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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Graham Coxon

The Barbican,  London, November 28th 2009

Another Barbican gig, another pizza.  Surely I should be buying shares in Pizza Express?  Anyway there’s a pleasant enough bottle of Barolo to wash down the American Hot, inducing a state of warm wellbeing, and joy to all men, which as it turned out was the perfect precondition for this quite unexpectedly wonderful gig. 

It’s Graham Coxon, tortured musical genius of Blur (and therefore the better for a few million quids following their unlikely and hugely successful summer reunion tour) playing his new album, Spinning Top, in the company of the grandly-named Graham Coxon Power Acoustic Ensemble.  Like others of his ‘Britpop’ generation (notably ex Suede guitarist Bernard Butler), Coxon seems to have fallen under the spell of the British sixties folk scene (he later tells us he’s spent much of the day at a memorial event for guitarist Davy Graham at Cecil Sharp House).  So it’s no surprise to see the grand old man of British folk music, Martin Carthy, standing just behind Coxon on stage.  To Coxon’s left is Robyn Hitchcock, a one-man psychedelic revival movement.  Also in the band, adding a remarkable breadth to the band’s sound are sound sculptor Max Eastley with his Arc, Ranbir on the dilruba, Bee2 on percussion and a trio of impressive vocalists.
Carthy Hitchcock
Martin Carthy and Robin Hitchcock
But have no doubt about it, the overall sound is exactly the sort of stuff that we were all trying to play in the late 1960s, Davy Graham meets Bert Jansch, meets John Renbourn, meets Martin Carthy, meets John Martyn and goes just a bit, but no more than that, transcendental in the process. Yes, and I did mention that there’s just a touch of Blur too?  Suitably, for the period it sets out to emulate or evoke, Spinning Top is a concept album, the narrative of a man’s life in fifteen songs, illustrated by some very artful video and graphics produced by Chris Hopewell, which for once seem to belong to the songs they accompany.  And it’s wonderfully performed, with high points being songs like ‘In the morning’, where vocalist Natasha Marsh was simply stunning, ‘Sorrow’s army’ and ‘Dead Bees’. There’s an interesting paradox at work, as the musical arrangements tend towards the fey and whimsical; clearly the subject matter is not.  Coxon himself appears to be a bundle of nerves: he can hardly maintain any eye contact with the audience, and barely manages to mutter introductions into the microphone.  He’s clearly easily bruised (who wouldn’t be after spending so long in a band with an ego the size of Damon Albarn’s?); after ‘Caspian Sea’ he  managed to say, eyes glued to his shoes, “well you’re all here, so it can’t be as crap a song as all the papers said …”
He is a pretty good player, moving easily between picking at his acoustic with his fingers, or with picks, and occasionally just bashing his Fender. It has to be said that Coxon’s vocals are problematic; in fact polarising I would say. 
He struggles to get his notes.  When he does it’s great, but more often than not he misses them.  However his Power Acoustic Ensemble are all working very hard for him.  Hitchcock, deprived of a microphone, is rapt in concentration.  Carthy looks happy, if not slightly bemused by it all, and even produces an electric guitar at one point, for one of the noisy bits that the band clearly relish so much.  They give Coxon the chance to stand and thrash out some volume from his Telecaster and Marshall stack, which clearly remains very dear to his heart, despite the folky theme.  The whole thing is simply engrossing, and ends perfectly with Coxon singing some older tunes, including ‘Latte’ and ‘Baby You're Out of Your Mind’. Carthy Coxon
Martin Carthy and Graham Coxon
It’s cold outside, so I pull up the malodorous goat-fur collar of my kaftan coat to fend off the bitter wind.  The Photographer is wrapped tightly in a Stephen Stills WoodstockTM poncho.  But inside we’re both warmer, and perhaps better, for a fantastic couple of hours from the very warm Mr Coxon. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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