Saturday, 26 October 2013

Review of Bryan Ferry at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester, October 25, 2013

It all seemed a bit of a nuisance to Bryan last night.

He'd spent the afternoon tweeting from Manchester art gallery during the afternoon while the rest of us dodged the Salford thunder storms and sipped Old Speckled Hen in the theatre foyer.

Then he sent out his seven-piece, black-tied jazz band for 15 minutes to play Jeeves and Wooster versions of some his best-loved songs. So we got novelty 1920s arrangements of Do The Strand, Slave To Love and Avalon with no sight nor sound of the man we'd paid to see sing them. Very irritating.

Eventually out he strolls, lean, weary and resplendent in a flowery dinner jacket and loosely fastened bow tie, with an understated nod of acknowledgement to the Lowry's packed and purple audience.

He approaches the microphone centre stage and opens his mouth. But, horror, what comes out is not the rich and creamy sound of Roxy Music, but a frail and fragile whisper, barely audible above the band, so wheezy at the high notes that it sounds as though the microphone might have a loose connection. It didn't improve much as he ploughed through an uninspiring set list.

For such a veteran professional, he also spent far too long with his back to the crowd facing his lady drummer, as though this was the soundcheck rather than the performance. Then he walked off stage in the middle of one of many horrible and hairy guitar solos, abandoning us to suffer its unwelcome duration on our own.

Things got  worse when Bryan returned with a misjudged tribute to Charlie Parker. We all sighed and sank in our purple seats wishing he'd done a tribute to more Bryan Ferry songs instead.

We did get his version of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and a crowd-pleasing Oh Yeah - lots of groaning at the end - before he sent everyone off to the interval toilet queues whistling Lennon's Jealous Guy.

It was all a bit flat, not helped by the killjoy Lowry usher in the red tee shirt who urgently wobbled over to instruct a paying customer to stop pointing her mobile phone at Bryan, a quaintly Canute-like stand against the digital tide.

Things did warm up a bit in the second half, his two-and-a-half backing singers dancing a joyful charleston in sparkling green, Bryan sneaking on stage to sit behind an electric piano, until finally the stalls crowd rose to its feet for the triumphant Love Is The Drug and Let's Stick Together, with its glorious one-note sax-blast opening.

But where was the between-song banter, the warmth, the joy of playing to Manchester's Ferry faithful? It was a 
messy, soulless, disconnected gig rather than the "Evening With" promised on the ticket.

At the end he waved and blew kisses and returned to the mic to quip, "So i guess I'll see you again tomorrow."

Not if I see you first, Bryan.

On stage: 8pm
Interval: 9pm for 20 mins
End: 10.25pm after a one-song encore.
Stalls ticket: £67

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Review of Johnny Marr at The Roundhouse, London, on October 18, 2013

"Make way, make way, classic indie riff coming through," and there it was: the roaring, teeth-clenched bitterness of Bigmouth Strikes Again exploding all over the Roundhouse like an IED from the 80s. Sweetness, I was only joking when I said you should be bludgeoned in your bed, the strumming as big and bold as brass, bouncing of the assembled bald heads bobbing like apples in a bucket.

Can you believe it's 30 years since I saw Johnny Marr for the first time at the Hacienda? I was supposed to go with Des, but he turned up at The Salisbury in Oxford Road and announced he'd finally got Margaret to go on a date with him. So I went on my own. This Charming Man with Johnny's breathtaking fretwork had been released hours earlier. I grinned from blistering start to gladioli-garlended finish, knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. Months later at another brilliant gig in the more mannered venue of the Free Trade Hall, Des mournfully regretted his choice of evening. It was his only date with Maggie.

Those now crow-footed grins were back at Johnny's second song last night - Panic, a triumphant denigration of England's suburbs from a time when Humberside still existed and we all wondered if life really ever would be sane again. I eventually found a job on those Leeds side-streets that we slipped down. Heaven knows...

Then it was Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want, that magical Marr mandolin shimmering underneath a classic Morrissey lyric. The lazy luddites who called him and them miserable just didn't get it.

It's the same with the dunderheaded speed-readers who've been so quick to denounce Mozzer's Autobiography this week. The melodramatic memories of his miserable Manchester schooldays are comic masterpieces. Like Smiths songs, his unique style mocks the mundane horror of everyday life and makes each household appliance sound like a new science. Man In a Suitcase, Belle and Sebastian, Ron Ely's black and white Tarzan on TV - anyone who lived through it will recognise it with a grey-haired sigh and get moist-eyed at the fact they've escaped almost intact.

Take us back, Johnny, to a time when our quiffs were still colourful. And he did it again, brimmed black hat on jet black hair, trim and bouncing-fit in drainpipe black jeans, the first gutteral, chuntering chords of How Soon Is Now? spinning us in a Tardis back to a holiday caravan on Anglesey in '83, drinking too much with Des and Paul and listening to a Smiths Peel session on the radio. What the heck was that sound and how did he do it? He was doing it again last night amid the roars.

And he can sing alright. But didn't every single person in the Roundhouse wish Morrissey would appear from nowhere fast, that son and heir of a shyness that was criminally vulgar, and tell us he'd already waited too long? But all our hope went long ago.

