To the surprise of many, a 2004 report named Nottingham as having the seventh highest gay population in the country. Who, us? Could that really be true? After all, we hardly enjoy the high profile of gay destinations such as Manchester, Brighton or Blackpool. Our scene may be reasonably sized, but it makes few waves.
For a whole generation of misty-eyed middle-aged queens (trust me, for I know of what I speak), things have never been the same since the early 1980s glory days of La Chic: Part Two. Recognised in its day as possibly the best gay club outside London, Part Two mixed old-school glamour with a new-school aesthetic, in a way that was unique for its time. It was the first club in town to embrace beat-mixing, with an upfront policy that Graeme Park has cited as a key influence. On a typical night, you might find Su Pollard whooping it up on the floor to the latest American imports, while Justin Fashanu silently prowled the cruising alley and a regal Noelle “Nolly” Gordon – the Crossroads matriarch herself – wafted around in a diaphanous evening gown, flanked by stage-door johnnies. In the upstairs bar, you could even avail yourself of the services of a resident chaplain, on hand to dispense spiritual advice to the morally bewildered (as well they might have been, given the pitch-black sex room round the back). From sin to absolution in the space of one evening, Part Two had it all.
Following its 1985 demise, a long dark night of the soul descended upon our club scene, punctuated only by the ground-breaking, long-running and massively popular mega-discos (ooh, we had coach parties) at Barry Noble’s Astoria (later MGM and Ocean), on the first Monday of every month. Sure, there was something faintly demeaning about being shipped in under sufferance on the quietest night of the week – but in the absence of anything better, we were grateful for small mercies.
At weekends, the late 1980s were dominated by the twin scourges of Gatsby’s – possibly the grimmest gay bar in human history, and proof that ‘Gay’ stopped meaning ‘bright and colourful’ a long time ago – and its equally joyless sister venue on St James’s Street: Club 69, later renamed L’Amour. By the early 1990s, the place had upgraded itself to Nero’s, more or less scraping the lower levels of basic acceptability in the process. It was succeeded by the altogether groovier Kitsch on Greyhound Street, which surfed the handbag house boom before coming to an ignominious end, thanks to Donal Macintyre’s televised exposé of the city’s drug trade. While it took months of patient undercover work to nail the Evil Mister Bigs of the day, all it took to land the hapless Kitsch in the doo-doo was for McIntyre to walk in, approach the front desk, and bellow his request. (“HELLO! CAN I BUY ANY DRUGS IN HERE, PLEASE?”)
In the wake of Kitsch’s demise, the Admiral Duncan on Lower Parliament Street enjoyed a riotous renaissance, just ahead of its rebirth as “stylish pre-club feeder bar” @d2. Sure, the Dunc was a skanky old cesspit – but it was our skanky old cesspit, and some of us became rather fond of lurching around to Insomnia in pools of spilt beer and broken glass on the tiny, ever-rammed dance floor. Sundays were particularly weird. At 10:15, the place would be virtually deserted. By 10:30, when that week’s stripper took to the floor, it would be jam-packed with folk who had “just popped in for a quick one”, none admitting their true motives (“I’ve not copped off all weekend and I’m gagging for a glimpse of cock”). By 11:00, the place would be empty all over again. Tsk – men, eh?
This plucky make-do-and-mend spirit served us well, but by the time that the 750-capacity NG1 club opened in 2000 – a symphony in clean surfaces and sleek modernism – grateful gays from all over the East Midlands flocked there in droves. Seven years on, the place is still going strong, despite the increasing threat posed by online hook-up sites such as Gaydar, and their brutally pragmatic ethos of “why go out when you can order in”.
(Indeed – and I shouldn’t really be telling you this, so not a word – NG1 is actually one of the best places in town for heterosexual males to cop off with the opposite sex. Like most decent gay clubs, it represents a safe haven for women who want a hassle-free night out – and while this is only right and proper, it also affords a certain window of opportunity to those with sufficient reserves of patience, subtlety and stealth. That’s all I’m saying. You didn’t hear it from me.)
