The Borderline, London
30th July 2013
Formerly of mid 90s electro-indie bands The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder Luke Haines is now going solo. Louder Than War review his recent show at The Borderline in London.
Luke Haines is playing tracks from his latest LP tonight. I am expecting a Neil Young – Tonight’s The Night style no hits set but the packed crowd which includes the new LP’s narrator Julia Davis (Big Train, Gavin and Stacy, Brass Eye) are hoping for some Haines classics as well.
Luke takes to the stage and looks in rude health in a panama hat and sunglasses emblazoned with the words Rock and Roll in honour of latest LP Rock and Roll Animals. I have to confess to being a bit apprehensive of this latest concept album but I shouldn’t have been. Luke hasn’t produced a dud record in his 20 year career which has included his work as/with The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, a concept album about British wrestling, a funk LP about the Baader Meinhof terrorist group and a soundtrack to the 2000 film Christy Malry’s Own Double-Entry.
Tonight’s gig is proof once more of the depth of his musical and lyrical palette, painting as well as weaving the stories of Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey as a Fox and Gene Vincent as a Cat, and a badger called Nick Lowe. They all live in Magic Town AKA Walton-on-Thames. It’s another psychedelic Haines world but it has threads of reality. Nick Lowe is actually from Walton-on-Thames and Pursey from nearby Hersham. Not Gene though, and he is probably the biggest Rock and Roll animal of the three.
It’s a great moment when just two songs into the set Luke reads a section on Gene Vincent’s demise from Mick Farren’s memoir of the 60’s and 70’s Give the Anarchist a Cigarette. (Farren having died on the same stage the previous Saturday performing with his band The Deviants.) After hearing the story of Gene’s rise and dramatic fall, casting him, as Luke Haines has, as a cat that all the dogs are afraid of is highly appropriate. Like the work of Luke’s friend novelist David Peace, who famously got into a bit of trouble with his brilliant novel The Damned United, there are hidden and deep truths in these re-imaginings of history as fiction.
Luke is doing the same job he did on the album tonight, playing all the instruments. But as he confesses ‘I can’t play them at the same time’. So he beats his drum after some guitar strums to excellent effect, continuing the part gig, part comedic revue of Luke Haines solo shows of the past 5 years or so. Since taking earlier solo LP’s, particularly the outstanding Off My Rocker at The Art School Bop on the road with just an acoustic guitar, he has this routine down pat.
The Angel of The North revisits the classic Haines’ theme of the North-South divide, previously encountered on record and in print. In the Rock and Roll Animals story it flies down from Tyneside and is the arch enemy of our three furry friends. It’s good to see that Luke continues his mythologising of the South of England, counterbalancing the North being frequently mythologised in popular culture whereas the South, generally isn’t. I also get the sense he’s not keen on the real world Angel of The North sculpture either. An Artist/Art Critic all at once passing judgement on all public art (not keen at all) and continuing on the path that on past album tracks has seen vitriol against art-as-entertainment (Rock and Roll Communique No.1) and the ill-conceived and obvious themes of Young British Artists (Death of Sarah Lucas).
As the album’s been ‘Out about 3 seconds, and you have probably had enough rock opera on acoustic guitar, here’s some other stuff.’ Luke says and here comes Kendo Nagasaki (possibly Luke’s Manager in the suit?) , bounding onto the stage in full regalia, one of the main characters of British Wrestling of the 1970’s and early 1980’s who featured on 2012’s Psychic Meditations LP on the subject. And not only that but he’s got liver sausage sandwiches for the audience. I’ve not had any dinner and they do make their way to where I’m standing eventually but I don’t really fancy one.
This signals a run through some of the best of the wrestling tracks, including some casiotone for ‘Big Daddy Got a Casio VL-Tone’, a mass sing-a-long for Haystack’s in Heaven and the excellent ‘Inside the Restless Mind of Rollerball Rocco.’ And here’s the thing. On first listen when that album came out these songs seemed a bit odd, slightly disturbing fictitious imaginings of the history of British wrestlers and their managers. But tonight, a year or so later they sound like classics and it’s great to hear them.
Some artists know their best songs and aren’t afraid to revisit them. So Luke plays Leeds United, a tale of 1970’s Yorkshire and the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe, The Yorkshire Ripper. Comfortable stopping the songs mid way through to add the odd humorous comment, when he get’s to the line about the West Yorkshire Police questioning The Queen and Jimmy Saville, Luke says ‘Some lines you just wish you hadn’t written.’
Going right back to some the 90’s albums including the first two Auteurs LPs, we get the rarely played New Wave opener Showgirl, followed by the dark meditiation on terror Baader Meinhof and then even rarer treat, an acoustic Lenny Valentino, guitar solos and all. ‘I still like this song’ Haines says before playing it for the finale, his relationship to the American college radio hit (The Auteurs version of the Radiohead ‘Creep’ experience), and it’s parent LP Now I’m a Cowboy, having been up and down over the years since it’s 1994 release.
Readers of Luke Haines’ two memoirs Bad Vibes and Post Everything will know he’s been maladjusted at times in his career but he seems settled now and on as good live form as ever. What’s next? An animated Rock and Roll Animals film? Baader Meinhof The Musical in the West End? Or most likely something completely different. Whatever it is, like tonight’s performance it’s sure to be sharp, literate, opinionated and witty. Rock and Roll may be a losers game but Luke Haines never lets you down.
All words by Willow Colios. More writing by Willow on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.