The day I kissed Brett Anderson.

In Culture on November 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm


The word androgyny, it’s a boring overused word, but it does have a point. Androgyny wasn’t a style thing, it wasn’t something to be turned into a photo shoot for the cover of The Face, it was more of a point of view, more of a thing of trying to reject old values, it wasn’t a sort of homage to early 70’s glam rock, it was sort of like saying, “no, I’m a human being first, and let’s have a look between my legs and see what I am second.” What sex I am is secondary to me, I connect with people on an emotional level, and that was what I was trying to say really.
– Brett Anderson

Suede burst onto the scene in the early ’90s when music was in the throes of a “me, me, me” blitzkrieg. Grunge was fueled by self-loathing, Madchester by self-destruction and shoegaze by self-indulgence. Suede didn’t want anything to do with any of that; they wanted extroverted extravagance. The London four-piece—singer Brett Anderson, guitarist Bernard Butler, bassist Mat Osman and drummer Simon Gilbert—aspired to grandiosity, like David Bowie, The Smiths, Scott Walker and Joy Division before them. I loved them and everything to do with them. My first dance at my first (failed) marriage was, ironically, Stay Together.

Fast forward to Southend, 2013. Brett Anderson stands atop a podium and takes a pause in the middle of epic, yearning ballad Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away, while his band remain poised and silent, four blank-faced men dressed in black waiting for a signal from their preening, long-limbed leader. The crowd play the game too, not interrupting with peremptory applause, waiting for their cue. After a daringly extended break, Anderson breathily oozes back into the song with the arch phrase “I can count the times I forgot my lines and you pretended that you didn’t know” while the band slips in behind, building up to a thunderous noise.


“Ooh Brett, you’ve still got it,” sighs the middle-aged woman next to me.
What is particularly remarkable is that this is not some fondly remembered classic of stagecraft from Suede’s back catalogue, but a new song. Suede open with three tracks from their recently released sixth album, Bloodsports, and include four more in a swaggeringly confident 23-song set. It is material that matches the best of their back catalogue in terms of melody, drama, romance and attack, with Richard Oakes and Neil Codling’s bright guitar lines meshing and shining beneath Anderson’s mannered croon. Hit Me, another new song, has Anderson plunging daringly into the crowd, yelling “Sing it! Sing it!”. The audience oblige, with raised fists and “la la las”. He plunges into the crowd many many times after this, grabbing hands and giving sweaty cuddles.

The gig is sold out, with at least half the crowd made up of women (not always a given at a loud, standing rock gig), Suede’s audience are in enthusiastic voice all night, although inevitably the big nineties hits inspire the greatest lung power. Animal Nitrate, once so provocatively weird, becomes a beery singalong. On Trash, the crowd make a brave if not entirely successful attempt to hit the falsetto in unison. By the set’s end, thousands are bellowing “here they come, the beautiful ones”, as if in defiance of their own advancing years.

At Southend Cliffs Pavilion, Suede confirmed that they are staging one of the great comebacks. In almost all respects they are slicker, grander, more purposeful than when they broke up, to mass indifference, in 2003. And yet there is, almost inevitably, the sense of something missing, or misplaced.

It is partly the 47 year-old Anderson’s sweaty, lad rocking enthusiasm, dressed in plain black shirt and black jeans, jumping up and down like a lanky bunny, throwing himself into the crowd yelling “sing it!” at every opportunity. Where is the poise and mystery (not to mention dress sense) that once set them apart from the pack?

There was a time when Suede seemed destined to become one of the great groups, playing epic fanciful rock with a preening, narcissistic frontman on a mission of self-discovery. In the hands of young men, this was music of melodramatic, romantic possibility, taking the spirit of early 70s Bowie and charging it with post-punk energy, the heavy guitar flourish of grunge and space rock possibilities of psychedelia. Suede are often cited as the pioneers of Britpop, but they promised something much grander and stranger.

Well, 20 years on, the music retains all of that flavour but, performed by middle-aged men, it has shed its liquid possibility and solidified into a camp fetishisation of wasted youth. At 47, Anderson is still singing (and writing) songs of forlorn, romantic disillusion and alienation. It is music that no longer aspires to greatness but settles for crowd pleasing. You could say the same of a lot of groups, of course, most of whom have never managed a comeback remotely as effective. After this show, I am genuinely interested in what Suede do next. They have re-established their base in unlikely circumstances. Can they still shoot for the stars? The joy of getting older is that our heroes are more accessible. I gave Brett a kiss on his cheek during Metal Mickey. I shouted to him that it was my friend’s birthday, so he held her hand as he sang “So Young”. He was singing to my ex-wife. Stay Together indeed.


Growing up with Adam Ant

In Culture on May 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Blueblack Hussar

“A man and a woman walking down the street, with a son and a daughter, it was oh so sweet. When Mummy turned to Daddy and she said: ‘My dear, write out your will, because the end is near’. Then she pulled out the gun – I saw the sparks – messed up the suit that he’d bought from Marks, because she’d heard the voices from outer space saying, ‘Never trust a man with egg on his face.’”

