The Railway, Winchester
JJ Burnel used to assault journalists in the late 70’s but who would have thought that in 2013 Lene Lovichs bassist would be dishing it out to LTWs Ged Babey even after a great gig.
Lili-Marlene Premilovich used to record screams for Hammer to dub onto their horror-films and wrote the lyrics to the disco hit Supernature for Cerrone in the late 70’s. Then she abbreviated her name and set about becoming a recording artiste herself.
Somewhere there is a parallel universe where Lene Lovich is a mega-star. An Icon. A thrilling, trilling, theatrical chanteuse and critically acclaimed artiste. She is the equivalent to Kate Bush as far as credibility is concerned and as popular and adored as Lady Gaga for her dark, mysterious songs and bizarre cabaret and floorshow.
In our universe however Lene plays a fabulous eighty-minute set to less than a hundred, captivated devotees in a Winchester tavern turned venue for the discerning music-lover.
It is weird thinking back, because Lene started off at roughly the same time as Kate Bush, only signed to Stiff instead of EMI. She didn’t have the physical appeal of Kate maybe but she did have a similar kookiness and uniqueness vocally and in terms of a penchant for big-eyed, mime-like stage-moves.
Lene Lovich’s image as a be-plaited, Teutonic, aristocrat-in-exile, in ribbons and lace, with expressive eyes and Slavic cheekbones sealed her in a category of Nutty New Wave Women – later populated by pretenders Toyah and Hazel O’Connor, neither of whom, in retrospect were a patch on Lene, merely dressing-up-box role-players and both of whom replicated some of Lovich’s idiosyncrasies.
Amanda Palmer is the only current artist who is anywhere near Lene in this kind of dramatic art-pop field. Gaga does it on a grand scale, with lower-common-denominator disco-tunes and obvious sexhibitionism but may well have a couple of Lovich albums at the back of her collection.
Lene maintains her dramatis persona throughout the set. Speaking only to set up the next song: “If you are thinking of killing yourself. Then don’t. It’s selfish” She says introducing You Can’t Kill Me. Her eyes dart from side and her face a series of masks: Fear, joy, serenity, a child-like mischievousness. She moves like a mime-artist and freeze-frames. She has tiny feet. As is my wont I feel compelled to share this information. (I always tend to heckle, politely at Winchester gigs as the audiences tend to be so reserved and quiet between songs…)
“Lene, you have such tiny feet”.
“It’s because she is a princess,” replies the keyboard player. That explains it.
All the Top Thirty hits from (‘Kin’ell) more than thirty years back are scattered throughout the set which unfolds at a stately pace (rather than being rushed). The keyboardist has a laptop connected-up and the guitarist a battery of effects pedals in addition to a violin-bow and hand-held battery operated fan which he uses in place of a plectrum. The music has an atmospheric exactitude and plenty of space for quieter and slow songs like The Freeze, with its Russian folk-song humming harmonies.
Bird Song, Say When and Lucky Number are rapturously received and I can’t help watching a lady in the audience at the front. Grey hair, in her fifties. A normal looking mum or gran but transformed into a non-stop dancing teenage New Wave-fanatic again, bouncing and doing extravagant arm gestures and mouthing the words to every single song. She beamed throughout the set, thoroughly enjoying every second whilst her friends and family stood by and quietly watched. (I noticed the bassist take her backstage afterwards to meet Lene, making her night complete no doubt.)
Angels and Blue Hotel were highlights (and neither Robbie Williams or Chris Isaak covers but Lene originals) the latter being about aliens visiting our blue planet. There’s so much in Lene’s songs, retro-futurist sounds, eco-messages, 50’s style ballads, a touch of Rocky Horror vaudeville, new wave dub meets Marlene Dietrich cabaret-style melodramatic song.
And to think, I wasn’t really that excited at the prospect of this gig…
When the bassist uncharacteristically fluffs an intro and as the guitar-player pointed out, seeing as its International Womens Day, I venture an ironic heckle of;
“That female bassist aint much cop Lean-ah, couldn’t you get a bloke in?”
She gives me an evil look and swipes at my head as if swatting a fly. Leaving the stage the bassist creeps up behind me and gives me the best – or worst – wedgie of my life pulling my pants up to my armpit.
“I was being ironic”, I whimpered.
“So was I.” she hissed in my ear.
Earlier, a nicely inebriated lady dancing with a well-dressed bald-bloke had tugged my sleeve and told me ‘He wrote her songs’ pointing to her follically-challenged companion. He tutted at her and smiled embarrassed. “And he’s Van Der Graafs drummer”. I googled him once I got home and it was indeed Judge Smith who had indeed collaborated with Lene on various projects as well as being Van der Graaf Generators drummer. Had I known at the time I would have congratulated him on what I’d say was his the pinnacle of his achievements; writing the punk-parody ‘Gob On You’ for the Not the Nine O’Clock News team.
But I digress (as Ronnie Corbett used to say), Lene Lovich is a star, an original and well worth seeing live with her excellent, if a little aggressive, band.
Upcoming tour dates
22 March Leeds Brudenell Social Club
23 March Manchester Dry Live
24 March Birmingham Roadhouse
25 March Exeter Cavern
19 April Newcastle Star & Shadow Cinema
20 April Glasgow Broadcast
21 April Edinburgh Voodoo Rooms
24 April London Cargo
11 May Berlin Wild at Heart
11 August 2013 Blackpool Rebellion Festival
All words by Ged Babey. Find more by Ged on Louder Than War.