As I mentioned on Sunday, last night I was going to see Justin Currie, erstwhile frontman of Del Amitri. Having wavered over buying a ticket, I was quite excited by the time the actual gig came round. Of course, with increased excitement comes increased potential for disappointment... Happily, this didn't happen!
It was my first time in The Fleece in Bristol - a somewhat rough and ready venue with a capacity of, I would guess, around 200 (although you shouldn't quote me on that, I'm about as good as estimating attendance at these things as the Police are at protest marches...). Doors opened at 7.30 and the support act played his half hour at half eight. Finally, a full two hours after the doors opened, Currie took the stage.
First, though, a word on the support act, Derek Meins. His was an enjoyable if uninspiring set, singing his own songs and accompanying himself on the keyboard). It must be hard work to play support - particularly for the audience of a man with 30 years experience in the music business, 7 full albums of tracks to draw on, and a reputation (to fans at least) as a master at lyrics and melodies. Against such a yardstick Meins came up short; although this was through no real fault of his own - the same set in a pub would be perfectly acceptable and pretty entertaining.
Currie came equipped with a choice of two guitars and the aforementioned keyboard. He had a set list and, for some of the later numbers, an MP3 of backing tracks. Other than these tools of his trade, it was just the man, his lyrics and his voice.
A proper reviewer would have noted what songs he sung and when - to be honest, I can't remember. He started with one of his solo tracks and followed this with four songs taken from the first two 'proper' Del Amitri albums - Waking Hours and Change Everything.
It was during the first track that any reticence about the ticket price (£19.25 incl. booking fee), or about having a late night on a Monday when I already was dead tired, was dispelled and any lingering doubts about attending the concert of someone whose solo work I had limited knowledge of was completely wiped out by the appearance of the old stuff so early on.
After these first few tracks, he set the pattern of the night by moving to the keyboard - and engaging in a bit of banter with the enthusiastic audience. It wasn't long before the set list was more-or-less abandoned (at least for a while) and he started to take requests - I suppose doing a solo show gives you more liberty and the crowd loved it, lapping it up and singing along.
It says something for the reputation and quality of an act that can fill a venue a diverse range of people - male, female, young and old; I even heard some German being spoken in the queue! People who aren't there because they've heard you're the next big things but who are there because they love your work, even if their peers would ask "Justin Who? Del A-What?". Indeed, some of the people there who were singing along, would only have been children when I first saw Del Amitri 20 years ago! It was gratifying too that (although there were a few Scots in the crowd) he proved that the appeal wasn't purely parochial!
Currie's songs are beautifully crafted gems, which major on life and, yes, love - mostly betrayed or unrewarded - without (as a rule) being maudlin. The lyrics are clever and there is often a twist or payout at the end; one of the best examples of this is Always The Last To Know, in which the singer initially wonders if his former lover's new partner is treating her like he treated her, or whether he's cruel - before ultimately revealing he himself had cheated on her.
The other feature of Currie's songs are their melodies - he has a great ear for a tune. Indeed, their tunefulness often belies the subject matter and saves them from being mournful, bitter dirges they could be in lesser hands. In the mouth of their creator, they become really special. Indeed, I hadn't properly appreciated until last night just how good a singer Currie is but he proved it by carrying the show for some 110 minutes. At one point he apologised to the bar-staff that they had to be so quiet - so rapt was the attention of the audience in the slower, more reflective numbers.
The length of his performance is all the more impressive when you consider that he wasn't doing extended versions of the songs with long instrumental sections. They are, and remain, classic 3-4 minute folk-pop songs. Going to see Justin Currie is not the same as seeing a prog-rock band do half a dozen tracks... In terms of value for money, Currie gave the concert-goer a lot of bang for their buck.
I'm so glad I went and have decided that I want to get out and experience live music more often. I'm not sure, though, that there are many acts who could pull off a solo live show like Currie. So here's to more gigs, more often and here's to Justin Currie being back in Bristol soon.