Ironically, the other potential threat to the established scene is posed by the very social advances that we had been crying out for – as in these newly non-judgemental times, there is consequently less need for separate gay spaces. Gone are the days when we were an oppressed minority, huddling together for warmth. The only trouble is that some of us rather liked being part of a shadowy twilight subculture, and it’s tempting to feel that by emerging into the light, something has been lost along the way.
Then again, maybe our status as a gay-friendly city has less to do with the size of our commercial scene, and more to do with the strength of our community. By and large, we’re not overtly cliquey, bitchy or ridden with up-ourselves attitude, and our roost is not ruled by gaggles of vicious queens slagging off anyone with a slight paunch, a receding hairline, or sub-optimal pecs-n-abs. (“What’s she come as? Scar-eh!”)
Away from the scene, we flourish as a community. Special interest groups cover everything from badminton players to “bears”, from historians to hill-walkers, and from church-goers to SHAGGERS (that’s apparently the “Stately Homes Appreciation Group for Gay Enthusiasts in Rural Settings”, although one has one’s doubts). The long-running Breakout group provides an ideal starting place for newcomers and the newly “out”, and indeed for anyone who might baulk at the prospect of propping up the bar alone, straining to look “friendly and approachable” rather than nervous and desperate. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) Situated inside the Health Shop on Broad Street, The GAi Project provides sexual health counselling, Hepatitis B jabs and anonymous HIV testing, as well as free condoms and lube. Our annual Pride festival remains truer to the event’s original spirit than most, displaying all the homespun charm of a mildly sexed-up village fete, complete with market stalls and bandstand. We even have our own ghettos: Forest Fields for the lady-lovers, and the Viccy Centre flats (aka “Fairy Towers”) for the metropolitan poof on a budget. Oh, and there’s also the Vic Centre Tesco Metro, whose immediate catchment area makes it Nottingham’s cruisiest supermarket…
But more than that, there’s an all-pervading and reassuring sense of relaxed openness about Nottingham’s gay life. We can nurse our pints of Flowers in the Lord Roberts (yes, there’s even a gay pub with decent beer), just a few doors down from raucous circuit bars such as Revolution, and not feel remotely threatened. And even if we did, we’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated police hotline for homophobic incidents (0800 085 8522), manned by specially trained staff. As we stroll through Hockley on a Saturday night, without a thought to editing our public conversations, the city centre’s reputation for violence and intimidation scarcely registers on our radar. Or maybe we’re just tougher little cookies than some might give us credit for.
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect comedians to be funny all the time. Perhaps, when you’re halfway through a marathon tour of the UK, the pressures of constant travel will conspire to rob you of whatever sense of humour you once had. Perhaps, when you’re nearing the end of a long-running comedy partnership, the desire to market yourself as an appealing proposition cannot help but dwindle. Perhaps, when your final series for the BBC (a “greatest hits” clippings job, with a few minutes of new material thrown in each week) has suffered poor reviews and lousy viewing figures, the desire to rule a line and move on can only make you testy and impatient.
Maybe it’s just because you were sitting on a train to Brighton, with the phone line cutting out every few minutes, feeling self-conscious about being interviewed in public, and understandably nervous about that night’s show.
Or maybe, just maybe, when your interviewer has admired your work for the thick end of a quarter of a century, and has been looking forward to communicating that admiration in person, disappointment is the only, and inevitable, outcome.
Whatever the reasons might be, the fact remains that my much anticipated chat with Jennifer Saunders turned out to be the dullest interview that I have conducted with anyone since Shayne “Mister Personality” Ward, just over a year ago. Granted, Jennifer was never less than courteous and professional – but as our conversation progressed, her answers remained resolutely terse, warily defensive, largely disinterested and utterly humourless.
(Oh, OK. I think she laughed twice. Three times, tops.)
The French and Saunders Still Alive tour, which comes to Nottingham next Thursday, has been billed as a final chance to see the pair perform together, as a comedy duo. “We’ll probably work together again, but I don’t think we’ll be doing the double act as such, unless there’s the odd Comic Relief moment.”
