Scritti Politti: Winchester – live review

Scritti Politti
The Railway, Winchester
21 October 2012

Live review

Not one, but two accounts of Scritti Politti firstly by Ged Babey and secondly former Part Time Punk fanzine writer Ian Canty

Playing solo with electric guitar and laptop, James Knights from electro-pop trio Scarlet Soho opened the show. With a smile like a shark and a white Miami Vice style jacket complete with rolled-up sleeves his mixture of originals and covers like Rhinestone Cowboy and Say Hello Wave Goodbye were a clever combination of knowing cheese and diva-esque passion. The boy is a great entertainer as well as a serious artist.

OK, I’m not a fan of Scritti Pollitti, apart from the ‘early’ period, and I didn’t buy into the whole entryism idea which Simon Reynolds came up with to explain their switch from uncompromising, scratchy, post-punk to commercial, slick, soul-pop-reggae. That said, starting with a perfect, beautiful version of the Sweetest Girl, it wasn’t long before my cynicism melted away.

Scritti Politti: Winchester – live review

Green looks healthy and non-descript in denim, functional haircut and bushy beard, and the band had the air of earnestness and reeked of studied perfectionism. “Mos Def couldn’t make it sadly, so you’re gonna have the pleasure of seeing a middle-aged white man rapping…” is how one song was introduced, and despite a habit of name-dropping Green soon adapted to playing such a small, and packed venue. He was charm personified, self deprecating, asking for a Guiness to help his throat, and still sounding as unique as ever vocally.

I didn’t expect the Railway to transform into Studio 54 but the complete lack of anyone in the audience dancing was a surprise. I did notice some actual chin-stroking and nodding going on though.

The set was packed with ‘the hit singles’ Absolute to the Word Girl which were played with utter perfectionism but the personal highlight for me was Skank Bloc Bologna – as strange and wonderful now as it sounded way back.

The most non-rock’n’roll gig I’ve been to for a while and I actually really enjoyed it, because as far as white pop/soul goes I guess you don’t get any better than Scritti Politti.

All words by Ged Babey. You can read more from Ged on LTW here.

And here’s that bonus review from Ian Canty. 

It is an extraordinary journey by anyone’s standards; from life as the one and only Chelsea tribute band in Leeds to Marxist jazz dub punk to off kilter love songs about philosophers to hugely successful and sugary “Smash Hits” ’80s pop, from North London squats to plush recording studios in LA (via a spell in Wales whilst recovering from serious illness) right up to tonight as the rain beats down on an ex-skittle alley in Winchester.

Scritti Politti: Winchester – live review

Green and his most recent line up of Scritti roll up in the old capital of England and play a set which neatly combines their varied history in a quick hour and a half.

Arriving on stage to a packed Railway (after a set by James Knights which was great fun and got the evening off to a cracking start), it seems by Green’s request that the front row moves back 10 paces that they aren’t used to such a close proximity to the audience and that would make for a unique night. Generally good natured banter between the band and the more spirited audience members flows throughout the set and adds greatly to the relaxed atmosphere…slightly too relaxed to be honest as the majority of the crowd present seem to reserve their appreciation with the type of polite applause more suited to an acoustic show which this most definitely is not.

The four man line up of electro drums, guitar, more guitar, keyboards and intermittent bass is certainly built for power and the sound in the venue is faultless, which makes the lack of demonstrative response all the more bewildering. The band is on great form too. Green remarks on it being a “school night” but he didn’t say we were going to be playing musical statues!

Scritti start with “The Sweetest Girl” and negotiate their way forwards and backwards from 1978 (excellent version of “Skank Bloc Bologna”), through the pop hits the “Here And Now” crowd had come for (“The Word Girl” is top of the class for me here, great version of this despite the bass coming from the Apple Mac) right up to material from the most recent LP “White Bread, Black Beer” (the Small Faces-like “Dr Abernathy” was cracking) and some new songs aired for the first time on this tour, which bode well for a possible new LP.

There’s a raw edge tonight for most part which keeps this away from ’80s pop nostalgia, which only rears its head for me during “Absolute” and is more in keeping with the “Songs To Remember “ era of Scritti, slyly subverting pop norms in a clever but never staid and smug way. This way the whole Scritti Politti journey seems to make more sense – after the ’80s excesses back down to earth with a settled line up rather than a parade of session men, bright new songs which managed to link the political and physical in a subtle way, plus a much more easy-going and honest stage presence.

A low key approach which paid high dividends on the night if you were willing to enjoy yourself, which bemusingly wasn’t the case for everyone, but you can’t fault Scritti for that. “Songs To Remember” indeed.

All words by Ian Canty.

All images by Steve Little-Triggers.

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Ged Babey is 56. from Southampton, has written since 1985 for Sound Info, Due South, various fanzines and websites, contributed to Record Collector magazine and was sole author of 'Punk Throwback' fanzine -the name of which was taken from an insult hurled at him by the singer with a young band he managed for a while. Ged believes that all good music and art has a connection with punk rock.


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