Peter Perrett and Mick Head Islington Assembly Rooms,
Friday 4th Saturday 5th May 2018.
Disclaimer…I’m writing as a fan of both these gentle-men, just thought I’d get that out the way, so…
Do you have a couple of friends that have never met, who you think really need to meet each other because they have so much in common? When I saw the dates of these two gigs announced, at the same venue that was the first thing that came to mind. Of course there’s no guarantee that one’s personal musical matchmaking would be successful, but it’s an interesting thought, to this writer anyway.
Two of the most critically revered songwriters of the past 40 years, both of whom ‘should’ be household names, both of whom ‘should’ probably not even still be alive, neither of whom are probably much concerned with the former, but are now both clearly happily, very much alive and well.
Peter Perret arrives on stage on Friday night to be met by an audience clearly also delighted that he is still here. I spoke to some fans outside prior to the gig asking them their feelings towards this evenings show. The overriding emotions from people who have been watching him since the early days of the Only Ones are all of a similar nature, pure delight and hopeful expectation, if they were able to respond to Peter’s “Good evening and thank you for coming” There would be a resounding, “Thank you for still being here, we’ve been a bit worried.” So we have an audience of fans made up of people who have been on a fairly lean diet of opportunity to hear his songs of love, loss, horror, self-abandonment, light, darkness and interplanetary space travels, but also many people here tonight, including yours truly, that are about to hear all this for the first time. A weight of expectation? Yup, let’s go.
We begin with Baby don’t talk, from his 1994 EP Cultured Palate, when he sings,
“You were in need of a conversion, of biblical proportions”
I’m left wondering if he’s singing to himself as much as to the rest of us?
“All our children, screaming in pain, take it as a warning, I see my baby standing in the rain, there’s a new day dawning.”
His ‘babies’ have now grown up and are both onstage with him, Peter Jnr on bass, Jamie on guitar, it’s a family affair this and no doubt here is a ‘healing’ within that. An Epic Story, from his 2017 release, How The West Was Won follows,
“Together we can face this hard world and laugh about the cruellest of things”
It’s a constant narrative from the album, not surprising at all for anyone who emerges from the isolation and disconnect of addiction, there is a need to find a new ‘tribe’ to replace the drugs and/or the attendant characters within that world, or at the very least, re-connect with those that are already there and want/need to become part of the ongoing recovery.
“The jigsaw pieces next to me, are part of the assembly, of a major work of art” …
a couple of songs later, from Sweet Endeavour? There’s clearly a theme to all this right?
There are few shouts-outs from the audience for ‘old’ songs, but when the band begin ‘No peace for the wicked’ from The Only One’s 1978, eponymous album, the unspoken reverence shifts up a gear for sure.
“Why can’t I be like I always wanted to be, carefree?”
I’m sitting in the back row of the balcony but I’m sure I detect something close to a wry smile as he sings this, or maybe that was just me? Who cares?
Living In My Head, as taught, menacing and beautifully hypnotic a song as you’re ever likely to hear, sees son Jamie and his violinist/girlfriend become almost physically entwined onstage as they weave their respective musical parts together, it is gorgeous in its seductive chemistry and clearly not a ‘performance’ as the song snakes through its journey. As a song, its right up there with The ‘Stones ‘can’t you hear me knocking’ or Shacks, Streets of ‘Kenny (more of that later though).
It’s impossible to ignore the spectre of death that lives in the lyrical shadows or in this case, the white-light/white-heat of Perrett’s writing, never more obvious than in Take Me Home, the final song on last year’s album.
“I wish I could die, in a hail of bullets sometime, but all I can do, is sing and play on a front-line”
One of the hallmarks of truly great songwriters is the ability to pen such words of sorrow, yet imbed them in music that actually leaves you feeling uplifted as Take Me Home undoubtedly does as it closes the album and is the last song tonight before the band leave the stage.
There is no doubt that we are not finished for the evening but I have to say, by this point there’s a part of me that doesn’t actually care if he comes back to play, Another Girl, Another Planet or not, it’s coming of course but before that, we get War Plan Red and Something in my Brain, which could easily, perhaps not surprisingly be lifted from anything Lou Reed produced at his brilliant best. Yeah it’s that good.
Then we get AGAP, which far as I’m concerned is not one of the greatest songs about drugs ever written, it’s not even Peter’s best song about drugs, but, The Beast, that closes the set tonight most certainly is.
“There’s an epidemic, if you don’t believe me, you ought to take a look at the eyes of your friends”
There’s a fella siting up near me who is clearly nodding out as he spills the contents of his pint all over his lap while onstage Peter Perrett and his remarkable resurrection from all that, metaphorically wipe us all clean from the wreckage of all that darkness.
“There’s no cure, there’s no cure”
Hard-won experience that, I hope the fella next to me heard it, but I very much doubt it, maybe like Perrett himself, he’ll have to find his own way through all that, for as long as it takes?
“Thank you all very much for coming, sweet dreams”
From the past-master of the sweetest of dreams, a remarkable performance from a extraordinary songwriter, poet and survivor who clearly still has so much still to offer, I sincerely hope there is more to come, we will all have to wait and see.
I grab a few moments with Peter after the show and ask him, quite simply,
“How are you Peter? You look happy?”
“Every day, is a miracle Simon, every day is a miracle”
I stop myself from reminding him, he’s preaching to the converted, neither of us needs to say anything else, we both know already.
- Baby Don’t Talk
- An Epic Story
- Believe In Nothing
- Sweet Endeavour
- No Peace For The Wicked
- Living In My Head
- Personality Test Freak (Jamie’s Song)
- Thy Will Be Done
- Once Is enough
- Love’s Inferno
- How The West Was Won
- Take Me Home
- War Plan Red
- Something In My Brain
- Another Girl Another Planet
- The Beast
Talking of extraordinary songwriters, poets and survivors, whoever or whatever was responsible for booking events at this particular venue, was clearly on a roll, because the following night, I’m sat in the same seat to see a certain Mick Head and the Red Elastic Band.
