Sunday, 23 October 2016

From Ladbroke Grove to the Barbican.

It'd be pointless to try and list all the music that Rough Trade have put out and I've enjoyed over the years. When I was a teenager I made regular pilgrimages up to their shop on Talbot Road in Ladbroke Grove. Returning to Tadley with Shop Assistants 7"s, bags full of flyers, and normally an offer or two of drugs underneath the Westway.

Later on I'd buy gig tickets at the Covent Garden store they shared with Slam City Skates. They sometimes had gigs in there. You normally couldn't see a thing. Me and my mate Bugsy went to see Truman's Water once and that was an almighty racket.

The Internet age has been tough on record shops but, after a period of brief decline, Rough Trade seems to be thriving. Their flagship outlet on Brick Lane is a pleasure to spend time in. Regular gigs and book signings there too - but now it's big enough that you can actually see the artists.

So when Darren suggested we get along to the 40th birthday celebrations at the Barbican I was immediately up for it. There were poetry readings and discussion groups during the afternoon but we skipped these for a pizza and a pint. We had catching up to do.

We weren't sure exactly how things would pan out and the curators seem to have devised a plan of having two acts on at the same time. This would work differently in each case. After a brief, and humorous, introduction by James Endeacott, once of Loop, first up were Protomartyr. Soon to be joined on stage by The Pop Group. 

The Detroit post-punk outfit were pretty good in a Hold Steady sing/talk kind of way but it was the arrival of the towering figure of Mark Stewart as the set segued into a Pop Group gig that really got things moving. She Is Beyond Good And Evil and We Are All Prostitutes sound as vitally discordant as ever. The fierceness now counterbalanced by the slightly avuncular figure of Stewart. When he falls over a monitor he doesn't miss a beat and he's soon requesting for more beers to be brought to the stage. They never arrive but in their place we're treated to a feast of awesome riffs that could conceivably have lasted all night.

After a brief interval we're back in the auditorium for Scritti Politti with special guest Alexis Taylor. There's no Hot Chip songs. This is pretty much a Scritti gig with Alexis mucking in on vocals, piano, and, later on, guitar. It's almost like the final round of a sweetest voice competition when him and Green Gartside duet. I'd have to give it to Green though. There was no shame in playing what was essentially a greatest hits set.

Boom Boom Bap, The Word Girl, Skank Bloc Bologna. Even Woodbeez. Its slippery cubist funk sounding as odd now as it did back in the eighties. The Sweetest Girl was better still. Tune of the night. It seems odd that in the height of punk a man who sang like a choirboy over white reggae could find a place. The description sounds fucking awful on paper but on record, and last night on stage, it sounded anything but. There was a cover of Chic's At Last I Am Free which owed a lot, and was acknowledged as such, to Robert Wyatt's version and even a Jonathan Richman tune chucked in for our delectation. What a delight.

Darren and I were split on John Grant. I'm a fan. He's not. He was playing with Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire and clearly, tonight Matthew, they were going to be Kraftwerk. An early shout for Queen of Denmark provoked a rebuke from Mallinder. They'd written this stuff specially for us and that's what they were gonna play.

If I'm honest I'd rather have heard the song about Sigourney Weaver and while there was nothing inherently bad about the sound I've seen Kraftwerk themselves and didn't need to hear an imitation. Even a halfway decent one. Darren's train was leaving Waterloo fairly early and he had to shoot off. It may be a dereliction of my blogging duties but it'd been a long, and emotional, week for me so I left with him. John Grant was fine but he was never gonna compete with Scritti.

Thanks to Darren, though, for a wonderful birthday present and a top evening all round.

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