On he goes, the future classics from his Messenger album ably filling the gaps between the songs we still carry fully-loaded in our sage and ancient heads. First he surprised us with Getting Away With It, that odd collaboration with Barney from New Order and one of the Pet Shop Boys, an unlikely super-group from the days when Jimmy Saville was still allowed on Top of the Pops despite our worst fears and suspicions.

Then Stop Me if you think you've heard this one before, but it's true - I do still love you, not even slightly less than I used to. And then the mighty, mighty encore. If a double decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side, well the pleasure and the privilege is mine. There Is Light That Never Goes Out, another joyous song created by that guy right there on the stage, a song that a million unhappily-divorced indie couples danced to in front of their weepy friends on their wedding night, vowing an eternity that fizzled out like a vinyl record's final, crackle-popped fade.

It's undeniable: Marr picks better Smiths songs to play solo than Morrissey ever did. Why don't they just boot the grime of this world in the crotch and get back together before it's too damn late?

At last and too soon, Johnny jumped a McCartney-style skip and a gave us a See Ya, Camden. We crept out of the old tram shed, ten-ton trucks convoying in our heads, the past alive in our hearts, the future as uncertain as ever, the present a pot-luck voyage on the Northern Line.

I wonder what Des is doing now?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Review of Brian Appleton at Leicester Square Theatre in London, October 7, 2013

Brian Appleton is a bitter man. And with good reason. Time and time again he’s been at the forefront of a musical revolution only for someone else to steal his Thunderclap Newman. He’s been dumped on from a great height by the music biz more than once and he never tires of telling anyone who’ll listen.

Around 70 sympathisers gathered in the lounge of Leicester Square Theatre to listen to Brummie Brian’s tales of broken promises, broken dreams and a broken heart. This is the singer-songwriter who paved the way for The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones and The Smiths only to end up whistling his own unrecorded tunes in the staff toilets of a clingfilm factory in Nuneaton; tunes that a fellow factory worker called Howard Jones stole as his own and turned into some of the biggest hits of the 80s.

So instead of a life on the nostalgia pop circuit, the Leo Sayer-lookalike has been forced to sell his guitar effects pedal to buy washing powder and take a job as a Staffordshire-based touring history lecturer, a subject that allows him to combine his love of darts and music in a unique interpretation of our island story since 1066.

His lecture is interspersed with musical examples of the genres he pioneered without acknowledgement; a prog rock parody as pitch perfect as his pixie voice, a musical biog of scandalised John Profumo and, the highlight of the night, It’s My Turn To Be Poorly, a homage to man-flu written weeks before Morrissey unleashed an uncannily similar brand of deadpan pop misery on an adoring student body. 

Bitter: Brian
Like that other eccentric touring musician John Shuttleworth, Brian is brilliantly obsessed with the ordinary and the banal; the exact location of Crawley, the power of the pomegranate and the genius of darts legend Eric Bristow. His acoustic songs of loss and pain have more than a whiff of Jilted John’s seminal post-punk lyric about that big puff Gordon the moron and share the Britishness of the poetry of Philip Larkin.

Appleton’s self-deluded misery makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening at his expense. It would be even better if he ditched the general history lesson and focused solely and soulfully on his and our musical heritage. But as comic creations go, he’s right up there with the bitterest of them.

Brian Appleton's website and tour dates can be found here.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Two Naked Ladies, Three Points For City, Ten Things Learned

Manchester City 3 Everton 1

1. The Crown and Sceptre in Shepherd's Bush has standing-room only for non-QPR fans on match days. Don't even think about sitting on one of those empty stools. They're for some bloke who'll be there in a minute. Best you can hope for is to watch the 12.45pm kick off on the mute big screen surrounded by straining hooped shirts, loud hubbub and the smell of scorched Thai food.

2. The young Rangers fan stood next to me in the baggy cap and bushy beard told me he'd put a fiver on Lukaku to score the first goal at 8-1. His was the loudest cheer when Joe Hart let another one under his right arm for Everton's opener.

3. Aguero could have had a first half hat-trick. His goal was another brilliant finish but what a shame he put that other one wide after the slickest City move of the season. One of my wife's favourite things in the house is the signed photo of Aguero on the wall upstairs. Performances like that one today are why it's there.

4. I was the only person in the pub who punched the air when he scored.

5. If you jog part of the way you can make it from the Crown and Sceptre to The Raven on Goldhawk Road during half-time. No Rangers fans in there, just a big screen with BT Sport on it, a Chesterfield sofa with my name on it and a bar serving the sensationally citrusy Naked Ladies from Twickenham Ales. One for each second half goal.

6. Fernandinho is still way off the pace. Will he ever get on it? At the moment he's a yard behind everyone else on both teams.

7. If David Silva stays fit and on form, City will win the title. He was man of the match by a mile today; quick feet, extraordinary vision, deadly accurate passing. Sterling etc.

8. Former ref Mark Halsey is a good addition to BT Sport's commentary team. It was refreshing to hear him calling it like it is and saying how poor referee Jonathan Moss was. There were never nine yellow cards in that match.

9. Aguero should be credited with the goal from the penalty. He kicked and it went in the net. The deflection off the post and Howard's comedy beard wouldn't have happened if Aguero hadn't kicked the ball. Howard doesn't want it. Give it to Kun.

10. I almost subscribed to BT Sport but decided to spend their hilarious £15 "activation fee" in the pub instead. A wise decision.