Another Word In Your Ear concert at the Lexington on the Pentonville Road, North London. About ten minutes walk from Kings Cross station. You work your way through the crowds, commuters, Northerners and Scots looking to escape the Smoke, or arriving wide-eyed at the big lights, the drunks shouting at no-one in particular, the Islington trendies, the slightly threatening geezers and no doubt the prostitutes and pimps, though there is nothing obvious. I decide that this is not the place to put in the iPod earphone (just one, I can only hear in one ear). Need to be fully alert, streetwise, London-style. It’s not a war zone, but you can never be complacent on the streets round major stations, anywhere in the world.
Paranoia over, I stride uphill. Pentonville Road – familiar to all of you who have played Monopoly – is actually on quite a steep incline as you walk up to The Angel, Islington. The Lexington is about two-thirds of the way up the hill. It’s a good pub, with a decent range of beers and lagers – and, in keeping with its American emphasis, Bourbons. Not tried any myself yet, but they look very tempting.
The concerts are in a room upstairs. Must hold, at most, a couple of hundred people. Which is great, because wherever you stand in the room, you are close up and real. And the music can boom and infiltrate.
First band on was the Portico Quartet. We missed a bit of their set, drinking beers downstairs, waiting for one of our number and then just chatting. But as soon as we got upstairs, I was just blown away. Four young guys extracting amazing sounds from a mini-sax, drums, double bass with occasional violin bow, synth and a set of sort-of steel drums. It was at the same time prog rock, jazz, world. It was haunting, it grooved and the bass lines shook the floor. You could feel the vibrations rise up your legs. It was like a sound system at Notting Hill. A thought occurred that this was the kind of sound that Radiohead are increasingly heading towards. I imagined what it might be like with Thom Yorke singing over it (with no disrespect to the drummer who did a bit of singing). Awesome.
I know nothing else about Portico Quartet, but I will definitely be investigating.
And then Scritti Politti. A blast from the eighties past. Part of that shiny pop/dance amalgam. When the white boys were really getting into dance music. The main man was Green Gartside. The key song, that I remember, was “Wood Beez”. The twelve inch single had crystalline dance rhythms, Green’s boy/girl voice and a memorable lyric:
Each time I go to bed, I pray like Aretha Franklin…
I didn’t really know what to expect at the concert. I could hardly remember any other songs than “Wood Beez”. But it all came flooding back as Green and his band churned out the hits and some other really good songs. Throughout, the playing was clear and brilliant. A couple of the songs had serious reggae beats, including “The Sweetest Girl”. The bass lines again reverberated, shaking the room. Loved it. Green played his first ever tune, a post-punk thing which sounded like PiL meets Gang of Four. It was great and a nice contrast to the mostly shiny pop/dance. Green himself looked great, was in good humour and had a very engaging style, which mixed self deprecation with some quite philosophical musings.
It was just a very impressive show, and ended with “Wood Beez” and “Absolute”, which I immediately remembered was as good as “Wood Beez”. And on the night was maybe even better.
Just for a bit of a laugh, here’s Scritti Politti doing “Wood Beez” on Top of the Pops in 1984. Green is a little different these days: denim jacket, short dark hair and a beard. But, you know, the eighties were the eighties…
Big up to The Word magazine for organising these occasional gigs at the Lexington. Having been to three now, I would recommend them to anyone. The music is great and the intimacy of the small room, the way the bass and other sounds can really take hold, the relaxed vibe, is all really enjoyable.
This is how we should experience live music whenever we can.