- 06 Aug 19
Rain, I Don't Mind.
The set under canvas looks like some dreamed for old English pub as presented in a cheap Victorian theatre, with decrepit lamps and the piano – and a sinister looking doll beside it - that people could gather around for the knees up, to display that famous British pluck in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation. We get a blast of Esmond Knight’s narration of Powell and Pressburger’s 1944 movie A Canterbury Tale. Both examples of an imagined past haunting the present. Damon Albarn, top hatted and suit jacketed, holds his hands to the sky in a single spotlight as the band behind him, including a four-piece string section, an extra percussionist and keyboard player, waltz into ‘Merrie Land’. “This is not rhetoric, it comes from my heart, I love this country” It’s no secret that the Merrie Land album is Albarn’s response to the inexplicable dumpster fire that is Brexit, that confused howl of longing for a past that was never there. Perhaps Albarn is further referring to his fractured homeland with the “realm of moles” line in the following ‘Gun To The Head’, but perhaps we’re better off dancing, laughing in the face of the bizarre, and doing a good old fashioned cockney walkabout to the jaunty chorus, just like I did with HP snapper Colm Kelly, arm in arm, having a good time, a knees up. We’re grinning but Albarn’s is of a more maniacal sort. The song ends with a ‘Day In The Life’ sort of cacophonic confusion, which can probably have something read into it too.
Tony Allen gives out an Afro-beat shuffle, Paul Simonon – still the coolest man on earth in flat cap and pinstripe – drops dub from his bass, Albarn prances across the lip of the stage for ‘Nineteen Seventeen’ then adds some sparse piano before the song clatters to a close. ‘The Great Fire’ allows Simon Tong to lean on the wah-wah as Albarn’s melodica bounces on top of the rubbery bass. Simonon and Tong gamely try to replace the Côr y Penrhyn Male voice Choir from the recorded version of ‘Lady Boston’ and Albarn drags the crowd into a bit of la, la, laing.
This is the point in the show where he usually goes off on one about the state of Britain, Albarn tells us, but “to be honest with you, it’s embarrassing” he admits, with a sigh. A hugely sympathetic cheer - for this most internationalist of musicians, a man who’s made a never less than very interesting, and frequently brilliant, career out of ignoring borders - is his answer.
There’s a vague ‘Girls And Boys’ bounce to the intro of ‘The Truce Of Twilight’ as it’s being played, aided by Albarn’s “Oi, Oi” but he wags his finger at the crowd with a grin as if to say “not tonight, lads.” He’s throwing pantomime shapes like some reborn Dickensian urchin. The song breaks down to the string section and Albarn moans from the shadows. “Bring me my shell box and my submachine gun, because you can’t get over anything quite like this.” He dons an acoustic guitar for a delicate ‘Ribbons’ and then has a bit of a freak out during the strange atonality of ‘The Last Man To Leave’, running across the stage, dragging cables behind him, knocking Simonon’s microphone stand over into the bass player who, needless to say, plays it cool. The lights come up for ‘The Poison Tree’, Albarn hopping up and down with glee despite the mournful lyric “if you’re leaving me, it’s really sad.”
Merrie Land is, perhaps, an album that’s easier to admire than to love. The debut album is a downbeat masterpiece. The hat and jacket are off for ‘History Song’, Simonon doing the pinstriped two-step, the crowd bouncing at the sing-along la, la, la section, and then swaying to ‘80s Life’. Albarn’s melodica reappears for ‘Herculean’ with Simonon mouthing the London lyric, and then Damon walks the lip again – “Everyone is a submarine, looking for a dream far away” to ‘Nature Springs’. The carousel organ grinds down so they start it again for ‘Three Changes’ about the “soppy little island with mixed up people” which gets properly dubbed up by Simonon. The string section gives a little chamber music by way of an interlude and then the band are back on. All of them except Tony Allen that is, who’s gone missing. No bother to Albarn who sits at his piano and makes up a ‘Waiting For Tony’ song on the spot. Once the drummer returns, ‘Kingdom Of Doom’ takes a noticeable Clash turn towards its end with Tong borrowing Mick Jones’ ‘London Calling’ guitar pattern. ‘Green Fields’ gets a bit of a sing-song going, where I’m stood at least. They finish with their title track, so to speak, the speed-up, slow-down rattle of ‘The Good, The Bad And The Queen’ with Albarn bashing the piano like a cockney Little Richard. He seems genuinely delighted with the response he gets as he leaves the stage, pleased with his Sunday evening. The show was both thoughtful and thundering, delivering jolts to both the head and feet. Never mind that self-serving, bumbling buffoon! Albarn for Prime Minister! The best of British!
It’s hardly a sight they’re too used to back home, so a massive crowd in dripping raincoats must have seemed strange to The Wailers but they didn’t let it stop the party. They delivered up the best of Bob – ‘One Love’, ‘No Woman, No Cry’, you name it, they did it – and ‘Lively Up Yourself’ was like a dare to the crowd, a dare that they laughingly accepted. To look at the grinning crowd skanking and shaping and ha-haing in the rain was to be reminded again that the best thing about Ireland and the Irish is that half the place is stone mad. Brilliant.
The D They Put Between The R & L by A Lazarus Soul is so Dublin it makes Fontaines DC’s Dogrel sound like a Corkman lost in The Liberties, hopelessly looking for a pint of Murphys. "Local is knowing where the gap in the fence is." They attract an unexpectedly large crowd into the Something Kind Of Wonderful marquee but, given the quality of what they’re throwing out, it shouldn’t surprise really. It ranges from electric come-all-ye’s like ‘Funeral Sessions’, state of the nation addresses that, sung in a slightly different accent, could belong to The Smiths, and the brilliant ‘No Hope Road’, the ode to Peter, Bunny, and Bob which takes us, by a commodius vicus of recirculation, back to The Wailers. Fair play and hats off.