Dave Woodhall has an early night in the West Country.
One of the pains of modern live music is the tendency of promoters at chain venues to stick two events on the same evening, with a club night following the regular gig. This means ridiculously early starts and unrealistic curfews, which in turn meant battling through rush hour traffic to make sure of getting to the Bristol version of the 02 Academy in time.
Inside, though, first impressions are good. Like the Top Rank/Hummingbird/original Academy you enter on a level above the main auditorium; unlike that not-missed barn there’s a third tier which makes for an atmospheric 2,000 capacity, with a particularly friendly security man who politely informs us that the main event is due to start.
And so, on the dot of eight Graham leads the Rumour back on stage for the first time (or at least as part of their the first UK tour) since 1979. There’s a quick introduction then into Fool’s Gold, from the 1976 Heat Treatment album , and we’re in for a night of nostalgia, mixed with some top quality new material.
Graham and the Rumour recorded an album last year, their first together since 1980’s The Up Escalator, entitled Three Chords Good. The best thing to be said for it is that the songs played tonight didn’t sound out of place. Snake Oil Capital of the World has more than a nodding similarity to Parker’s finest Hey Lord etc… and shows that the man can still dip his pen in vitriol.
But it’s the old songs that the audience are hear for, played by the band who recorded them, with a frontman who’s inevitably at the forefront of every “Why wasn’t he bigger” debate. Why didn’t Parker take the final leap to chart success and arena tours which lesser talented performers managed with ease? Perhaps because he was such a cynical sod, or maybe it was because his mid-Atlantic drawl fell between two stools at a time when everyone was pretending to hail from either Noo Joisey or the East End. Parker’s accent is a lot more genuine now, after a couple of decades living in the USA, although there was still time for a tale or two about a Bristolian father.
As for the Rumour, they’ve got back together as tight as ever. They never were a band for flashy solos and musical excess. They know what they’re good at and they do it without fuss. Brinsley Schwartz cuts loose on the new song A Lie Gets Halfway Round the World and organist Bob Andrews is never far away from some fine playing but there’s otherwise little in the way of virtuosity. Then again, this band were in the vanguard of reacting against such nonsense.
There’s plenty of audience participation on the set closer, Local Girls and the band are away to a rapt, rather than rapturous, reception. The crowd have seemed a bit reserved, in awe almost, but when a band like this return after so long there is a tendency to savour the moment rather than get carried away.
Passion is No Ordinary Word and Hey Lord come next, the evening’s one low spot as together they’re a bit a bit too low key for this stage of the proceedings. Happily the crowd let go to get the band back for Soul Shoes and an all-singing, all-dancing I Want You Back. It’s been a good night (or rather evening – 9.45 is when a gig should be starting, not ending) and one that confirms Graham Parker’s status as a bona-fide unhailed genius. He’s appearing on Later with Jools Holland next week and when you see it you’ll remember just how good he is. And yes, he does still wear dark glasses.