The low-key acoustic start to the 2018 gig year continues, this time in the fine company of Messrs. Pete Fij and Terry Bickers, two veterans of epic early 90’s bands in thrall to the sweeping majesty of the post-punk Bunny/ Furs soundscape of my teens, in the excellent Adorable and House Of Love respectively, and who now ply a lovely trade in brittle and morose hushed acoustic melancholia in a similar vein to the towering likes of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed. Also, in the fine company of Messrs. Owen and May, two splendid gents whom I should really hang out with more often… the obvious solution to that being that they should come to more gigs with me! Well, whaddaya say, boys?
Well, we had tonight, nonetheless, and Tim picked Rich and myself up from my place, before an entertaining drive saw us parking up remarkably easily behind Cowley Road Tescos, meeting Oxford-domiciled Mr. Craven as we walked into the quiet Bullingdon pub back room. Aficionados and hardy souls only, tonight, it seemed… we caught up, and Tim introduced me to support artist Phil Cooper, a chat about Swindon’s (lack of a) “live” music scene ensuing before Phil took the stage, and we took the front row seats! Phil played a very easy-on-the-ears, difficult to pigeonhole acoustic set; shades of the heavily Gram Parsons-influenced “Lovey” era Lemonheads in an early countrified number, some stompy late-period Beatles blues in the later “Shake It Up”, an angsty tortured vocal in “How Many Times” quite at odds with Phil’s normal self-effacing manner, and my favourite, set closer “Let It Fall”, which almost had inflections of early 90’s Boston college rock. By this time he’d borrowed a guitar from Terry Bickers, having broken a string on his own, new little acoustic, and on finding it out-of-tune for said final number, eventually realised this was because a pick was tucked into the strings just below the nut! His subsequent remark, “I’ve only been doing this for 15 years…!” typical of his demeanour, and of a neat little opening set.
We kept our spot for the main event, and Pete and Terry took their seats onstage at 9.30 prompt, Terry extensively tuning up (remarking, “you’d think we’d tune up before we come on… it’s part of that amateurish chic we’re trying to cultivate!”) before sardonic lullaby opener, “I Don’t Give A Shit About You”. The flippant “Let’s Get Lost Together” ensued, the boys riffing off each other like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in “The Odd Couple”, before we delved into the bitter, break-up melancholy material that formed the guts of the set, with a pointed “Queen Of Stuff”. However, despite the generally sombre subject matter and hushed acoustic monochrome-wash musical backdrop, this wasn’t an evening to wallow in Eeyore-ish mock despair. Pete was an entertaining and occasionally funny raconteur, introducing “If The World Is All We Have” as his attempt to write a Eurovision/ James Bond theme and imagining, “20,000 Estonians clicking along to the chorus!” (he got 50 or so Oxonians and 4 Swindonians clicking instead, which prompted him to recall his disgust at the 1986 US rock-influenced Psychedelic Furs line-up getting the audience to clap along… “fast forward 32 years and I’m getting people to click along!”), and lifting the lid on his rock’n’roll rider – “6 bottles of mineral water and a packet of nuts – and we don’t even like nuts!”
However, my defining memory of this set will be his story of how he serenaded a resident of the care home where he works as Entertainment Manager, while she peacefully passed on. Fighting back tears as he related this to a stunned crowd, I was in awe of his raw, emotional honesty in relating a recent and clearly sensitive memory to a crowd of relative strangers. A genuinely affecting moment.
A more robust “Parallel Girl” cleansed the air a little, before it was back to the more relaxed Pete, wisecracking that in order to lighten the mood of current album “We Are Millionaires”, Terry had suggested they write a song with the upbeat title of “I Love You”; “what could possibly go wrong…!” “Sometime Soon” rounded off the set, Pete commenting on various people having turned up tonight from various points of his past, reminding him of things such as, “crap gigs in Swindon!” (gig 967, and it wasn’t that crap…!), before an encore showcasing the excellent new album title track and my personal favourite “Berry Ford” closed out another exemplary evening in the company of a couple of genuine indie icons.
Set-list signed and quick chats with the stars of the show, before we bade Mr. Craven farewell and headed off for a red-eyed post-midnight return. A late one, sure, but I’m glad I didn’t miss a minute of this…!