HERE WE GO….AFTER A 19-MONTH GAP

I’d never have believed anyone who suggested after the Norman Blake/Euro Childs gig at the Strathaven Hotel back on Friday 21 February 2020 that it would be just over 19 months before I saw any live music again.

The COVID pandemic has been an absolute bastard for all sorts of reasons and in so many ways.  And yet, relatively speaking, I’ve not been badly affected by its impacts other than it has put a stop, temporarily, to so many things that are enjoyable.

When the venues were first closed down, I really resented it all. It wasn’t just the music that I was missing – indeed, that felt secondary to the fact that so many familiar and friendly faces were disappearing off the radar.  But, and I’ll be brutally honest here, as time has gone on, that resentment disappeared, and I began to get used to a gig-free life, helped by the fact that some of the familiar and friendly faces were keeping in touch via catch-ups in bars and cafés. I actually wondered at times if my enthusiasm for live music would ever be rekindled, especially as I was getting e-mail after e-mail advising of yet another cancellation for tickets bought such a long time ago.

It took until 18 August 2021 for the Scottish Government to publish its guidance for the reopening of cultural events and venues.  My first scheduled gig, as far as already owned tickets were concerned, was scheduled to be Arab Strap at Glasgow Barrowlands on Friday 10 September.  But at the same time as this was being confirmed, other gigs in smaller venues were being cancelled or rescheduled, which got me thinking whether or not it truly was safe to go back to a music venue.  In the end, I took the difficult decision to give Aidan and Malcolm a miss, far from secure in my mind that I wouldn’t be going to some sort of super-spreader event, unnecessarily putting my own health, and that of my wife, parents and close contacts at risk.

My next gig was scheduled to be Scritti Politti at St Luke’s, Glasgow on Monday 27 September.  This really felt like something of an acid test.  The venue was smaller but being a converted church had a very high ceiling so wouldn’t feel claustrophobic or likely get too hot and stuffy. The band was likely to attract a more mature audience who were more likely to follow the advice around spacing and the wearing of masks, which would take care of some of my main concerns. Finally, even though it was a ‘safer’ gig than many, it was still likely to be less than 100% capacity as some folk would still need some convincing that it was a sensible thing to be there.

You’ll have worked it out that I did go along, accompanied by my sidekick Aldo, who just happened to be with me at Norman Blake/Euros Childs all those months ago.  And yes, it was his return to the live scene too.

Our verdict?  It really couldn’t have gone any better or been any more enjoyable.

There proved to be no issues whatsoever to cause any undue anxiety that St Luke’s would prove to be an unsafe environment.

And the music turned out to be quite special too.

Support was provided by Alexis Taylor, best known as the lead vocalist with Hot Chip.  Although I was unfamiliar with much of the material, his 45-minute set of largely gentle and easy-paced songs, centred around him on either keyboards or guitar, provided an ideal reintroduction to live music.  I just happened to be at the bar when he offered up an excellent cover version of Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones for about his fifth or sixth song, and I remarked that I’d love someone to cover Wild Horses by Prefab Sprout for a change.  To my utter astonishment, that turned out to be the very next song played by Alexis Taylor…..and he did it very well, I’m pleased to say!

And so to Scritti Politti.

I think it was last December that I bought the tickets, excited by the fact that the tour was to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Cupid & Psyche 85, with the album, in its entirety, to be performed live for the very first time.  I wasn’t the only blogger excited by the prospect, as Brian from Linear Track Lives got in touch to say he and his wife had decided that a trip to Glasgow all the way from Seattle was just the tonic they needed to help get over all the post-COVID blues and that tickets had been purchased and plans made for flights and hotels.  Sadly, the easing of travel restrictions between the US and the UK came too late to allow Brian to confirm everything with a degree of certainty, and so he pulled the plug a few weeks back, but very generously passed on his tickets and asked that they find a good home to go to.  And if you happen to read this my friend, I can confirm they did and that Juliette and John were very grateful.

Green Gartside has, on the basis of last night’s show, made some sort of pact with the devil.  He is 66 years of age, but looks at least 20 years younger.

And then there’s his voice.

The show opened with The Sweetest Girl, arguably the most popular and enduring of his songs from the back catalogue. It was note and pitch perfect, to the extent that if you closed your eyes, it could sound as if he was miming and that the vocal track had been lifted from an album released as long ago as 1982.  And it remained that way throughout a crowd-pleasing set which went all the way back to the very early days and threw in an as yet unreleased song, prior to the promised run-through of Cupid and Pysche 85:-

The Sweetest Girl
Day Late and a Dollar Short
The Boom Boom Bap
Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)
Skank Bloc Bologna
Trentavious White
The Word Girl
Small Talk
Absolute
A Little Knowledge
Don’t Work That Hard
Perfect Way
Lover to Fall
Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)
Hypnotize

There was a real surprise for the encore. A very faithful version of At Last I Am Free, a ballad written and recorded by Chic back in 1978 (and later recorded by Robert Wyatt, who has long been a hero of Green Gartside) for which Alexis Taylor returned to the stage for a co and backing vocal.

It was a beautiful and perfect musical ending to what had been the most enjoyable occasion, made all the better for stepping outside and seeing a group of other friends who had also been at the gig, including Duncan and Wendy whom neither myself nor Aldo had seen for more than two years when we used to bump into them on a very regular basis at venues all over the city.

I never anticipated it being such a perfect night.  And as it whetted my appetite for more live music over the coming weeks and months, you could say it was job done.