So, no chance of ending up like the ever-valedictory Cher, then? “No, I don’t think so. The tour is the tour, and then that’s the end of it.”
We have been here before, though. Absolutely Fabulous came to an apparent conclusion after the third series, before being resurrected for a couple of “last ever” specials a year later. Five years after that, it returned for two more series, followed by a few more specials, eventually spluttering to an end in 2005. So we might be forgiven for harbouring a few suspicions.
“Um, yeah. But that was… I never, I never wrote that off as a… I’ve never said it was finishing. You know, it’s just: when you get time, and people want it, then you do a bit more.”
If you say so, Jennifer. But what has brought about the decision to call it a day as French and Saunders?
“I think that the days of doing a sketch show have passed. There’s lots of new young acts coming up, and we’d rather quit while we’re still enjoying it – and people still want to see it – rather than letting it drift on.”
A lot of the duo’s material over the years has parodied whatever happens to be popular at the time, be it from television, music or film. There might therefore be a certain sense of relief, at not continually having to “keep up” with everything. (Dawn as Adele and Jennifer as Duffy, maybe? It’s an admittedly tantalising proposition.)
“I think it’s more about what’s a common experience these days. Much less is a common experience. I think it’s harder to play anybody, because fewer people see them. The ratings on TV shows now are tiny, compared to what they used to be. Nobody watches the same stuff. Different age groups don’t watch the same stuff.”
As for any future plans to work with her comedy partner, Jennifer is keeping an open mind. “We’ll be doing another Jam and Jerusalem, so that will be the next thing. But I’m sure that we’ll look at ideas on things we can work on together. We have a production company together, so we’re always seeing each other and talking through ideas. As ever, you never think too far ahead.”
Shooting for the third series of Jam and Jerusalem commences this spring. This is excellent news for those who have enjoyed Saunders’ shift of focus, away from the hot-house world of “media”, and towards the altogether gentler world of village life.
“We have a lovely time. Everyone really enjoys working on it, and it’s a nice fun project. It’s nice working with people that you respect so much, and writing for them.”
Although the show is clearly tightly scripted, it’s tempting to wonder whether any of the lines come from the fine ensemble cast themselves, during the filming process.
“A certain amount, but we shoot it so fast. It’s on a very quick turnover. But if a problem comes up in a scene, then we’ll sit down and change it over the lunch hour.”
Does this shift of emphasis – from the urban to the rural – mirrors changes in Jennifer’s own life?
“I think so, in a way. But there’s so much media now. When I first did Ab Fab, there wasn’t the same celebrity culture. There was only Hello! magazine. Nowadays, everyone who falls out of a cab without their pants on is a Patsy and Edina, in a way. It’s very commonplace. So where I thought there was a gap, it was in something that was basically about nice people. The only thing that it challenges is other people’s cynicism, really.”
But then there is also Saunders’ latest comic creation: Vivienne Vyle, the demonic doyenne of the daytime TV chat show, and a deliberate satire on the likes of Jeremy Kyle. (From Vyle to Kyle: the reference is hardly a subtle one.) Has Kyle offered any response to being so expertly skewered?
“No, none. Absolutely no response.” A steely silence, maybe? “I’m sure he’s blissfully unaware.”
As for the many other public figures that have been targeted by French and Saunders over the years, it seems that none have ever kicked up a fuss. “I don’t think anybody has, really. If we do it on the show, then we tend to invite them along anyway.”
One of the duo’s most memorable parodies was Dawn French’s take on Catherine Zeta-Jones, some of which is reprised on video during the tour. This apparently heavy reliance on video footage has come in for criticism in some of the reviews – but before I could give Jennifer the chance to answer the charge, I was hastily, anxiously silenced. “Don’t tell me, please. Honestly, don’t tell me anything. I’m not reading them, so please don’t tell me.”
Time for one final question, then. Once the tour is over, and the double act put to rest, it must be tempting to think: right, I’ve reached a certain stage in my life (Saunders turns fifty in July), I’ve been at the top of my game for twenty-five years, my daughters will soon be leaving home, and so maybe I don’t need to work so hard any more. Wouldn’t it be nice just to stay down in Devon, keeping chickens, and maybe opening the occasional village fete?
