Live by the Lake,
August 23 2013
Some people are already complaining that a Suede concert curated by English Heritage in the serenely bucolic setting of Kenwood House is about as un-Suede, nay, un-rock’n’roll as it is possible to get. Such people have a corpse in their mouths.
Kenwood House is the perfect setting for a Suede concert – grand, stately, and faintly preposterous. And Suede are undeniably a fine example of England’s rich musical heritage, carrying the torch ignited by Live by the Lake stalwart and local boy Ray Davies. While their more commercially successful peers may have carved crimson careers from pretending to come from the gutter, Suede were always looking at the stars.
Said complaints seem to stem from inadequate bar and toilet facilities. To which the obvious solution is drink wine by the pint and piss in the bushes like everybody else is doing. I know I am. There are even a few rapscallions literally jumping over the barriers. It’s already a lot more rock’n’roll than the atmosphere-repelling 02. Or indeed U2.
For those who don’t know, Kenwood House is a 17th century stately home in the north eastern armpit of Hampstead Heath – an oasis (cough) of countryside nestled between the unfeasibly posh London villages of Hampstead and Highgate. You’ll probably recognise it from the bit in Notting Hill where shag-happy Hugh Grant tries to chat up big-mouthed Julia Roberts. So it’s curiously fitting that shag-happy big mouth Lord Anderson of Notting Hill has rallied the troops to chat up the viewing several of north London.
Highgate looms large in Suede lore. It’s where Suede’s sophomore masterpiece ‘Dog Man Star’ was largely composed, its gothic spires inspiring the record’s lofty if not always entirely successful laudanum-tinged ambitions. Strangely, then, it is thinly represented in tonight’s set with only the singles ‘New Generation’ and ‘The Wild Ones’ and should-have-been-a-single ‘Heroin’ getting a look in.
Instead, it’s the first album period that stamps the biggest footprint of the early records. After all, as Brett points o
ut, it’s still the 20th anniversary of that strangely-flawed debut. ‘The Big Time’, a relatively obscure number (although not that obscure, seeing as it partnered smash hit ‘Animal Nitrate’) is the first and arguably classiest of the class of ’93. It’s a suitably ostentatious opening to the evening’s proceedings, improved immeasurably over most previous live attempts by the addition of a jazz trumpet virtuoso setting the record’s restrained flugelhorn parts free.
It’s testament to how successfully the re-energised band have pulled off their celebrated return to form that the new songs go down as well and in some cases better than vintage Suede. Indeed, when the band dust off their last top 10 hit from waaaay back in 1999, ‘Electricity’ splutters, rather than sparks and seems flat and uninspired when compared to young contenders like ‘For the Strangers’, and in particular the majestic ‘What Are You Not Telling Me?’ Either could have sat comfortably beside all those “Dog Man Star” epics they didn’t play tonight. Because they didn’t need to.
Despite the clever technique of kidnapping teenage schoolboys and young male models during their heyday in order
to keep their average age down to respectable levels, there’s no denying that Suede are now a band composed of personnel and fans rapidly approaching a half century. Yet when Brett insists “We’re So Young!” during the evergreen first album opener, this unlikely thesis is far more convincing than, say, Pete Townshend hoping he dies before he gets old. Unlike other Britpop heroes who have turned into embarrassing ex-pats abroad, the boundlessly energetic frontman appears to have stopped being a caricature of himself – perhaps all that time in the wilderness was just the tonic he and his band of merry men needed after all?
In the wonderfully atmospheric environs of Kenwood’s kitchens – how terribly “Upstairs Downstairs” daahling – those new recruits, guitarist Richard Oakes and ivory tinkler Neil Codling (who came on board a mere 19 and 18 years ago) talk enthusiastically about work on the follow up to this year’s “Bloodsports”. It looks like Suede will be contributing to England’s heritage for some time yet.
I’ll drink to that: another pint of wine please, bartender.
Words: David Barnett
Photo: Nikki Barnett