Sunday, 9 October 2022
Monday, 3 October 2022
At the height of the pandemic and the lockdowns, the things I missed most from the pre-Covid world were seeing friends, browsing in book and record shops, and going to the cinema / gigs. With the slow return to ( a kind of ) normality I've come back to all of these things except for gigs. Being in a venue packed with sweaty strangers drinking and jumping about seemed a recipe for disaster. Apart from seeing The Skids at the Gloucester Guildhall last year ( which was nerve-wracking enough ) the last two years have been a live music drought for me which has been very tough. ( Okay, I know a lot of people have suffered *much* more than this and it's inconsequential really but bear with me. ) But a while back I thought that as most people had now been triple-jabbed and we were heading out of the Winter it may be safer to do that sort of thing. I had a ticket to see EMF at The Fleece in Bristol a couple of months back, was all set to go, and then - guess what? - I caught bloody Covid! Yep, after two years of avoiding it the damn virus caught up with me and Sarah. We were both pretty rough for a couple of days with flu-like symptoms and then just generally felt tired for a while. ( So glad we've been vaccinated, it could have been a lot worse. ) Unfortunately the very last day I tested positive was the day of the EMF gig so I had to miss it. Gutted.
Aaanyway, a few weeks later my mate Glenn asked me if I wanted to go and see The Mission in Bristol - he'd got on the guest list for the support band, The Rose Of Avalanche. I'd never been a fan of The Mish ( or any Goth bands really, except The Cure ) but I thought it could be fun... plus, free tickets... :-)
So, on a balmy Thursday night I went straight from work to pick up Glenn, Cliff and Pob ( don't ask ) from Pob's
crack-den flat in Stroud and we headed down the M5 to Brizzle. It felt strange but exciting to do the old, familiar route into Bristol to the O2 Academy - even the perennially piss-scented Frogmore Street car park felt like a welcome place to walk through... whilst holding your nose. We got to the venue and Glenn ushered us in because he didn't want to miss The Rose Of Avalanche. Fair enough. But the one thing I did miss was food ( we'd planned to get something to eat on the way but didn't ) so the sound of my grumbling stomach almost drowned out the bands. Almost.
TROA ( as nobody calls them ) came across as a bunch of middle-aged blokes who work in a local branch of B&Q but like to rock out at weekends when there's no football on the telly. They made a decent sound but were lacking in chemistry or stage presence, apart from the lead guitarist who merrily pulled Rawk shapes stage-left and probably wished he was playing with the headliners. The almost-epic LA Rain was the best song in the set and its Lou-Reed-goes-Goth bite hinted at the less-mannered band they probably were once.
As the venue began to fill up we headed up to the balcony where there was a bit more space. I've always been one for getting down the front at gigs but the spectre of Covid had kind of put me off being a part of the mosh-pit ( at least up to that point ) and I was quite happy to watch the show from above, even though it meant my usually-blurry gig photos are even worse than expected. The Mission came on stage to a rabid response, instantly setting out their stall with the atmospheric intro of Beyond The Pale and, by the time they'd moved on to the windswept singalong of Hands Across The Ocean, I was hooked. I'd always thought The Mish were a bit corny but the unabashed, strictly non-ironic melodrama of their songs was actually irresistible and I soon realised that I'd been too snobbish in my assessment of their abilities. It was Epic Goth Rock and it was huge fun.
They brought out the big guns as Butterfly On A Wheel, Wasteland and Deliverance finished the main set. Returning for some deep-dive encore songs for the faithful, The Mission finished with a huge singalong of Tower Of Strength ( of course ) and I shouldn't think a single black-clad urban cowboy or girl left the venue disappointed. As a proper return to gigs this had been a fun experiment, far more enjoyable than I'd expected, and made me think that, yes, I could get back to this stuff...
Looking at the above photo you may be thinking "Another gig, another old guy in a flowery shirt" and you may well be right... except this old ( not that old ) guy was the legendary Robyn Hitchcock. Yep, The Man Who Invented Himself was back in the UK for a brief tour and - hooray! - was playing my home town of Gloucester. And the venue was my home-from-home, the Guildhall Arts Centre. All in all, a no-brainer, a must-see. The last time I had seen Robyn was way back in the PPE ( Pre-Pandemic Era ) year of 2015 at Bristol's Fleece, the review of which can be perused here ( should you wish to of course ) so it was great to catch him again. After heading into the main hall and discovering it was, unusually, a seated event ( the only seated gig I'd seen there before was a very subdued Lambchop performance many, many years ago ) I sat myself down to watch support act, Jessica Lee Morgan...
JLM captivated the audience with some wonderfully melodic acoustic-indie-folk tunes and a warm, conversational onstage persona. Assisted by her partner, Christian Thomas, on bass and occasional vocals, she sang some impressively affecting songs of love and female empowerment in her clear, richly-toned voice, and told some surprisingly confessional stories of the music business, mental health and her experiences of lockdown. Definitely worth seeking her out again.
And then it was time for The Man With The Lightbulb Head himself, Mr. Robyn Rowan Hitchcock.
Robyn was on fine, mischievous form - slightly more chatty than the last time I'd seen him and clearly happy to be touring in the UK again. Happily, he started the set with two of my favourite songs, the lovely Raymond Chandler Evening ( from the excellent Element Of Light album ) and the macabrely* funny My Wife And My Dead Wife ( "Am I the only one that sees her?" ), then went straight into the bracing Soft Boys classic Only The Stones Remain. ( Non ) hit after ( non ) hit! Great stuff!
( *Is "macabrely" a word? It is now. )