“Well, if we were that rich, then yes – but we only work for the BBC! I think you’ve read too many of those lists! But I don’t think I’d be tempted, anyway. I enjoy my job, and I think it’s a really good, fun job. We’re very lucky, and as long as we can do it, then we’ll keep on doing it.”
Nearly a year after the release of their debut album, the critical plaudits continue to roll in for this five-piece band from Kilsyth, near Glasgow. On the strength of Tuesday night’s arresting show, it is easy to see why. Taking the so-called “shoegazing” music of the early 1990s as their starting point, the Twilight Sad mix the widescreen, effects-laden sound of My Bloody Valentine with the fuzzed-out squall of the Jesus and Mary Chain, adding some of the sweetness of classic Phil Spector for good measure.
Perhaps their nearest contemporary counterparts are the much-vaunted Glasvegas, particularly in the heavily accented vocal department – but the material is denser, less immediate, less anthemic, and altogether more personal.
Standing at right angles to the stage, singer James Graham combined Ian Curtis-like intensity with a gentler, more measured approach. The overall impact was undeniably dramatic – but it was also unexpectedly uplifting, and almost reassuring.
If Duffy’s swift and seemingly effortless rise to fame has sometimes felt like the work of an uncommonly slick and efficient marketing machine, then you have to wonder what glitch in the masterplan allowed her to end up playing a tiny venue like the Bodega. With Mercy enjoying at its third week at Number One, and with her debut album Rockferry set to enter the charts at the same position, she could have filled a venue five times the size — and so it was very much to her credit that she opted to honour the booking.
As the Bodega isn’t exactly in the business of hosting chart-topping acts, there was a palpable sense of occasion in the room, as the lucky few jostled for position. In keeping with the singer’s star status, a full-sized mixing desk had been installed, reducing the available space still further. If our applause seemed muted, it was simply because we were wedged in so tightly that clapping had become a physical impossibility.
For Duffy herself, the show represented a fresh opportunity: to play her songs to an audience who were already familiar with them. Her excitement was evident, and charmingly genuine. Instead of the cool, untouchable professional polish that might have been expected, she radiated an unspun, girl-next-door quality, still very much the former Welsh waitress made good, and with something of the friendly, homely appeal of a young Dolly Parton. Even her slightly gawky stage banter (“and my next song is called…”) worked to her advantage, bringing her appeal down to a thoroughly human level.
When a dramatic pause in one song accidentally exposed one audience member in full (and foul-mouthed) conversational flow, she milked the moment to full advantage: grinning in mock-horror, sharing the joke, and stretching the pause almost to breaking point before resuming the song to loud whoops of appreciation. “You’re so… fluffy!”, exclaimed one excited punter. “Yeah — fluffy Duffy!”, she beamed, lapping up the compliment.
Although breathless comparisons have been made with Amy Winehouse and even Dusty Springfield, these do not serve her well. Vocally, the 23-year old is a good deal more eager Lulu than measured Dusty — but as some clued-up commentators have already spotted (and as a few visits to YouTube will confirm), her singing bears a particularly striking resemblance to the long-forgotten early 1980s singer Carmel.
Right from the first few notes of the opening number Rockferry, it was clear that the bright young starlet had the vocal skills to justify the hype. Hers is a powerful, dramatic instrument, which can confidently ride a melody and sweep you up with its sheer force. Yes, it still lacks a certain emotional depth — but equally, it doesn’t seek to compensate with false shows of manufactured melodrama.
For Duffy is who she is: an essentially cheerful girl, who readily confessed that she had never truly been in love (“Or maybe I have? Oh, I don’t know! What is love, anyway?”), and whose strongest suit is a gently assertive, not-going-to-take-any-nonsense-from-you-mister approach. By and large, her songs are not yet written from personal experience, and nor do they claim to be. Either that will come in time, raising her artistry to greater heights, or else Duffy will settle into the sort of role previously occupied by the likes of Sam Brown: a happy trouper, with many years of guest appearances with Jools Holland ahead of her. It will be fascinating to see how she develops — and after last night’s wholly delightful performance, only the most grudging of cynics could fail to wish her well.
