My night started with me checking out a Liverpool band called Multi Purpose Chemical around the corner from my home, at The Garage. Signed to some well connected Liverpool indie label, their manager Sophie has been my pal since we met in a Metallica moshpit two or three years ago.
The band was on first, at eight o'clock, on a four band bill headlined by a dubious looking all-female combo. I arrived to find The Garage pretty empty. That's the price you pay when you start out on the road. Crowds are down a little in London since the second wave of bombs.
People who were there included proper music industry types and the ubiquitous secretaries-at-the-record-label types and the inevitable receptionist-at-the agency types plus some folks who might've come down from Liverpool. It's hard playing to a small crowd, especially when the performance is as assertive as that which Multi Purpose Chemical gave.
American singer Andres Lefevre (the rest of them are Brits) has a potently expressive voice, currently used in a punky style reminiscent of System of a Down or Rage Against The Machine. He gave the kind of performance that could take them a long way down the road - he could also make it as a top-of-the-league white soul singer. I'd have been up in front of the stage if there'd been a moshpit and there'd have been a frantic moshpit if there'd been a crowd. This is a great band.
I don't like their name. When I arrived I told the woman doing the guest list that I was on Multi Story Car Park's guest list and she knew exactly what I meant.
I sped into the West End because I had to catch Royal Gun at the Borderline. Carwyn Ellis from the band has been a pal of mine since he first came to town as a music student and we hung out together in Brixton. He played with the band I managed then and has played with the band I'm in now. He has also worked with Shane McGowan, Pete Doherty, and, for his sins, Oasis.
I hate going to see gigs by new bands that my pals are in. What do you say if you think they're shit? I see Carwyn and his girlfriend Maki all the time - Maki took the photograph of me on my outsideleft bio - so I was really dreading it. The sad fact is that I normally do hate the new bands that my pals are in.
Royal Gun work in a Stones/Kinks/Big Star style, luxurious vocal harmonies underpinned by subtle keyboards. London, post Kings of Leon and the White Stripes, is awash with bands who share these influences and most of them are poor efforts. A local band called the Rolling Stones still dominates that roots rock territory with aplomb so London doesn't need any more unless they're very good. Most of the bands I'm talking about are don't cut it because they can't write songs.
Royal Gun, happily, can write their own tunes instead of copying everybody else's. I liked their mid-bill set more than I could possibly have expected. Come On has a vaguely Ramones-ish beauty while Fool is the kind of song you'll like if you think Wild Horses is rock'n'roll's finest hours.
They finished an eponymous album just before embarking on a U.S. tour which sees them Stateside until September (www.royalgun.co.uk). Boz Boorer, who is Morrissey's guitarist (God help him), and Liam Watson who worked with the White Stripes helped the Guns in the studio.
About three minutes walk from the Borderline is the Mean Fiddler where I normally see crowds of sweaty punk youth working themselves into a frenzy egged on by heavy duty American punk crews. A more sedate crowd filled the dancefloor when Tony Joe White strode on stage all dressed in black like he'd come directly from Johnny Cash's funeral.
Still bearing a fair resemblance to Elvis In Memphis-era Elvis, he did the first couple of numbers solo before being joined on drums by Jeff Hale, who used to work for Waylon Jennings. Hale is the best drummer I've heard since I last saw W.S. "Fluke" Holland backing Johnny Cash.
Drums, lead guitar and vocals is a formula recently popularized by the aforementioned White Stripes; that lean, combination serves White extremely well. Back in his 70s glory days there was always something modernist or futuristic about his brand of swampy chicken-fried songwriting. He sounds razor-sharp contemporary right now.
The set worked its way through his catalogue with a nice emphasis on material recorded since Tina Turner brought him back into focus with her version of Steamy Windows. Those White Stripes might be a swell lifestyle accessory but songwriting separates the men from the boys and Jack White doesn't really have the gift. Tony Joe White plays their brand of experimental blues better than they do and he has a bundle of beautiful songs to put through the funky meat grinder concocted by him and Hale. Highlights were a passionate version of Lake Placid Blues and a Steamy Window encore which hoisted the performance up to some hot, sticky, erotic, place.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.