Wednesday 10 December 2014


Royal Festival Hall, London, Sat 29th Nov

Now on her fiftieth anniversary tour, the Sixties survivor par excellence takes to the stage with a steadying cane (still recovering from a broken hip) and a rapturous round of applause only rivalled by Patti Smith. (She also seems to share Smith's deep wells of formidableness, slapping down a heckler who tries her patience.)

You tend to think of Faithfull as someone who came to inherit the chanteuse and diseuse tradition. But musically speaking only a couple of tracks take up Weill or Eisler's minor-key angularity. The music itself is much more straightforward and melodic. When it works is when the sandpaper of Faithfull's husky voice scrapes up against the softness of it.

And work it mostly does. Some of the time it strays too far into the non-stickness of soft rock for me. (Though mostly during solos, over which I guess I'm generally impatient.) And Faithfull has lately been doing some more living in that lived-in voice of hers. This was mostly evident in the older songs, some of which sounded like garments she couldn't really fit in any more. Singers do need to ruthlessly drop songs, however classic, once they stop reaching the notes.

However, even though the Sixties seem almost another world compared to her later music, there were some of the old songs which still cut it. These included a mesmerising version of 'Sister Morphine' (a song she co-wrote, though she had to go to court to prove it), perhaps given a greater poignancy by her tales of her recent drugged-up hospitalisation.

However she need to rely on her Sixties or even Seventies heritage, for a good few of the brand new songs are really very good indeed. They included a declamatory number in which she takes on the persona of Mother Wolf to give her verdict on humanity and how its been faring. (Summary version – must try harder.)

If the format of her music can tend to be sandpaper against fine cloth, then the tone and subject matter of her songs tend to be bittersweet. In fact, spending an evening listening to Faithfull, you come to realise how straightforward and certain most songs are. The singer is quite definitely in love, has quite definitely fallen out of love or is absolutely sure of something in both verse and chorus. Standard songs are standardised. Faithfull tends to let a little of the ambiguities and contradictions of the real world in. (It might seem the attitude of an older and wider person, though it even goes back to her first ever single, 'As Tears Go By'.)

In some of her best songs she sings not emotively but wearily, as if the song represents not a moment of clarity but an ever-pressing burden. She covers for example the Everley Brothers 'The Price of Love'. But in perhaps the best demonstration, she opens the night with 'Give My Love to London', taking home a song about the city which took her from swinging Sixties icon to Seventies homeless junkie. As she reveals, she cannot help but have mixed feelings about the place.

This, however, is from Vienna...

Concorde 2, Brighton, Thurs 21st Nov

”I wear the same shoes as anyone,
I share the same blues as anyone”

While there's that adage about not judging a book by its cover, there's no corresponding saying to stop you judging a band by its look. The Velvets, the Magic Band, Joy Division... the shots of them, the record sleeves seem inseperable from their music. So strong is the link that even when bands don't have a look, that simply becomes their look.

It was more than a decade ago when I last saw Gomez, here in this very venue. I remember being struck by the discrepancy between how they looked and how they sounded. They looked avergae, blokey, like fresher students. But shut your eyes and they sounded lived-in and weathered, making a music so soulful and rootsy it surely must have been marinading through years of experience. In particular, the rich baritone voice of Ben Otewell must surely have been shipped in from elsewhere. And yet they made those Americana-inspired albumns from a garage in Southport and a studio in Portslade. (For non-native readers, Brighton's equivalent of New Jersey.) Sometimes it really all is just a matter of being in the blood.

A decade down the road, and while they inevitably look a little more lived-in, their sheer unspecialness still appeals. (Check the photo above, they look like they came third in an ordinariness competition.) Dali famously said the only difference between him and a madman was that he wasn't mad. While the only difference between Gomez and us regular folk is that they can make the music we all like to listen to. It somehow seems to deepen the rapport, with audience singalongs induced easily despite the infamous English reserve.

However, my memory does seem to have skippied over the Sixties pop element of their sound. Sprightlier, uptempo numbers contain memorable melodies and sharp, witty lyrics. Tijuana Ladies seem able to coexist with day-trips to Manchester, in some unlikely but virtuous combination.

Everybody, including at times me, does the lazy journo trick of finding a mirror to the Beatles and Stones in two modern bands. But perhaps Gomez are the Beatles and Stones at once – rootsy and urbane. As the gig continues, I even start to picture them as some successor to the Beatles. If Ottewell is Lennon, bouncier and poppier Tom Gray would be McCartney - leaving Ian Ball as George Harrison. Like Harrison, Ball seems quieter of temperament and has a thinner voice, but one with a pleasing ability to meld to the music. And like the Beatles their various vocal and songwriting styles combine into something greater than its parts.

Quite late in the gig, Gray cheerily confides that this is their first gig for over two years. And yet it sounded they'd played every single night for that amount of time. Here's hoping it won't be another decade before I get to see them again.

'Here Comes The Breeze', one of Otewell's songs. Not a lot to see for long stretches beyond the back of heads, but the sound quality's decent...

Coming soon! More gig-going adventures...

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