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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

436 days – my first post-lockdown gig: Gruff Rhys @ Islington Assembly Hall, 21st May 2021

Updated: May 23, 2021

I went to my first gig on 6th April 1987. That was a big week, as I also went on my first ever date. I must have enjoyed both, as I have seen a lot of gigs and been on a fair few dates since.

The first gig was Level 42 at Wembley Arena. Not the coolest gig to start with, but it was great, and I loved it. I still have a soft spot for their pop-funk. Their show was huge, with Mark King flying over the stage still slapping his bass like a lunatic. My first post-lockdown gig could not be more different, but more of that later.

I reckon the longest I have gone between gigs in the last 34 years is about 2 months. So, 14 months and 10 days, or 436 days, is a LONG gap. My friend Mr C and I meet for the traditional pre-gig beer, but because we have tickets for the “matinee” show, we are in a pub at 4.00pm. Beers are consumed before we head across the road to the Assembly – we are just excited to be INSIDE a pub and in London. Oh, the things we used to take for granted…

The venue is being super-careful, so we have an allotted entry time, join a socially distanced queue, have our temperatures taken before we are allowed in, and then follow very clearly marked one way system to our seats. Going to gigs has changed, but the venue is fantastic, great communication and very thorough. At one point, the security guard checking us pulls out some rubber gloves - I am alarmed, fearing that they may be taking checking us TOO far, but it's just to go through our bags. Phew...

We have been told we have our own pod, but essentially this is just two seats together with a small table and an app to order drinks. I rather like this – a seat, no shoving or pushing, people bring me beer and the show starts at 6.45 and ends at 8.00. Time for a quick beer after and home before 10.00. Boom!

But…the precautions and limitations on layout mean there are only about 175 seats, in a venue with a capacity for 897. Everyone is loving it, but the atmosphere of a normal gig is hard to recreate.

Our genial host appears on stage alone – the economics of touring would not allow for a band I guess right now. Plus, this is Gruff’s Resist Phony Encores! show - an evening of music and words featuring songs from his lengthy career as he talks about the ideas and themes in his forthcoming book of select memoirs of the same name.

The show is great and it’s AMAZING to hear his beautiful voice sing. He regales us with stories of early bands, playing with Damon Albarn and Paul McCartney, his use of signs to communicate with audiences and instruct them on what reaction they should be giving …. it’s rambling, funny, unintelligible (his voice is a deep Welsh brogue, not always easy to follow, especially if you are sat to one side and can’t see the projected images he’s talking about). But it doesn’t matter, it’s just joyous.

My favourite anecdote is him playing Coming Up with McCartney. He sees that Damon Albarn is joining them on stage, waving one of his signs that says, “Ape Shit!”. He tries to telepathically communicate with Albarn not to turn the sign around, which says “Tax the Rich”. His telepathic powers fail him, so we see a picture of a shocked McCartney (Baby, I'm a Rich Man…?) …it’s great fun.

Plus, his Resist Vonda Shepherd campaign and his paranoia that her theme song from Ally MacBeal was part of a much larger plan for force MOR on a passive, willing public, and his subsequent regret as instead it was the only highlight of her career…

The songs are all acoustic guitar or keys. Ranging from his first band, Ffa Coffi Pawb, three songs from his released that day new album, Seeking New Gods, plus tracks from five other solo albums and two Super Furry Animals songs.

Loan Your Loneliness from the new album is the gig’s highlight – on the new album, it’s a stomping, slightly Beatlesy piano driven number, but works brilliantly with Gruff on just keys.

If I was being honest, I would rather have seen him with a band, playing the new album, but we will have to wait until capacities and restrictions change to enable that. But there are no negative vibes here, it was just marvellous to see him!

Gigs are BACK!!

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