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Boo Hewerdine with Gary Clark - Ronnie Scott's, Soho - 9 April 2000
Ronnie Scott’s is a small, dark club in Soho, with the brick walls painted black around the stage, and any space on any other wall covered with a photo of a jazz legend. It could be described as ‘intimate’ in that some of the round tables where we punters sat lined the stage, which was a few feet off the ground. Upon entering, some super scary bouncers forced each person to remove and check (at a price) any coats or bags-naturally they were feeling threatened by my Colin Dexter paperback and folding brolly, the two weapons that notoriously featured in the Poll Tax riots. So, having been bullied by bouncers into removing my coat in what later became a freezing cold club, I was slightly disconcerted when faced with Gary Clark’s thug-like appearance when he took the stage with Boo. Until he demonstrated that that head that seemed tailor-made for head-butting was capable of projecting a voice that the angels must envy.
I believe that on one of the Finn Brothers' discussion lists, they insist upon an H&P report after appearances, which stands for ‘hair and pants,’ which I shall interpret as hair and trousers owing to standards, decency, the lack of exploration and the avoidance of assault charges. Gary Clark was sporting, well, no hair, this evening, and he wore a dark short sleeve shirt over a black tee shirt and jeans. Boo was in non-Chris Evans mode, with his hair a bit longer than his army-issue cut of recent times, and he wore a red shirt over a black tee shirt (a uniform?) with light trousers. Disappointingly, neither of them was sporting the wetsuit over Rab C Nesbitt-string vest ensemble so interestingly modelled by Sting last week at the Albert Hall. I wonder if that sort of fashion has some effect on chart positions? I wonder if it’s worth it? No.
Gary and Boo, the support act for Colin Vearncombe, took to the small stage at about 8:40pm, and both sat in chairs throughout the set, playing acoustic guitars, with Gary seated to Boo’s right. Gary introduced the first song as one they had co-written with Neill MacColl, who was not there that night (fortunately no one got up and left at that remark), and they launched into Last Cigarette, with Gary beginning the song with his lovely vocals, and Boo took over later. As a duet between those two enormously talented people, this song is unmatchable. After they’d finished the song, Boo shared the story of his missed chance with fame when k d lang fell off her stool before he joined her to perform that song. I had not realised that we were in the presence of THE stage where this famous event took place—what an honour at last. Why is there no blue circular plaque, I wonder? There was one across the street because Mozart had lived there, but clearly this was a disgraceful oversight. Boo then performed Joke, with Gary providing harmonies only, and the song was so amazing that there was almost a gasp at the end before everyone applauded. Typically, Boo raised his eyes to the ceiling and murmured a quick, sheepish ‘thank you’ as if it were all in the line of duty and no big deal at all to move so many people with such beauty. Gary prefaced the next song with ‘You won’t be laughing after this one,’ and began singing God’s Favourite Angel with a heartfelt, impassioned and desperate delivery. Boo helped out by providing some additional wailing mid-song, and the whole thing was stupendous.
After that, Boo reminded the audience that he would be appearing again at Ronnie’s on 28 May. He then said ‘This was a hit just before the war,’ which led Gary to join him in a few trench-related quips that eventually distracted Gary so that he briefly forgot what he was meant to play. Fortunately, he figured it out and we were treated to a punchy rendition of the Bible hit Honey Be Good. Boo seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself, and he enthusiastically beat the floor regularly with his left foot whilst singing in truly fine voice.
Gary introduced the next song with, ‘This is where we fly by the seats of our considerable pants,’ to much mirth. The song was Burn, which Andrew reliably told us in a previous post was from Lauren Christy’s album Breed, and Boo joined in the absolutely stunning performance. It is worth noting that this song, like so many of Boo’s according to the analysis of one of his fans, also contains a train theme (‘I saw you on a train, the train was heading south,’ etc). I have no idea who Lauren Christy is, but I am tempted to purchase the album after hearing this, though I would much rather wait for that double CD that Boo’s fans believe he must do; we shall have to allow the inclusion of some Gary songs when they reach this quality.
Boo then warned, ‘If you thought that was sad,’ and tried to depress us even further with a stellar rendition of the gorgeous The Birds Are Leaving, which he said was off his latest record so we should all be singing at the tops of our voices. Uh, fortunately we all left it to him, as he managed it with an outstanding clarity tinged with enough hopeless sadness to stir all of our hearts again. Gary’s only contribution was a pepped up guitar solo in the middle of the song, which was so engaging that few of us were distracted by the beeping noise of the till at the bar, which frequently added a certain something to the proceedings in lieu of the mobile phones that we’d been rightfully ordered to switch off when we had our coats forcibly extracted from us. Incidentally, although Boo promoted Thanksgiving in this subtle way of his, only his first album Ignorance, as well as Colin Vearncombe’s album, was being sold at the club. Curious. Still, anyone buying that would not be disappointed unless they were desperate to hear one of the songs that so moved him/her tonight.
Next, Gary introduced a song that was originally on a Boo album, and then also originally on a King L album, he said, which is when he took the opportunity to apologise for the name King L, ‘which is really funny when you’re stoned.’ He started picking out the amazing guitar introduction to Greedy, while Boo pounded away on rhythm guitar throughout the song. Boo sang the first verse and then Gary took over, sounding for the first time to me like the voice of his former band Danny Wilson, which led me to note that his often angelic voice seems to have been wasted in Danny Wilson and King L, the only exposure I have had to Gary Clark (and this is the first time I have seen him live). At the peak of the crescendo of Greedy, Boo’s foot-pounding was shaking the entire club, and as it ended, he beat an extra three reverberating notes out of his guitar, as if to ensure absolute perfection, which they achieved.
