Stephen Pennell watches The Clause frontman on a solo outing.
The Actress and Bishop,
Like Pearce, I thought I was going solo for this one. It’s not easy raising a crew to go up town on a Thursday night, especially when it’s equidistant between paydays. But listening to The Clause on my phone whilst heading into the city gave me an idea, and I texted battle rapper Penance, who lives in Digbeth and has been a bit of a hermit lately, with the last thing I’d heard:
“Locked in in the winter rain,
Afraid to show your face so you shy away,
Chin up son, wipe your tears away,
Where are you now?”
My hotline soon blinged.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“On the 97. Where are you?
“On the 7.31 into New Street”.
“Cool. Meet me where Enoch Powell made his Rivers of Blood speech”.
“I’ll be there for eight” he said.
That’s the great thing about knocking around with people you’ve bored half to death with Birmingham cultural and historical references. He knew exactly where I meant, and I knew I need say nothing more, just get myself down to the Midland Hotel in Stephenson Street.
From there we got the tram to St Paul’s Square. It’s only a pound/euro – they’re equivalent now aren’t they? – but if you sit at the front you’ve got a chance of disembarking before the conductor reaches you. Quite a few had the same idea so there were no seats in the prime fare-dodging positions, but we still made it with our coin intact. I don’t condone this type of behaviour, but battle rappers are a notoriously bad influence on me, and I’m always happy to inject a bit of drama into a review.
We walked up Ludgate Hill (site of the last public hanging in Birmingham – I hope it wasn’t for fare-dodging) and into the gig, just in time to see James Reidy’s set. I’m glad we made it. His understated band was the perfect accompaniment to his emotionally-charged voice and lyrics, with the standout tracks being Broken Stranger and new single Alone. He was warmly applauded by an appreciative crowd, and it was time for the main event.
Pearce Macca is the frontman of The Clause, a powerful, swaggering four-piece whose sound has been described as ‘disco-biscuit rock’, whatever that is. Tonight the rest of the lads are having a night off, leaving Pearce to expose their songs to the searching spotlight of a solo acoustic set. Without the backing of Liam, Jonny and Niall, we would truly see what these songs are made of, and it turned out to be, quite appropriately for the location, pure gold.
I’m never quite sure if Pearce is a mod or a rocker – the Chelsea boots are straight outta Carnaby Street but the trademark slicked-back hair and black, open-neck shirt veer towards the dark side. There’s more than a hint of Mod heroes The Jam about his opening number Sixteen, an ode to misspent youth with its quick-fire, clever lyrics and attacking guitar, and he follows up with another Clause original, Cigarette Kiss.
The rest of the set is interspersed with a series of imaginative and well-executed covers, and if you’d just walked in off the street with no knowledge of The Clause you could be forgiven for thinking that Pearce was just an accomplished singer and guitarist doing a covers set.
Some of the songs might be unfamiliar, and perhaps you’d be surprised to learn that they’re not covers after all, because there’s no discernible dip in quality between, for instance, Laid, the James cover he does, and Clause originals like Comedown Conversations. I’d even go so far as to say that, for me, Pearce’s own numbers are the highlights, and that’s really something when you consider they were lined up cheek by jowl with the best of The Verve and Oasis.
Shut Me Out is a stunningly evocative and mature paean to love and loss – “It’s strange to see you again/I feel there’s something missing/I don’t wanna hear you say/anything you don’t mean” – while Golden Age is part social commentary, part dismissal of maudling nostalgia: “Darlin’ I ain’t from the golden age/I’m getting drunk scraping by on the minimum wage”.
Pearce throws in a few unexpected crowd-pleasing cheese like Jailhouse Rock, Love Really Hurts Without You, Runaround Sue and I Love To Boogie, and it’s certainly a bop for the two older women behind us, jiving away as if their lives depend on it. I christened them the Chemical Mothers, only to find out later that one of them is actually Pearce’s mom. No offence girls – you were great fun.
Saving the best til last, Pearce planned to finish with hit single In My Element, which is apparently about the adrenaline-rush of a good night out (yeah right), and Where Are You Now, which is where we came in. It would have been the perfect note on which to end, but crowd reaction forced him to continue with versions of The Drugs Don’t Work, Half The World Away and the Foundations’ Build Me Up Buttercup.
It was no reflection on Pearce’s performance of these songs to say that Where Are You Now got the best reaction. It was quite simply the best song, and I’m not kidding. It’s made for headlining Glasto, but it was perfect for a rainy night in the Jewellery Quarter too, and would have rounded off the night brilliantly. The only disappointment for me was that he didn’t sign off with his usual quote, “The sermon has ended – go in peace”.
He told me later that he tones down the rock-god alter-ego for the solo shows, but not to worry – Ziggy will be back for The Clause’s nationwide tour, culminating in a massive show at the o2 Academy on 21st December. Santa Clause are coming to town.
Penance and I walked off down Ludgate Hill, and the history of the place, combined with the wet weather, reminded me of a story Our Dad told me about his mate who was a warden at Winson Green. One day he had to escort a prisoner from the condemned cell to the gallows, where he was to be hanged for murder, and as they crossed the yard the heavens opened.
“Bloody hell,” said the inmate. “As if today wasn’t bad enough”.
“How do you think I feel?” replied dad’s mate. “I’ve gorra walk back in it”.