I refer you to my initial disclaimer at the start of the piece, fanboy is happily ensconced in the back row of the balcony again as Mick and his band arrive on the same stage 24 hours later.
Like Peter Perrett the previous night, Head also has a back-catalogue to die for (yep that’s a crap pun I know) but he is also shying away from a ‘greatest hits’ set (See what I did there? Yep, another crap pun, so shoot me)
Just like Friday night, there are older songs in the set, all met with the exuberance they fully deserve, but at the same time, celebrated in tandem with recent material, that many never dreamed they’d see or hear. The audience demographic is similar too, maybe more Adidas and less black attire, tonight than Friday and tonight, as ever there is the attendant army of Scouser’s here to support one of their favourite sons. Perrett’s South-London drawl is replaced by the vowels of the Mersey, a tale of two cities indeed, but the stories are too similar for comparisons to not be made.
Major-label album deals given and lost in their early careers? Check
Critically acclaimed work, lost on the masses but devoured by others? Check.
Incredible Songs informed by industrial levels of drug/alcohol consumption, all well documented elsewhere? Check.
We know this right? If you don’t then you should, maybe that’s what Spotify is actually for, it certainly isn’t gonna make these guys financially comfortable, but that would be missing the point entirely anyway.
You will have noticed there is no reference to either of these two ‘smashing it’ ‘killing it’ or any other such lazy soundbite reporting. Yes both of them have fronted incredible live bands in the past, but what primarily made their respective bands so great, were the songs that these two wrote for them. Youngsters please note, surfing into the crowd, does not make you a great artist, or indeed a great band! It’s fun an all, but I’m afraid it’s great songs that are required, not aping your peers in the ‘scene’. No truly great band ever really came out of a scene, they create one. (Yes sometimes this happens in tandem with other bands before anyone starts correcting me) and the rest follow afterwards, usually doing little more than becoming a pale imitation of something that has already happened.
So, back to Mick and the Red Elastic Band, again we have something of a family affair onstage. Guitarist (and Micks record producer) Ste Powell has his son Tom on bass. Mick’s sister Joanne is also present on vocals. In total we have 11 musicians, with Head playing a similar role to Perrett the night before, as the songwriter and lighting conductor through which, the rest of the band members are allowed to flow.
We begin with Sgt Major from Shacks critically-acclaimed but, as far as most people go, almost unknown album Waterpistol (I’m bored with this description already, fuck-knows how many times that’s been written).
“Ahh, come with me, yeah there’s time, come with me”
We’re here mate and yeah, we’re coming.
So we start with something from the past but immediately after Mick is inviting us into the here and now with Pretty Child, (actually one of his ‘new’ old songs once performed by Shack once, under a different name and musical arrangement)
The Red Elastic Band, as Head has stated previously is often made up (La) of whomever he can get hold of on the night, so tonight we’re clearly in luck as he’s managed to assemble 11 musicians, including piano, cello, long-term horn section of Martin Smith and Andy Diagram, as well as bass drums, guitars and two backing vocalists.
(He also invites a fan who’s travelled all the way from Tokyo just for tonight’s gig up onstage to sing Newby Street with him, now there’s a man of the people if ever there was one!)
That’s a lot of musicians to fit on any stage, but there never seems there’s too much going on. So we get a huge sounding ‘Streets of ‘Kenny, and then immediately afterwards just Mick and accompanying piano for a beautifully emotive, Winter Turns to Spring. His voice almost cracking as he sings
“Thanks for being honest with me, I’ve got peace of mind”
There’s an intimacy that belies the back story to all, this born out of the debris of the less salubrious neighbourhoods of Liverpool.
Perhaps it’s another trademark of great songwriters that they are able to sing ‘to’ you, rather than just ‘at’ you all time? Either way, he pulls it off effortlessly.
Ask any long-term drug user and they’ll tell you, all you’re ever really trying to do after a while, is find the ‘right’ combination of substances to get and keep your ‘groove’ going.
Like Peter Perrett and yeah again no secret at all, Head has managed to navigate his way through all that and emerged on the other side, so there now seems a genuine resonance when he sings ‘Meant to be’
“Come and join me, on the other side”
But that ‘groove’ previously searched for by other means suddenly seems to appear in a utterly cosmic rendition of Mr Appointment that rolls along with an almost locomotive-like vibe in much the same way as the aforementioned ‘Living in My Head’ and ‘The Beast’ last night.
Sometimes we just need reminding there are other ways to evoke the requisite ingredients to cook up the perfect delivery of certain songs eh?
And to end the evening, we are given an utterly magnificent rendition of ‘Black and White’ from Shack’s 2006 album The Corner of Miles and Gil.
Almost ten minutes of absolutely outstanding scouse cosmic/psychedelia that leaves long-term fans rapturously acknowledging the ongoing reformation in much the same way as those who were here the previous night.
It’s good to have these two artists still with us, they may well have endured more than most could, or indeed have, in terms of personal darkness, akin to the depths of a long cold winter, but you know, eventually, if we survive the barren, wastelands of that, it’s clearly apparent, that as Mick Head sings to us tonight,
Winter turns to Spring.
Enjoy the sunshine gentlemen, you both deserve it, we all do.
- Sgt Major
- Pretty Child
- Working Family
- Streets of ‘Kenny
- Winter Turns to Spring
- Byrd’s Turn To Stone.
- As Long As I’ve Got You
- Newby Street
- Mr Appointment
- Adios Amigo
- Meant To Be
- Black and White.