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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London, December 16th 2006


Now here is a meeting of two venerable British rock institutions. The first is the Roundhouse – Victorian locomotive turning shed turned bonded warehouse (Gilbey’s used it for storing gin and Scotch whisky casks for many years) and latterly experimental theatre (I once spent a wonderful eight hours or so here watching Ken Campbell’s Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool perform the ‘reduced’ version of Illuminatus) and cutting edge music venue, only recently reopened after a massive and impressive refurbishment. The second is that not-so-young enfant terrible of Brit Pop, the hopelessly shambolic, bespectacled and brown-jacketed Jarvis Cocker, a national hero not just for Pulp’s Different Class, but also for disrupting a grotesque music awards ceremony involving Michael Jackson (no, the other Michael Jackson) a few years ago. Yep, we all loved him for that. But like the Roundhouse Jarvis has been in the wilderness for a few years, he has become of the cultural glitterati on TV and radio, and more recently he’s been taking time out in his adopted home of lovely Paris with his lovely French wife and son, and fiddling around with numerous projects – including writing lyrics for Charlotte Gainsbourg and, of course, participating in this year’s Jean-Claude Vannier concert at the Barbican. But now just as the old Roundhouse opens its doors once more for a new generation of would-be North London hipsters, so Jarvis has bounced back with a top class new eponymous album (released by Rough Trade it’s been the number one selling independent album of the year) supported by long-time collaborator, guitarist Richard Hawley (who was mugged for this year’s Mercury Prize by wunderkinds the Artic Monkeys) and Pulp bass-player Steve Mackey, both of whom are on-stage tonight. I’m not sure if it matters but all three of them are from Sheffield (like the Arctic Monkeys). Actually I think it matters to them quite a lot.
There don’t seem to be too many Yorkshire folk in the audience. Most I think have come down the hill from Hampstead – there are the young self consciously overdressed fashion victims, and the older beards and baggy trousers crew (and that’s just the ladies – boom boom!). So it’s North London’s upper middle class Guardian hugging chattering classes (who adore Jarvis almost as much as the Guardian) par excellence – and of course they spend most of the night chattering. Take Pinky and Perky (not their real names) for example, who stand in front of us in their little black numbers swigging half-pints of something called ‘Good Red Wine’ (that’s what it said on the label) and nattering all night long.
Natter natter, natter natter. And when they weren’t nattering they were preening themselves as if for some unseen lover (poor bloke, or blokes), lip-gloss, lipstick, mascara and face powder from a glitzy compact. Quite how the Photographer managed not to clock them one I’ll never know. Luckily they jigged their way forward in search of some unsuspecting and unfortunate romance before the violence flared. The only person talking more than P&P was Jarvis, who chatted away incessantly between songs (a little too much for the taste of my French chum who was somewhere in the audience, but perhaps he was having difficulty with the accent).
He managed to muse on the nature of Christmas, on clementines and mandarin oranges, railway routes and timetables, the Corby trouser press, on smoking (apologising for the understandable ban in the Roundhouse he later appeared on stage with a lit cigarette which he handed to a gasping member of the crowd), on the Americanisation of British culture, on loneliness – well he talked about almost everything really. Oh and by the way Yves – was that really you who shouted (more than once as I recall) “Get a fucking move on Jarvis, what’s wrong with just playing the fucking songs?”

Jarvis Cocker
We could hear him almost as well as we could Jarvis. Despite the ungainly interior of this old hulk, like some beached grande dame, the sound was excellent – you could hear every word Jarvis sang, despite the fact that the whole set was seriously loud. Perhaps I should add here that it was also fantastic – a top ten gig of the year – made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Jarvis Cocker cuts an unlikely figure for a rock and roll star – but boy, can he rock. From first song, the marvellous ‘Fat children’, a sombre tale of the times about a fatal mugging in Tottenham (“they wanted my brand new phone with all the pictures of the kids and the wife”), to the simply wonderful ‘Black magic’, with its bullet-shot snare drum and “Black magic yeah yeah yeah” that ended the main set there was hardly any fault to find.
I think it’s only the fourth or fifth gig this band have played but they were cool, confident, and collected as they worked their way through the new album’s songs, and also gave us a couple that are yet to be recorded, including a song about the lonely bachelor’s plight, ‘One man show’ (opening line ‘I’ve got a date with a baked potato tonight”). You shouldn’t expect a lot musical novelty from Jarvis – the tunes are hugely derivative and display a wide array of influences – but it’s the way he packages them up with his striking lyrics that really makes them special. And some of the arrangements are stunning – the glockenspiels and vibraphone on the very pretty ‘Baby’s coming home’ perhaps, or the use of the bells on ‘Black magic’. Oh yes – and in the background there’s some very funky guitar stuff going on too.
Of course some of the songs are deeply dark and designed to shock – ‘From Auschwitz to Ipswich’ for example, or the ‘hidden’ track from the album ‘Cunts are still ruling the world’ which is the band’s first encore. But Jarvis knows he’s here to entertain. So the second encore is “a song that lives in the bricks and mortar of the Roundhouse”, Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’ which was recorded here in 1972 – it’s a raucous loud light flashing affair with a frenetic (it’s true what they say, he really does know how not to dance) Jarvis striking poses and improvising wildly on a Theremin. And this is followed by the tender ‘Quantum theory’ when Mr Cocker manages to bring a hush to the by now raucous audience simply by raising his fingers to his lips. Actually we’ve been in the palm of his hands since he walked on the stage. It’s been that sort of gig. This man has the magic. Outstanding. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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