Dirk Wears White Socks

I couldn’t get this out of my head in 1980. I was eleven and I lived in a small village in Yorkshire, a place with two pubs, two churches, three farms and a post office. It was like Hearbeat without any drama. My brother and I had sneaked into our big sister’s room when she was out, hoping to find god knows what, and had ended up leafing through her impressive collection of vinyl. Intrigued by the cover, we pulled out “Dirk Wears White Sox” by Adam and the Antz, scanned the titles of songs and both burst out laughing at “Never Trust a Man (With Egg On His Face). We dragged our sister’s battery operated record player out from under her bed, slid the record from the sleeve, slapped it on the turntable and dropped the needle in the groove.

You know that thing when you first hear a song and it hooks you, holds you? Yeah, that. I couldn’t get the lyrics out of my head and went around singing them for ages. I’ll never forget the look on the faces of my parents, grandparents and teachers when they heard me bellowing it. The twinkling look of delight in their eyes soon turned to eye-swivelling horror when they realised I was singing at the top of my young lungs about someone utterly losing the plot and going on a murderous rampage.

Fast forward to 1983. Adam and the Antz had now become Adam and the Ants, with former members going off to form Bow Wow Wow and The Monochrome Set. Adam had hooked up with Marco Pirroni, who had played with Souxsie and the Banshees, a new bassist and two drummers. The two drummers thing was exciting – I’d enjoyed the sound since hearing Gary Glitter. I’d always been drawn to pop stars that were slightly otherwordly – possibly due to growing up in an isolated village – so I was massively keen on David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Gary Numan and anyone else who appeared “different” and upset my parents.

adam and the ants "kings of the wild frontier"

It was my 15th birthday party and I was wearing black PVC trousers, twin-crossed studded belts with skull and crossbones buckles, a frilly lacy shirt, a heavily custominised tailcoat that used to belong to my grandad and twin red red stripes down one cheek, topped off by a tiny heart over one eyebrow. My brother had a white stripe over his nose, a highwayman’s tri-cornered hat and a pistol. Did I mention it was a fancy dress party? My parents’ living room was full of 15 year old flappers, gangsters and even one poor bastard in a wetsuit, complete with flippers, facemask and snorkel, blasting out the “Kings of the Wild Frontier” and “Prince Charming” albums on the stereo. We all did the Prince Charming dance, with me in the lead and I even got to snog Angela Barlock and Alison Stedd, the prettiest girls in my class.

Adam Ant Prince Charming

Fast forward to 2013. Adam is on tour again, and I got tickets for my 45th birthday. What a night. 35 years after playing the Roundhouse in May 1978, battling with bipolar disorder, three stalkers and two nervous breakdowns, it appears that AntPeople have nothing to worry about. Adam Ant is back. Fitter, healthier and more ass-kicky than ever. He looked fantastic – every inch the showman – and his performance is just superb. This was no 80′s tribute show, nothing like a “Here & Now” situation. This was pure Adam Ant at the top of his game, in full Napoleonic garb and rocking out with guitars and twin drummers. Yes, of course he played the hits (no Puss in Boots or Apollo 9 though) and we all did the Prince Charming dance towards the close of the set. Tonnes of the old stuff too, even a stomping version of Never Trust A Man – I sang my lungs out just like I did in 1980.

Georgina Baillie

On backing vocals was the fantastically sexy Georgina Ballie – she of the so-called Sachsgate non-event – in a dress seemingly made of oil and with a body that can move in every way at once.

This is the full setlist:
Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter
Dog Eat Dog
Beat My Guest
Ants Invasion
Stand and Deliver
Kings of the Wild Frontier
Whip In My Valise
Vince Taylor
Stay in the Game
Cool Zombie
Desperate But Not Serious
Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)
Vive Le Rock
Goody Two Shoes
Car Trouble
Prince Charming
Press Darlings
Fall In
Encore 2:
Red Scab
Get It On (T. Rex cover)
Physical (You’re So)

For me, the highlights of the set were Never Trust A Man, Wonderful, Press Darlings, Dog Eat Dog and Cool Zombie. Goody Two Shoes was a blast too. A terrific night. We left the Roundhouse in a state of near bliss, singing all the way on the tube home, where we drew a fair few strange looks but who cares? Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

Adam Ant Camden Roundhouse

Thanks to Courtney Edgell for the pic.

This article was first was published by

Dancing with the ghost of Kurt Cobain

In Culture, Musings on January 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Kurt Cobain

My five year old son came in and told me that he’d been dancing with the ghost of Kurt Cobain.

I sat down with him and explained there has never ever been a shred of proof that ghosts exist. Furthermore, I said, only the gullible and those that have mandates to substantiate the afterlife believe in ghosts and the paranormal. For some people, it’s easier to just say that something is caused by supernatural forces, rather than to actually think about things, to do a little research or even perform an experiment… to actually find out what the cause of something is.

So what do we do? Do we rewrite every book on science, physics and biology to support the wild claims of a few people who have never actually proven any in any scientific way? Or, do we simply disregard these claims as the result of the inner workings of these people’s imaginations, and rely on thousands of years of human observation, and hundreds of years of compounded, unrefuted scientific knowledge? You tell me.

My five year old son looked at me for a long moment, and then said “Oh well, whatever, nevermind”.

Maybe he had been dancing with Kurt Cobain after all. What do I know?

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