Loads of highlights to choose from, but I’ll settle on the surprise of such an early song and the majestic way one of the best pop songs of the 80s was delivered last night:-

mp3: Scritti Politti – Skank Bloc Bologna
mp3: Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)

JC

16 thoughts on “HERE WE GO….AFTER A 19-MONTH GAP

  1. A truly wonderful review, JC, and what a fantastic return to live gigs, for you and Scritti Politti. As you know, I am a huge, huge fan of Green Gartside and debuted as a guest here on TVV just over a year ago with a Green/Scritti ICA . Like you, I bought tickets as soon as the tour was announced last December for what was also going to be my first live gig in over 2 years…

    …which makes it all the more heartbreaking that I’m going to have to pull out of this weekend’s trip for similar reasons as you did for Arab Strap. I have loved ones who are extremely vulnerable and, whilst we’d initially discussed my going solo, due to further ill health (not COVID, I must stress) this week, I’ve made the difficult but absolutely right decision not to go. If it was a local gig in a spacious venue, it might have been okay, but as this one would involve several hours on public transport to and from London, Tube travel, the gig itself and an overnight stay, it’s just not an option at this time.

    So…I have a pair of tickets for Saturday’s show (2nd October) at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, Level 2, unreserved seats/standing. Like Brian, I would rather the tickets found a good home and didn’t go to waste. I know there’s a lot of love for Scritti Politti amongst TVV readers, so please let me know if you’re interested.

    I hope you don’t mind the liberty, JC, I wouldn’t normally use the Comments as a market place. In the meantime, I’ll pore over your review for the next few days and try to imagine that I was there…

  2. In Tracey Thorns lovely book “Naked At The Albert Hall” I remember reading Green saying the trick to his voice was always to smile when singing – so JC, did he smile while singing last night?
    I would have loved to be there by the way, as Khayem I’m a big fan. My return to live gigs at this point is only scheduled for January and the postponed, and again postponed, Purity Ring concert. Hopefully the by tomorrow lifted restrictions will open up more possibilities earlier than so.

  3. Last ticketed event I went to before the pandemic hit was The Raincoats in London in November 2019, where they sprung a surprise Scritti set from their old mate Green during the interval. He was superb. I’ve missed live music so much since then that I was even in raptures watching a covers band outside my local brewery last week doing a (decent) version of The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, and it wasn’t just the beer. Withdrawal symptoms hitting hard. I’ve had Lloyd Cole tickets for what seems like a couple of years now, so hope to catch another 80s icon some time in 22.

  4. Such a great gig! Sorry not to see you, but an excellent time was had by all. My fifth gig post-lockdown, but my first night out in Glasgow since I don’t know how long!

  5. Sounds like it was a great gig. I saw Shame at a socially distanced show over the summer and found it emotionally overwhelming at times – the realisation of what I’d missed and what was a huge part of my life.

    I had tickets to see Fontaines DC at a tiny venue here in Brighton at the beginning of August (rescheduled countless times) – and I went along with my wife, we leapt around like teenagers down the front as if there hadn’t been a pandemic. No surprises that we caught COVID – I can guarantee it was from this gig. So your caution at attending gigs and being in enclosed spaces is well founded – the virus is still out there and it’s not nice. Having said that I went to see Idles last week and spent the whole night down the front going mad – I figured there’s no chance of me catching COVID again! And live music really is life-affirming and good for the spirit so for me, it’s a risk worth taking.

  6. Wow – I read this with trepidation as I had a ticket for Cardiff last Friday but traffic between England and Wales was not moving and i was very low on petrol so couldn’t take the risk with the fuel crisis.
    So sad i didn’t go! and would take up Khayem’s tickets but still haven’t got any fuel so same laws apply. Very jealous you went but glad you had a great time!

  7. I just noticed that the Glasgow gig was happening last weekend. Good thing you were there to report on it! We have tickets for Khraungbin/Lee Fields/Big Daddy Kane in about a month but I’m doubtful we will go. Things are just too freaky in America to sit even outdoors on a slab of concrete with 6000 other breathing people. In happier news, we invited neighbors over to help celebrate my birthday last weekend and they gave me two albums! One of them the new Rough Trade pressing of “Cupid + Psyche ’85” complete with the embossed foil stamp title. The other disc was the white vinyl “Sextet” by A Certain Ratio! I have some amazing neighbors!

  8. Green with envy, JC. Get it? Thanks for finding a home for my tickets. Hated thinking they would go unused. They play with OMD in London on my birthday in November. Tempted yet again, but I know it won’t happen. Man, I’m sick of this pandemic.

  9. After lengthy consideration, I decided not to use the tickets for the Norwich show that I’d been gifted by a mate who couldn’t make it. The venue (The Waterfront) is claustrophobic at the best of times and with a visit to my aged aunt coming up a matter of days later, I just didn’t feel that I could risk it. I joked with Brian offline about being gutted at thought of missing a 21st century reworking of Skank Bloc Bologna, never dreaming that they’d actually perform it! Great setlist and great review JC. I’ll see you down the front next time around Brian.

  10. Thank you for the vicarious peak into your return to live music. Seeing Green/Scritti has to be one of the best enticements for getting back out there. I am so charged up at the idea of a performance of both Skank Bloc Bologna and At Last I Am Free, it’s like being transported back 40 years and hearing both tracks on Rough Trade’s Wanna Buy A Bridge Sampler album – one of the greatest of these type of releases ever.

  11. Thanks again for the heartfelt and heartwarming review, JC, it was wondeful to read about your first foray into the live scene after far too long away. And to have started off with such a great experience…! I’m sad that I couldn’t make it myself, but it was great to be able to see some of the songs from the Glasgow gig posted on YouTube. It looked – and sounded – truly spectacular.

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