The War Against Intelligence

John Williamson's web stuff


January 2004

Bert Jansch and Bernard Butler

Barrowland, Glasgow 24th January 2004

Nothing is quite as it seems. The pairing of Jansch (who had released six albums before his partner in this show was born) and Butler is an unexpected, cross-generational one.

Even the Barrowland takes on an unfamiliar appearance, with formica topped tables spread across the dancefloor, making it the arena version of the type of sixties' folk-club in which Jansch established his reputation.

Though the informality coupled with his vast history of performances should make this kind of occasion all part of the job for him, the opening two songs suggest that he is not immune to bouts of nerves.

The arrival of Butler offers him a protective blanket that enhances the fluidity of his playing, and allows them to pit their mastery of the guitar against each other. Jansch, drinking lager, picks at the acoustic, while Butler, on the Guinness, switches between it, electric and lap steel with ease.

If the level of technical proficiency is something of wonder among fellow musicians, then there is also a real soulfulness to the performance. With a set that spans his career from songs he first recorded in 1964 to recent, stylistically compatible offerings such as 'I Cannot Keep From Crying' and 'On The Edge of A Dream,' there are plenty highlights, but Jansch's skill as an interpreter of other writers' songs is prominent.

Jackson C. Frank's 'Blues Run The Game' and 'My Name Is Carnival' have been part of his set for nearly forty years, but the most arresting cover version is when the pair share the vocals on a radical reworking of Lucinda Williams'' 'I Just Wanna See You So Bad.'

There is even time for some unexpectedly strong solo contributions from Butler (notably 'My Domain' and 'People Move On'), and while he contributes substantially throughout, the night is about Jansch. Forty years of performing and he remains a singular, colossal talent.



NME Awards Tour
Carling Academy, Glasgow
26th January 2004

On stage at a sharp 7.20, Franz Ferdinand’s appearance is at once a triumphant homecoming and something of a comedown after their appearance on Top of the Pops last Friday.

A combination of impeccable lyrical and musical references and their boldness in embracing pop melodies is what drives songs as good as “Take Me Out,” “Shopping For Blood” and “Michael.” By the closing “Darts of Pleasure” they just about triumph over the problems of being first on a diverse bill in a large venue – most tellingly, the appalling sound mix.

The Von Bondies also have sound problems but this could not disguise the slightly one-dimensional sound behind the symmetric haircuts. New songs, “Poison Ivy” and “C’mon C’mon” hint at a pop sensibility, but there is a rigid traditionalism about their performance that frustrates more than it fascinates.

The Rapture’s is the most assured performance of the night. Though (like Franz Ferdinand) burdened with a reputation for trawling post-punk catalogues for second-hand inspiration, there is clear evidence of an artistic development from The Cure meets Gang of Four styling of “Out of the Races and On To The Track” to the punk-disco-funk amalgams of the best tracks (“Sister Saviour,” “I Need Your Love”) from last year’s “Echoes” album.

If the home towns of the previous three bands (Glasgow, Detroit and New York) all have a certain musical cache, then Funeral For a Friend, from South Wales, have to address a geographic credibility barrier.

Their energy partially overcomes their musical limitations, but they remain an incongruous choice of headline act, a better quality version of the kind of band you would expect in a schools’ battle of the bands competition.

This highlights the one consistent aspect of the annual NME Awards tour: its sheer inconsistency.


A new year starts with some soul

I am not expecting 2004 to be my most active year in terms of concert attendance as the pressure to complete my academic work coupled with some day-job teaching requirements makes the 150+ shows per year of 2000 and 2001 a thing of the past. Still, quality not quality is what counts. Maybe.

It also means that I may actually manage to log something about every show I attend, regardless of whether I am writing about for anyone else or not. The New Year was meant to start with Erasure and Franz Ferdinand in Edinburgh at Hogmanay, but some bad weather put paid to that. One of 100 000 to have their New Year festivities derailed by this, I was left pondering my ambivalence towards the city (Edinburgh) in which I work and why I would rather contemplate a frequent 90 mile round trip than move east.

I will leave the reasons for some other, more agitated time. However, Edinburgh can claim to have produced several of the best bands ever to have emerged from Scotland. At the head of the queue must be The Fire Engines, who are reforming for a one-off support slot to The Magic Band in Edinburgh a week on Saturday (24th). Tickets are ?15 and Fire Engines’ sets were known to last for about 15 minutes. The touring incarnation of the Magic Band sport a collection of mullets and beer bellies that in themselves disrespect the Captain.

If the above represents one of the first shows of the year to be genuinely excited about then the start of year sometimes brings about a renewed sense of purpose and optimism when it comes to live music. First up was the grandly titled Philly City of Brotherly Love tour, starring Jean Carne, Dexter Wansel and Billy Paul. Soul Weekender rehash of former glories or something more special. Here’s my review, first published in The Herald.

Philly City of Brotherly Love Tour
The Arches, Glasgow

The omens for this show are not good. Venue staff fill the performance space with tables to create an illusion of clutter. The MC enthusiastically tries to sell some t-shirts and asks whether anyone has been to Philadelphia. The response is not affirmative.

This would be to deny the city?s fantastic musical legacy, and it is no coincidence that this tour is packaged under a Philly banner, rather than the respective merits of the artists involved ? Dexter Wansel, Jean Carne and Billy Paul.

In truth, they represent the solid soulful underbelly of the Philadelphia International label, each producing a number of seventies? albums without ever reaching the heights of label mates like the O?Jays or Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes.

Wansel has a soft voice and the performing skills of someone who clearly prefers to be a background player, as either a writer or producer. He plays songs he has written for the Jones Girls and Patti La Belle, and to best effect, ?Love TKO? which he produced for Teddy Pendergrass.

Carne has more energy, but the sound mix does no favours to her voice on her opening, and best-known song, ?Don?t Let It Get To Your Head.? Though it improves during her short set, the saccharine duet ?Valentine Love? and a non-descript run through of Al Green?s ?Let?s Stay Together? are typify the fare on offer.

Paul has the biggest reputation and the one bona fide classic song (?Me and Mrs Jones?) of the evening, but he, too is underwhelming. ?Bring The Family Back? and ?Only The Strong Survive? are good songs, but his voice appears shot with a mixture of the cold and ageing.

The conclusion ? everyone back on stage for a rendition of Paul McCartney?s ?Let ?Em In? ? is the one occasion it descends into unashamed cabaret. Prior to that the musicianship had been exemplary, but the stars had been of the fading variety.

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