A heaving, happy moshpit is always a joy to behold. When the average age of that moshpit is around 45 years old (as well as being one of the largest that the Rescue Rooms has ever seen), you know you’ve stumbled across something very special indeed.
Former Specials and Fun Boy Three front man Neville Staple is 53, and as up for it as ever. Although never exactly the creative powerhouse of either band, he brought a spirited vitality to both – and with his current and surprisingly excellent team of backing musicians, that same spirit remains gloriously undimmed. As they ploughed their way through old ska classics (Monkey Man, Pressure Drop) and Specials favourites (Gangsters, Rat Race, Ghost Town), you were left wondering why they hadn’t been the headline act all along.
Following such all-out mayhem, The Beat had a tough job maintaining the same momentum – but their looser, dubbier, more fluid and spacious sound eventually restored energy levels to maximum. Although only two original members remain – drummer Everett Morton and singer Ranking Roger – the spirit of the old recordings shone through, boosted by some splendid sax playing from an uncredited new member, who bore a distinct resemblance to original band leader Dave Wakeling. Additional vocal contributions came from Roger’s son, Ranking Junior, whose youthful braggadocio brought an extra edge to the performance. Of the old hits, Too Nice To Talk To and Mirror In The Bathroom sounded particularly fine, reminding us of a remarkable period in British musical history.
As the leader of The Go! Team, to what extent do you control everything that goes on?
The Go! Team sound is a lot to do with stuff I’ve always dug. It’s almost like my record collection melted down. I started the group, I wrote the first album, and I did all that myself really. The band came together because I really wanted to do things as a gang. There was certainly no plan to do it as a laptop thing, because it’s just dull, and it’s been done. There were no auditions, and no kind of grand plan. I really got it together just for one gig in Sweden in 2004, with the idea of: let’s get through this, let’s see if I can blag it, let’s pretend we’re a band for one festival. Then we just took it from there. We never really spoke about the future. It was just like, OK, we’ve got another one in a week’s time, and do you want do that? So I guess we got to know each other on the road.
Two years later, when it was time to make another record, I wanted to involve everyone in the recording process. So we all went into the studio, and everyone did their own instrumental parts, but the songwriting is still a lot to do with me. There are also lots of collaborations, with people around the world. Ninja wrote a lot of the lyrics, particularly for the live show. I also like to get involved in the videos and the whole visual side – but apart from that, every other decision is made as a band.
So it’s still your creative vision as interpreted by others, even though they might bring some of their own stuff to it.
I guess so. I wrote the songs, so I suppose that defines the sound. We’re all quite different people, and there are different kinds of playing styles, so that comes through. Maybe the next album will be more of a jam-off, but I’ve got an inkling that it might not sound like the Go! Team. It might sound good and noisy, with lots of wigging out and thrashing around, because we’re all noise fans – but I’m not a great believer in jamming. I’m more of grafter. It’s more a case of trial and error: trying things out, storing them away and then pulling them out again.
Jamming can be a dead end…
I’m sure it works for some bands, but I’m a terrible jammer.
Well, you can be one step away from the Jools Holland end of things, if you’re not careful. (Laughter) Enjoyable to play, but it can sometimes lose creative focus.
I like to hoard melodies, and then revisit them. It’s that kind of distance you get when you have an idea, but when you listen back two weeks later it’s almost not your idea anymore. You can say: oh that’s alright, I’ll use that. Or you can say: no, that’s shit.
You can sometimes start with one idea, and by the time the track’s finished it has warped and shifted so much that it’s ended up in a different place.
(Dubiously) Well, every song starts with one kick-ass idea that I definitely think is worthy of using. Then it builds out from there, and you’ll try other ideas next to it. I’m really interested in contrasts, and different styles of music rubbing shoulders. So a song will grow out, and spread into three minutes that will be worth listening to.
To my ears, it certainly sounds as if the first album was more of a studio project, whereas the second album does sound more like the work of a live band. There’s a more unified sound, in terms of the instrumentation and the line-up.
