the distracting baggage and circus - it’s the music. I don’t know what Doherty did after the show, but with his work done, I hope he got well trolleyed.
Set list: Music When The Lights Go Out, Arcady, Last Of The English Roses, 1939 Returning, A Little Death Around The Eyes, Salome, Through The Looking Glass, Palace Of Bone, The Good Old Days, For Lovers, Can’t Stand Me Now, Son Of A Gun, Unstookietitled, I Am The Rain, Sheepskin Tearaway, Lady Don’t Fall Backwards, Sweet By And By, New Love Grows On Trees, Broken Love Song, Albion, There She Goes, Time For Heroes, Fuck Forever.
Sunday, 22 March 2009
It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why I like the Rifles as much as I do. If there was an indie Top Trumps and you got their card you wouldn’t have a strong hand; scoring low points in originality, inventiveness, influence, virtuosity and all-round coolness. Their strength lies solely in their no messing, no fussing, straight-down-the-line brand of modish pop-punk. 2006’s No Love Lost is a collection of razor melodies and lyrics which lend themselves to swathes of boisterous blokes singing along unselfconsciously. Must admit, that doesn’t sound very inviting and exactly the sort of thing that would normally have me running to the hills rather than to gigs. They may argue that it’s just about the music. But music is not just about the music is it?
Another thing they do have in their favour – and should count their lucky stars for – is a passionately loyal fan base. Even a year or two without a proper release they still sold out large London venues from the Empire to the Forum to the Academy. No mean feat. And it’s their supporters that make their gigs; where Fred Perry, Tootal scarved skinny boys and their paunchier elders (they'll be me) swop the (mythical) terraces for the beer throwing moshpit. Although the band put the graft in, they’re far from captivating performers. A guitarist in a hat and a neat line in bonhomie doesn’t compensate for a collective lack of charisma. And the less said about the bassist’s new Harry Potter look the better. I'd rather go blind than wear glasses like that.
Tonight unsurprisingly showcases nearly all of the new Great Escape LP plus a large portion of No Love Lost. Great Escape inches towards that dreaded “mature” sound that bands end up with on their second album; as if the debut album – which first attracted their audience - is somehow not good enough and they need to “progress”. The Rifles one doesn’t suffer too much, and apart from sagging in the middle it’s another strong set of toe-tapping singalongs. Lyrically there’s a sense of nostalgia that permeates through much of their material and the newer songs add an even more pronounced bleak sense of hopelessness that things were shit, are shit, and will stay shit. “And if I get away from the pain and the voices that hound me/ Well I’m not quite sure I’ve got the strength to start over again” (“Fall To Sorrow”); “Waiting for the day you’re not looking for something else” (“The Great Escape”); “Expect nothing changing except for the name of the day” (“ToeRag”); and so forth.
The Jam-like oldies “Robin Hood”, “Repeated Offender”, “Local Boy” and “Peace and Quiet” get the biggest cheers and still pack a decent punch whilst “Spend A Lifetime” displays an endearing heart on its sleeve vulnerability. “The General” is the encore closer and The Rifles’ most impressive track to date. It still won’t win any awards for innovation but with violins and trumpets beefing up their usual pie and mash fayre this is a best-yet. It’s no Forever Changes but it’s no This Is The Modern World either.
I’m not sure The Rifles are equipped for the Premiership; they’re more suited as a dependable Championship side, but if they can sign another couple of “Generals” or bring in a surprise match-winner they may scrape into the top flight, but like their songs, I’m not optimistic.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Sunday 8th March 2009 saw the unveiling of a blue heritage plaque in honour of Keith Moon at the site of the original Marquee Club in Wardour Street, now sadly passing itself off as “Soho Lofts”, i.e. a few tatty flats.
Was a good turnout, maybe 200 people with about 25 scooters parked down the road. Lots of Moon family and friends (they were distinguished by their attire – all suited and booted like a wedding party – as they were off to a reception luncheon afterwards at the Grosvenor), a scrum of photographers, a gaggle of geriatric mods albeit those of the patched parka/targets and arrows/lights and mirrors variety, and the curious passersby. “Is Keith Moon unveiling a plaque?” asked one. “Bit late mate”.
Mike Read, he off Pop Quiz not the dead one off Runaround , started the speeches by remarking how wonderful it was to see such a line of scooters “like the seafront of Bognor”. Ah yes, Bognor, iconic scene of a beach fight. But my toe curling became foot breaking when he launched into a chorus of “We are the mods, we are mods, we are, we are, we are the mods”. Even the Jurassic Parkas squirmed in their union jack socks. Roger Daltrey, standing nearby, chirped in with “we never sang that” in a desperate attempt to distance himself from such arse clenching embarrassment . Although to be fair to the Toryboy Cliffalike he did, I assume, have a hand in getting Moon recognised by the Heritage Foundation (he has something to do with it apparently) and Westminster City Council. The bulk of the credit though goes to Gary and Melissa Hurley who campaigned hard after originally being told “he not worthy”.
Daltrey, ever the affable geezer, said a few words (“Moon deserves many plaques”) but although he has spoken eloquently and emotionally many times about his pal, here he didn’t have much to say preferring to bring in Keith’s old mum, Kit. Kit, bless her, thanked everyone for making it possible and for turning up and said Keith was out there somewhere with us if we could find him. Was gently touching without being sentimental.
Then came the Mayor of Westminster who immediately made the hideous faux pas by saying she too was impressed by the sight of so many “motorbikes” which naturally enough was greeted with howls of derision all round. “I mean scooters. Scooters”. Too late you irritating bint. She also tried to curry favour by claiming she’d seen “these guys” play, but with no supplementary evidence offered I’d put that down to a glimpse on the Old Grey Whistle Test.
Finally, Roger, Kit and two of Keith’s sisters pulled the cord to reveal the plaque. Despite the collective wishes that something would go wrong so we could say “typical Moonie”, nothing did and it read “Keith Moon (1946-1978) Legendary Rock Drummer with The Who performed here at the site of the Marquee Club in the 1960s”. Hardly earth shattering but nice enough all the same.
Among the folk we spotted were Kenney Jones, Dougal Butler, Richard Barnes, Keith Altman, Garry fucking Bushell for christsakes, David Baddiel (although I didn’t recognise him), PJ Proby, Zak Starkey (who said he liked my shoes), and some young lad who was about sixteen and must’ve been Keith’s nephew as he looked an absolute ringer for him. Conspicuous by his absence, Mr Peter Townshend.
Starkey seemed like a pleasant, quiet chap and also attained kudos for being with the oi polloi rather than the fenced off great and good. Remember he was close to Keith as a nipper, and has now taken his drum stool in The Who, so must’ve been a strange day for him. Whilst talking, some gushing woman came over asking for his autograph, going “I think you’re as good a drummer as Keith Moon”. With an admirable blend of assertiveness and politeness (just avoiding you-stupid-cow) he looked up and said “that’s very kind, but I’m not”. End of. Wished we’d asked him about Keith teaching him to play the drums but the moment was lost.