Monday, December 12, 2011

Friday Night in Dalston

I was a bit late. I had driven part of the way with no headlights, and I had been wondering why there were so many invisible people crossing the road in the dark; and then I discovered that I'd run out of screen wash and I spent seven quid on a tiny bottle of diluted stuff, a thimbleful, just-in-case.

The Queen Victoria in Dalston was heaving; in the front part, elderly Nigerian men played pool while scruffians of a certain age nimbly sidestepped them in a thirst-driven pilgrimage to the bar.
I had missed Alex (the first act) but got there in time for Robyn Hitchcock, who was utterly unlike what I had imagined him to be. Perhaps because he is called Robyn, (a rural moniker if ever there was one) I had pictured him as a whiny folk artist and was preparing patience to tolerate his set with, when he burst into a batch of acoustic psychedelic songs sandwiched between quips: 'This is what the Beatles would have sounded like if they were us', and 'If you could weight trips, this would be a heavy one'. He was also wearing a pop stars' shirt and had a slightly off-beat hairstyle. He was decidedly unpolished and surprisingly entertaining, almost a one-man Yardbirds. Green and Rhodri joined him on stage for his final song, Tarantula. 
There was no dressing room, and the hall itself was magically scruffy. Above the heads of the audience, last year's mistletoe hung, dried to a crisp. Several burst pink balloons dripped forlornly from the ceiling, taped on with criss-crosses of sellotape that were giving up the ghost, presumably dissolving after months of sweat-evaporation from the audience below. There were mysterious black criss-crosses of gaffa tape and drifts of yellow post-it notes on the walls. The performers mingled with the audience and after a few minutes Green took to the stage along with his band and to a rousing cheer, kicked the set off with The Sweetest Girl, a short but sweet version, which proved to be the order of the evening (hooray! I like short pop songs!). At the end, 150 people gave the cheer of a 2000-strong football crowd, and the evening carried on in much the same way. Green was also in the mood for chatting. He told us that his manager had sent The Sweetest Girl to two of the acts he most admired, Gregory Isaacs and Kraftwerk. They heard back from Isaacs' 'people' to say that he liked the song and might do it, but nothing form Kraftwerk. Years later, he met them and asked them if they had received the song he'd sent them.
'Yursss', they had said, 'But we hate reggae'.
This was the night of the good-natured raconteur and happy atmosphere; paper plates of mince pies were circulated, and pass-the-parcel happened somewhere in the depths of the crowd.
When you hear all Green's songs together you realise what a track record he has; and such a strong identity, sometimes answering back to Soft Cell, circling around Spirit in the Sky, or deconstructing The Beach Boys (often, it sounds as though Green has fished out the best harmony and allows us to just imagine the others around it).
My favourite of the night was Brushed with Oil, Dusted with Powder, which is a sublime song that was performed beautifully.
Towards the end they played a song inspired by the Raincoats (it's called Overcoats). I was so excited that I texted Gina, but by the time I'd done that, it was too late to phone and record it on to her voicemail, which  of course is what I should have done. What a techno-fumble!
At the back of the crowd I found Jay Derrick from Brighton band The Parrots. We shared their drummer, Russ, who of course sadly died a few years ago. Jay speculated about what a brilliant drummer Russell would have been for this music; he was a tight and crisp reggae drummer, a mass of sticks and skinny arms and legs. As Green told us that the band were about to play a song that  isn't finished yet, Jay told me that he's been to the first ever Scritti Politti gig at which they played three songs, all  not finished yet. Ah, consistency, the under-rated accomplishment!

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