Yeah, I think so. I certainly wanted it to be more kick-ass and more ballsy, with thrashy guitars and the drums kicking in more – which is a lot more like the live show.
Barring a couple of tracks, there’s a kind of full tilt, ecstatic energy level to it, which you manage to maintain pretty well throughout.
Yeah, some people find it a bit wearing. (Laughs) But I wanted it to be an all-out thirty minute assault.
It’s certainly that. There’s something that I like about the vocals, in that they remind me of late 1980s party-rap, such as the Cookie Crew and people like that. There’s a kind of playground quality at work. Was that era an influence?
Definitely the early hip hop stuff. I wanted people to imagine street corners and sports halls, rather than studios. I like “found sounds”, which is how some of the vocals on the album came about. We used a chant team in Washington DC, where a geezer just turned up to one of their practices, stuck some microphones up, and said: just do something. It was the same with the Double Dutch Divas, a jump rope team from Brooklyn, who have been going since around 1979, and who have toured with the Fat Boys and Run DMC.
I didn’t even know that whole tradition was still continuing. It’s a tradition which seems to have got lost.
Yeah, that kind of jump rope, chanting stuff has always been an influence to me, and I felt it was underused. And that girl gang feel is something I’m always drawn towards. I want people to imagine girl gangs, with baseball bats, taking to the streets.
I guess you must be a crate digger to a certain degree, in terms of that samples that you’ve managed to dig up.
I’m not super-knowledgeable, but I’m always hustling for it. People give me stacks of easy listening records, and 99% of it is bollocks, but there will be the occasional moment of usable stuff. I look out for Blaxploitation soundtracks, Bollywood soundtracks and all kinds of blaring, brash stuff from unusual places – but hopefully nothing too obvious.
How do you translate that sort of sound to a live setting?
It’s a shifting kind of line-up. There are six of us: three girls and three blokes. Three of us can drum, so at times there are two people drumming. I play harmonica, drums and guitar, Kaori plays recorder and glockenspiel, and so there’s loads of swapping. The samples are set in stone: they’re off, they’re doing their thing. We didn’t really make that a part of the visual thing, because it’s quite dull. We could have had someone with a laptop, pressing buttons, but…
Laptops on stage can be deathly, can’t they?
It’s a kind of wall of sound, I guess. There’s so much going on, with six people plus a whole bunch of samples, so for the sound man it’s a real feat. (Laughs) There’s a real art to getting everything balanced.
Without it just completely disintegrating into a mush, and everything cranked up to maximum…
It has just taken people’s heads off. It’s probably more ballsy live than it is on record.
Good God! The music sometimes sounds as if it’s teetering on the brink of chaos, but then it just stops short. Do you retain that element?
Yeah, chaos is a plus in my book. If someone asked me what was my dream gig, I think chaos would be the key word. Particularly in the crowd. I dig that idea of the whole room descending into chaos!
So, is slickness the enemy?
I thank that’s actually a quote, isn’t it?
Oh, is it? I actually thought that was an original observation! (Laughs nervously)
Well no, I think I’ve actually said those words on a press release.
Have you? Oh, I didn’t see any press releases…
But yeah, pretty much. Like you say, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere. It’s a lot to do with the reaction to current production styles. When you turn on Radio One and you hear the latest song from Keane or Coldplay, it’s all very lavish and very panoramic. You know that they’ve spunked thousands of pounds on the best studio, with the best producer, and that it’s the best it could ever sound. For me, that sucks all the life out of it. It’s certainly helpful for getting a hit, because it suckers the listener into thinking that it’s a real piece of work – but I always want people to think of immediacy, spontaneity and energy. I want people to imagine us recording in a garage, rather than a £2000 a day residential studio.
Are there any other acts currently around with whom you feel any kinship?
I wouldn’t say kinship. There are some good bands out there: I think Deerhoof are one of the best bands around, and there’s Black Moth Super Rainbow, who are like a low-fi version of Boards Of Canada. And also Caribou.
