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.
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.