Ian complains regularly that my iPod is full of Del Amitri. It's not exclusively DA based but whenever I change the music on my iPhone I always include all Del Amitri (and Pete Atkin). It's lovely, if somewhat depressing, music, the lyrics are intelligent and Justin has a gorgeous voice. At some times in my life I have felt very much like I was 'Driving With My Boots On' and when I first heard 'Just Getting By' it made me cry and reassess my life. If I ever had a Desert Island Discs Justin would provide half the songs. In 2002 the (stupid) record company dropped Del Amitri and since then the Uncle Devil Show and Justin's solo music have fulfilled my DA oriented needs.
As is often the case, once we'd bundled Sally into Ian's car and headed for whimsical Holmfirth (it was dark, no whimsy was apparent) she asked, 'Who are we going to see?' Ian sort of explained. He mentioned that cynical love songs were a feature of what we were likely to hear and set his iPod to give her a small amount of familiarity. He also noted that at least half the women there would be thinking, 'I could make you happy Justin, if you'd just notice me.' Then we slavishly followed the satnav as it wound us around some of the nastiest, most poorly lit, randomly speed limited roads in the area. Sadly the satnav's conception of where Mezze was seemed extremely inaccurate so we drove up and down the town and then, having parked at the Co-op, wandered around looking for it. It's a nice little restaurant, probably worth visiting Holmfirth for in its own right, but if you do, get there early. It opened at 6pm. We arrived at 6.10. By 6.20 it was packed and people were having to wait for tables. The food was yum.
So, sated and sleepy, we headed back down to the Picturedrome to queue for the limited number of seats. I'm too old to stand at a gig. I think the venue has a 500 capacity and it was clear that Justin could have filled a somewhat bigger building by the number of people piteously begging to buy tickets. The twenty minutes in the queue didn't wake us up nearly as much as the chill in the venue. Never mind though. I had my jacket on and they were selling Timothy Taylor's Landlord at the bar. Splendid! We settled in to watch the support act who was quite good but not very varied and whose name I didn't catch. Sadly, by the time we were waiting for Justin the standing area immediately behind our seats was packed. The disadvantage to a licensed venue is that there will then be people who are less balanced and have forgotten that they can't sing, should never sing, no really, certainly not at the top of their voices.
Justin arrived on stage at 9pm on the dot. He'd abandoned the slicked back hair of recent videos and looked much better in a casual sort of way. He started with Del Amitri songs, doing very well playing the guitar, keyboards and iPod to accompany himself given that he is a bass player. The loud tuneless woman behind us, in between hitting Sally and me on the head with her handbag, started shouting for 'Be My Downfall'. Sigh. The first request he took was, 'Nothing Ever Happens' which in many ways is dated, we don't play music from records using needles anymore, but ln other ways is still spot on. We'll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow. He sang all the way through the Del Amitri songbook and started on his solo work. I've listened to it all in that odd way that you listen to shuffled iPod music, unconnected to its context and whilst doing other things; walking, working, talking. I realised now as I listened to many of the songs that I'd never really given them the attention they deserve. This was less true of the Del Amitri songs that I've had, in the past, on CD but Justin's solo work, whilst familiar, was a revelation to me. In particular, 'No Surrender' summarises our society in a quintessential Justin song, perceptive, thoughtful, depressing, defiant and beautiful. Here it is, for those who've missed it:
Justin finished his set and left the stage briefly. He didn't bother climbing the two flights of stairs to the dressing room as we all knew he wouldn't be allowed to go. The encore gave us a further five or six songs (I didn't take a note book and have no memory) and finished with 'Be My Downfall', beautiful and perfectly performed. This time he departed to rapturous applause but didn't return. If I had thought there was the least chance I'd have stood there clapping for hours. I've been to many plays and concerts where, even though I've enjoyed them, I've been bored in places and I've sort of looked forward to the end. That really wasn't the case here. It was the best gig I've been to in years. On the way in I had mentioned that I thought the recent Jackson Browne concert had been good and Ian contended that the Proclaimers had been better; sparky and exciting. I admitted that going to see Justin was far more exciting than anything we'd seen. Not only was I not disappointed, he far exceeded my expectations.
On the way home Ian observed that he hadn't realised before how exceptional Justin's voice was. It was a long show, some of the songs are complex, he accompanied himself with a guitar or a very sparse keyboard. The whole show was carried on the strength of his singing. Giving who he is and what he is singing, beautiful doesn't seem an appropriate word. I'll borrow from my young colleagues and characterise is voice and performance as awesome.