You’re a Brighton band, and I always get the impression that Brighton punches well above its weight, in terms of producing successful and interesting acts. Do you feel part of a scene there?
No, not really. There isn’t really a scene, in terms of one uniform sound that comes out of Brighton, as it’s a real passing-through kind of town. Not many people who live here actually grew up here, so there’s not the sort of pride, or the sense of identity, that you would get in Manchester. I don’t think Southerners particularly have that same pride or identity. So you get lots of different kinds of bands. What have British Sea Power got to do with the Kooks, or with The Pipettes, or with us? But there are lots of good noise bands here, and I think that’s underrated.
I inevitably link you back to Big Beat, in that you’re mixing funk and rock and rap, in an upbeat, celebratory way. I wondered if you felt part of that tradition…
No, I wouldn’t say so. I can’t stand Fatboy Slim, really.
I think it had a bit of a bargain basement dimension. It was almost like a gold rush. It was like: who can get to the sample first, and put a beat behind it.
And it spawned a rush of imitators, so I guess you must have had a lot of that.
Yeah, it had a kind of cheeky, cheap feel to it.
I know what you’re saying. Obvious tricks. OK, final question: what is your plan for 2008? What do you want to do with the band next?
There are lots of interesting gigs coming up: Mexico, maybe Africa, and back to Japan. But really, just to keep writing. I’m always hustling for that next song, and I think there’s a lot more mileage in schizophrenic kind of songs. I want to push the idea of channel-hopping, where very different things are rubbing shoulders, with very different kinds of production within a song. So I’ll just keep working away on that.
I hope you’re not going to be one of these bands that keep everyone waiting for three years between albums, because that hacks me right off.
Like the last one, hmm? (Laughter)
At most shows, there’s something both distracting and annoying about the inevitable sea of phone screens, wafting above the heads of the crowd. At last night’s re-creation of Replicas – Gary Numan’s 1979 breakthrough album, which famously deals with themes of alienation in an increasingly mechanised world – the phenomenon seemed almost appropriate, as if the phone-wielders could only experience the show at one remove.
In a rare concession to nostalgia, the album was performed in full, albeit in a different track sequence, and augmented by sundry B-sides and outtakes from the same period. Considering the critical panning that Replicas was given at the time, the songs held up magnificently, sounding as fresh and as relevant as ever.
As for Numan, who turns fifty on Saturday, middle age had not dimmed his singular and remarkable charisma in any respect, the cragginess of his face somehow serving to accentuate that essential other-ness. More crucially, his absolute belief in the old material – the anthemic Down In The Park, the helpless Me I Disconnect From You, the prophetic We Are So Fragile – was palpable, and helped to fuel a truly compelling performance.
Three decades ago, the rock snobs dismissed Numan as an opportunistic Bowie copyist, whose fluked fame would quickly fade. How wrong they were. Thirty years on, with his reputation fully restored and his influence widely acknowledged, the last laugh belongs not to the cracked actor who fell to earth, but to the authentically angst-driven alien who came in from the cold.
It’s unusual for a young, fairly successful band to play progressively smaller venues with each visit – but unaccountably, Southampton four-piece Delays have managed to slide from the capacious (Trent University, 2004) to the comfortable (Rescue Rooms, 2006) to the compact (Bodega Social, last night). For a band of their undoubted abilities, whose brand of good-natured, well-turned indie-power-pop compares more than favourably with the competition, this seems less than fair.
Still looking astonishingly youthful, and with a third album ready to drop next month, the band kicked off the hour-long set with perhaps their best known number, Long Time Coming. New material such as forthcoming single Hooray and the impressive sounding Pieces held their own against the instantly recognisable glam-rock stomp of Hideaway and the electronically propulsive set-closer Valentine – but there were few signs of any major musical progression. This is a band who knows what they’re good at, and who have chosen to stick within their limits.
Perhaps it was the messy sound mix (had there been a proper sound check?), or perhaps it was the crowd’s reserve (“They’ve got rigor mortis!” wailed one frustrated punter), but things never quite gelled. Maybe it was just the wrong venue, on the wrong night.