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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

Martin Rossiter, The Forum, Kentish Town, 20th November 2021

I have written extensively on this site about my 1987 trauma when The Smiths split up, so won’t go down that dis-used railway line again. Suffice to say, if the NME called a band “the new Smiths” (and they did with alarming regularity back in the 90s), then I checked them out.

Photo: Nathan Wilding (Instagram - @lifein8bit1982)

Gene were the one I could see what they meant, but they were SO much more. I remember repeatedly playing the Be My Light, Be My Guide ep, stunned by how good all three songs were. They soon came to The Cavern in Exeter, a tiny venue that was dangerously rammed and played a truly great gig (I remember being crushed in the crowd as they launched in to Sick, Sober & Sorry from that ep, and falling hopelessly in love with the band there and then). Every release after that was just as good, and they were just a brilliant live band. Olympian was, and remains, magnificent.

Controversial perhaps, but Revelations is one of my favourite albums but I sort of lost them at Libertine. It just didn’t click for me. I regret this and really like it now, but I missed the last couple of tours and didn’t really notice they had disappeared. Life got in the way, as it does.

Photo: Nathan Wilding (Instagram - @lifein8bit1982)

So in 2012, when Martin came back with his solo album, the stately The Defenestration of Martin Rossiter I was thrilled – a chance to rectify that mistaken disinterest at the end. However, life, diaries and other challenges got in the way once again and I singularly failed to see any of his solo shows, and he was once again away.

When he suddenly announced he was playing a retirement show, I cleared diaries and was sat at my laptop at 8.59 ready to ensure I did not miss out. Then COVID came and I had no idea if these shows would ever happen, as understandably dates were re-arranged and re-re-arranged. But at last we are here.

Photo: Kiko Cabezas Pizarro (Instagram & Twitter - @kikocp)

I have mixed feelings about the gig and at one point nearly sold my tickets. Not giving Steve, Kevin and Matt the chance to play the show and say their own goodbyes to the songs they wrote together is an uncomfortable move from Mr Rossiter. More akin to the behaviour of Leonard Rossiter’s Rigsby character, rather than the charismatic lead singer of a left wing indie band that seemed bonded together so closely.

But I have made my peace with the decision – we all have to make choices that suit our own needs, and in my head, doing this alone means there is no pressure to do that one last tour….but still what a brilliant show that would have been…

Photo: Kiko Cabezas Pizarro (Instagram & Twitter - @kikocp)

Back to the here and now. Martin arrives on stage, in a gorgeous sky-blue suit – he was always a snappy dresser, leaving the other Brit-poppers behind in the sartorial stakes, and he still does. He’s accompanied by piano and he kicks off proceedings with the emotional Three Points On A Compass, traumatic as it tears into a feckless parent and the devastation they left behind – “The only thing I got from you was my name, this stupid name”. I had forgotten how sad and simultaneously beautiful the song is.

The band wander on one by one as that song reaches its conclusion, adding an extra punch to its ending. And then we are off, with a rocking, punchy Be My Light, Be My Guide (“oh tonight, let it be my night”). The setlist then takes in songs from Olympian, Drawn At The Deep End, Revelations and Libertine, plus more from Martin’s solo album. B-sides like Left For Dust (from the Let Me Move On single) are unexpected treats, and he hits all the big numbers. Sleep Well Tonight comes early in the set and I am transported back to the Cavern in Exeter. We Could Be Kings is huge, Martin clambering up on the monitors precariously as he howls “it’s time to tell my friends I love them”.

Photo: Nathan Wilding (Instagram - @lifein8bit1982)

There’s a mid-set misstep, with the announcement of a new song – Rain Makes The Roses Grow. It’s pretty enough, but if this is the last show ever, then it’s an odd choice. I’d rather hear Truth, Rest Your Head, Sick, Sober & Sorry, or In Love With Love. But it’s Martin’s gig and his last show, so I guess he can do what he likes. But the crowd chatter through the song, which must be disheartening.

There are so many highlights – Haunted By You is another climbing expedition, as Martin launches in the air for the chorus on another monitor. Olympian in the encores is huge, the audience in fine voice, as is Martin throughout the show. There are nods to friends in the audience and to his daughter Nancy, who he reveals thinks all his songs are so sad – she has a point! He also thanks “Steve, Kev and Matt, without whom we would not be here”. It’s a nice move – they are much missed tonight. The band are good, though the guitarist does go into “shredder” mode on a couple of solos, and the drummer is powerful, but sometimes lacks Matt’s subtlety on a couple of the slower numbers. But these are niggles – they do a fantastic job.

Photo: Nathan Wilding (Instagram - @lifein8bit1982)

Drop Anchor from his solo album is my favourite – it’s truly sumptuous ballad which reminds me why this is such a sad event. He’s such a great lyricist, it’s a real loss we won’t hear his songs again.

Martin merges encores one and two, rather than go through the pretence of leaving the stage for a second time, going straight into London, Can You Wait? – we have and now we seemingly have to wait forever…? He finishes solo, just him, a piano and I Can’t Help Myself. And then he’s gone.

We leave, surrounded by people who still wear the emblems of that mid-90s scene - Fred Perrys, DMs, quiffs – only the beer bellies and wrinkles reveal it’s 2021, not 1995. If you are offended by that, then I am basically describing me!

It’s been fun, whilst also it’s been sad. Though if I were a betting man, I think Martin will be back…the world still requires a kick.

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