Glossop, The Oakwood
May 4th 2013
‘Let the good times roll, into a bottomless hole.’ – Expensive Being Poor. Ian Critchley goes all the way to Glossop to see TV Smith.
It was match day in Horwich. Bolton vs. Blackpool. In the seventies a Blackpool fan had been stabbed and they were still out for blood. Even though the match ended just before three but there was no doubt that the whole scene would spill out of the stadium and across the town. Thousands of drunk rabid beasts on the rampage fuelled on booze and with a penchant for disaster. So I decided to do the only logical thing and high-tail it out of here, away from the chaos, towards Glossop to watch punk-rock maverick, TV Smith.
The venue was a strange one. The bottom floor was split in two, the first half looking like a bastardised French bistro and the other more towards someone’s living room. The upstairs, where the gig was held, was preceded by narrow stairs with countless vinyl records glued to the walls. I noticed a Vera Lynn one on the way up, far from the punk ethos I had come to expect from venues over the years.
The stage area kept with this odd French feel with the lighting dimmed to a faint red glow and the whole room pottered with small round tables, candles burning on each one. I sat down and was soon greeted by a huge smile and an outstretched hand, “Awight, mate?” It took me a moment to realise I was being greeted by the headline act, TV himself. The delay would be weird in most circumstances but the fact is that, apart from those god-awful pants, Tim looks more like a man out to buy his groceries than the pseudo ‘UK answer Che Guevara’ persona that has become synonymous with him over the years. This is probably because Tim isn’t about the image; he is wholly about the music. While John Lydon was perfecting his career as a bad hair dresser, Tim was working on writing actual songs.
We sat there listening to the pre-show soundtrack, an odd collection that seemed to alternate between The Cure and some 90’s Brit-pop band, probably Blur. Tim had just come from back from a stint from South America, “I’ve never been there before yet it felt like a home-coming tour.” He’d been packing venues out each night with ease. “I can’t stand flying,” I said, “bad anxiety. How the hell did you cope?” And he told me how he’d spent 45 hours awake there and the same on the way back and I decided right then I’d never travel to South America.
The opening act took to the stage looking like a young Paul Weller, a man trapped in the unholy fad of ‘the mod’. His name was Steve Donahue and within seconds I was convinced that ninety percent of the room were friends of his by the way they heckled the poor bugger. The thing is ninety percent isn’t that big a deal when the entire turnout could be counted on two hands and one foot. Regardless, or perhaps due to, this small turn out Donahue joked casually between songs with the affinity of a best man embarrassing the groom. In terms of genre the music Donahue was completely mismatched to that of TV Smith. It was obvious that not only the audience but also the promoter was a close friend of the opener, but the songs were good anyway, often soft and playful they did wonders on accentuating the intimacy of the whole gig. Each song seemed to be about heartbreak, with many being accredited to an ex who ran off with “one of the guys who now plays for Beady Eye”. Even though the lyrics ventured into the land of the somewhat sappy Donahue put them across with a brash attitude that can only be described as ‘Manc-ness’. It was like Noel/Liam (whichever was the ‘singer’) Gallagher without the arrogance, bad haircut, cat-in-heat voice, stupid face, etc….
His set continued in much the same vein with more perfectly placed post song humour, with stories about buying a vibrator in order to massage his vocal chords, almost overshadowing the songs and giving the whole set a ‘Bill Bailey live at the Apollo’ tint…if Bill Bailey had hair…and the Apollo was in the upstairs of a pub.
After more The Cure vs. Blur, TV Smith took to the stage. The room was sparsely populated, the lighting stung the eyes, the voice over from the sound desk announcing his entrance irritating, but he was here and ready to blow the minds of the barely fifteen people who had paid the nine pound entry fee.
What works so well for TV is his ability to adapt to a room. Even these dire circumstances were switched into something positive. “Small isn’t bad. We need small. Sometimes small is good, it lets the big know that it doesn’t control everything…” and then straight into ‘Not a Bad Day’. His approach to the songs were somewhat more relaxed, seeming more at ease than at other performances I’d attended. But even this new casual demeanour struggled hopelessly against the angst in each lyric. TV even treated the meagre crowd to a couple of new, or at least unrecorded, tracks. ‘Replay’ stuck out among the two although in many ways it’s a typical TV track, upbeat musically yet heavy with the lyrics. The reason it stood out so much was that it told a story of frustration, of a world full of ideals but as yet to make any significant progress towards true equality. It seemed an aged song, and even somewhat defeated. The young man who aimed to change the world for the better with rebellious music has now become much older, and in many ways beaten, overpowered by the system he strived to alter but which refuses so adamantly to do so.
The room was small, the people even less than that, but there was still definitely spirit. Here were a couple of handfuls of die hards that were yet to give up the dream. And while many of the once headstrong believers in the punk mentality that began to bear fruit in the late seventies settle into nine to five’s, mortgages, and families that seem to constantly expand, blowing the dust from their studded attire once a year and only for the largest of shows, there was still a small glimmer in the dark corners of the country. It’s just a disheartening realisation that the entire hope of punk rock seemed to now be struggling for its final breath in a barely occupied room.
All words by Ian Critchley. More work on Louder Than War by Ian can be found here.