LIVE REVIEW: Luke Haines, Slow Decades @ The Cluny 2 (12.05.17) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Surprisingly, tonight was my first encounter with Slow Decades and whilst what they do – essentially, thoughtful, melodic post-jangle late 80s indie – isn’t really my bag these days, they do it very well. They have three secret weapons: Ben Lowes-Smith has an unusual melancholy but rich, sonorous voice (think Edwyn Collins or The Bodines); the inclusion of a clarinet works brilliantly at times (although a little out of place at others); and their melodies have a habit of not going where you think before often stopping unexpectedly.

Tonight wasn’t my first encounter with the inestimable Luke Haines – that was back in the nineties when I saw both The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder a few times. But tonight’s show couldn’t have been more different. A ‘multimedia’ performance (ie, a kazoo, a setlist and a book), Haines took a low-key, pleasingly shambolic meander through his surprisingly hefty back catalogue and chatted between the songs, seemingly having a grand old time and a million miles away from his (carefully constructed?) scathing persona of yore. Haines isn’t the best singer (which probably explains why there were no Black Box Recorder songs included) but he’s charming, funny company, stopping songs partway through to digress or confess (a particularly off-kilter Smash The System descended into an audience vote for their favourite Monkee – the correct answer is obviously Nesmith, but Haines, typically perversely, opted for Dolenz). 

Lyrically, he’s always been particularly insightful on the ugly / beautiful seventies, skewering rosy nostalgia with references to hijackings, political violence, football hooligans and – perhaps worst of all – liver sausage sandwiches, and his seventies sound about as grim as mine. The highlights of a set that was, after all, mostly highlights were the two songs from 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early ’80s, Inside the Restless Mind of Rollerball Rocco and, particularly, Gorgeous George, which Haines positions as the revenge of an openly gay man on the bullies who’d tormented him, via the masked wonder Kendo Nagasaki. He took time out from the songs to attempt to read an extract from his first book of memoirs (the unspeakably, litigiously, acerbicly funny Bad Vibes), picking an account of The Auteurs’ appearance on the risible TFI Friday which lays into Chris Evans and Ocean Colour Scene. Watching him struggle to contain the fits of laughter shaking his body whilst reading a description of Danny Baker wielding buns was a joy to behold. 

We got a kazoo solo on his tribute to the Incredible String Band, a crowd singalong on Lou Reed and two encores before he closed with the classic Leeds United (“The North, the North, Where we do what we want”). Haines – perhaps more by accident and design – has become one of the UK’s most valuable outsider artists and you sense he’s happier there, taking potshots from the sidelines and keeping well away from Chris Evans.

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