With that, they left us, or at least shielded themselves humbly behind a small black pillar at the edge of the stage from the roars of mass adulation. They took their seats again a few minutes later and began tuning their guitars in hushed silence. The hungry anticipation was met with Boo’s quip that ‘we’re just packing up, we’re not doing anything,’ before Gary explained that they had to be quick because of ‘curfew, and Colin can fight us both’ before adding ‘he won’t win.’ Boo conceded that silky-voiced Colin Vearncombe, clearly a terrifyingly violent man, could knock Boo’s glasses off, for a start. We were all terribly excited at the prospect of getting three events for the price of one: a Boo and Gary gig, a Colin concert, and something akin to the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, without even having to pay for Sky. We would have felt cheated when no one delivered the latter were we not treated to a fascinating ‘little duet we got together,’ as Gary called it, before they began David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
Most of the audience gasped and even tittered a bit as soon as Boo began singing ‘Ground control to Major Tom.’ It simply isn’t what you would expect to hear in Ronnie Scott’s by these two gents, unless you had been warned via the Boo discussion list…. After his initial lines as Ground Control, Boo paused and pointed to Gary, who then made an admirable attempt at recreating the lift-off sound by scraping his plectrum slowly across the length of his guitar strings, which sounded uncannily like...uh, scraping noises. ‘No expense spared!’ Gary point out after his amazing show of special effects, before Boo resumed the song and Gary eventually joined in as a surprisingly strong-voiced Major Tom.
Somehow, the song pulled me in more than any time before; it was the first time I thought of the verses as depicting a tense and tragic story rather than a Bowie song. The delivery was tremendously atmospheric and the two played their guitars so precisely, so together, during the instrumental
parts, the whole performance was awesome. What an unusual and effective idea for a beautifully rendered cover. Had Bowie heard it, he would want to re-record it like this immediately, but he would have fallen short of anything even half as wonderful.
For the next encore, Boo sang the hit he wrote for Eddi Reader: Patience of Angels, with Gary providing subtle backing vocals. Boo spent a lot of the night’s performance, particularly during this song, doubled over with his chin resting on the top edge of his guitar--not as if he had painful appendicitis, more as though he had just learned to play the instrument five minutes earlier and was carefully checking his notes. It almost seemed as if even he was so enthralled by the music they were producing that he had to study it in amazement. Much of the audience sang along with this one--quietly, fortunately--which I haven’t heard happen before on that one. During the enthusiastic applause at the end, Boo gave another sheepish almost eye-rolling quick thank-you.
Since Boo had played what must be his most successful song, Gary sailed into his old group Danny Wilson’s hit Mary’s Prayer. Whilst his truly gorgeous voice rang out the first verse so much better than the recorded version, Boo appeared to be tuning his guitar still, which resulted in making him look, as he held it up high and pressed it sideways to his ear, as if he were trying some sort of Chuck Berry stunt, before he managed to join in in time. This live version was amazing, with Boo providing a deeper refrain of ‘Save me’ whilst the audience again joined in.
After fifty minutes of playing, they deserted us. Unusually for a support act, they left us all, I believe, feeling quite certain that we would hear nothing better that evening, even though Colin has a unique and tremendous voice, some wonderful songs and an enjoyable sense of humour.
I think, from what I hear, the only variations from the Birmingham show seem to have been the addition of the last two songs and the omission of the Gary-penned Hepburn song Deep Deep Down. I still know no Hepburn and I could not complain about the set we heard.
I won’t detail Colin Vearncombe’s set that followed, although I must remark upon the breathtaking duet near the end with his wife, ‘Lady Black’, an outstanding opera singer I gather. How lovely to be able to sit at home and, rather than discuss what happened at the office or the launderette, make gorgeous music together. Other than that, I will say that Colin was joined on stage by the same Frenchman who played with him in the Jazz Café when Colin opened for Boo, and Rob joined him, too. A friend commented that you could tell it would be Rob playing based on the unusual drum set on the stage throughout the evening that comprised one snare drum, two cymbals and one unidentified funky looking drum (UFLD). At one stage during Colin’s set, I noticed a lemon sitting on the UFLD, and noted that such things never surprise anyone familiar with Rob’s repertoire of percussion sounds. Sure enough, the lemon was eventually revealed to be a rhythmic shaker of some sort, which he used shortly after playing the tambourine with no hands (by resting it on the pedal cymbals) while he used those to bash out some terror on the snare drum with brushes. I clearly am not up on the nomenclature of percussion instruments, other than the lemon, of course.
Throughout Colin’s performance, Rob sent subliminal dodgy gambling tips by singing backing vocals in a voice that only dogs and gullible foreigners can hear, or maybe I just see him as something shady these days..He disappointingly now looks nothing like Tony Robinson of Baldrick and Time Team fame, by the way. He has grown younger.
Despite my concerns about ever getting home from Ronnie Scotts, it is feasible to do so, albeit at 1am in my case. The evening’s concert ended shortly after 11pm, and I would have caught my penultimate train home were I not delayed by having to stumble on my way to Charing Cross over a bazillion cables, roadie-types pushing massive great boxes full of sensitive electric equipment, and television lorries (including one marked Sky Sports--?), which surrounded the area. You see, the BAFTA awards were taking place in Leicester Square whilst we were in the club. Two of my favourite actors, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey, apparently attended the awards. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that I was at the better gig.
Boo’s back at Ronnie’s, with Clive Gregson, on 28 May 2000. Go, but leave your offending coats behind.
Copyright © 2003 by TC.
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