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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

Pete Astor, The Soho Poly, London, 15th March 2024

A long time ago, in an indie scene far, far away...

Pete Astor has been making music since 1979, with Damp Jungle, The Loft, The Weather Prophets, The Wisdom Of Harry, Ellis Island Sound, The Attendant, and of course, various periods of solo music-making. That's 45 years of music career, yet he looks about 35 - what a bastard. But his music is excellent and he's a very nice chap, so we will park my rampant jealousy for his boyish good looks.

Side note: Weirdly, David Quantick tweeted today "NO CHEATING, your last celebrity picture is your therapist, who is it?". It's Pete! Given his contemplative lyrics, and longstanding career in all things indie that I love, this is probably not a bad bet.

Pete's been making records for 40 of those 45 years and he's just released Tall Stories & New Religions, an album that takes stock and doubles back on that recording career.

These songs are reconsidered and rejigged and, in some cases, given a much deserved refresh, as Pete reconnects Pete Astor the Younger. Some are recast and revitalised, with the wisdom of age (as opposed to the Wisdom Of Harry). Some just deserved better production. There's no "hits" like the magnificent Almost Prayed or Up The Hill And Down The Slope. But those songs are perfect and any revamping of them would just be folly.

On record, Pete is accompanied by an admirable band of co-conspirators, evolving out of many hours spent playing music together on records and at shows over the last decade. They are drummer Ian Button, (Death in Vegas, Papernut Cambridge, Go Kart Mozart), bassist Andy Lewis (Paul Weller, Soho Radio and Blow Up DJ), guitarist Neil Scott (Summerhill, Felt, Everything But the Girl) and keyboardist/ multi-instrumentalist/ producer Sean Read (Dexys, Mark Lanegan, Dave Gahan, Iggy Pop, Manic Street Preachers, Beth Orton, Chrissie Hynde...).

This little indie Rebel Alliance help our intrepid hero to make sense of the last 40 years and also continue to move forwards as Pete always has.

Tonight's gig is at The Soho Poly, part of the University Of Westminster, where Pete is a Senior Lecturer. He teaches music performance, theoretical and practical studies  and commercial music performance. God, University degrees these days are WAY cooler than when I went to higher education...

The set is in two halves - a short 7 song solo set (trying saying that after a few beers) and then another 7 song set, accompanied by Neil Scott on electric guitar. And the obligatory encore.

The gig is in a tiny theatre, with a trestle table as a bar selling beer cans, warm wine and sodas. Size doesn't matter and this hitherto unheard of venue (to me and Mrs JO'B at least) is currently celebrating its long history of gigs by the great, the good and the never quite made-its.

Across the two sets, Pete plays 7 songs from the new album (lots of 7s tonight!). He looks very professorial in his waistcoat and rollneck, less indie rockstar, rather I half expect him to pull down a chalkboard after each song and ask us questions about the track, their sociological relevance etc. But he doesn't (and I was a terrible student, so that's probably good thing, this is triggering memories of sitting at the back of Statistics lectures in 1990 on a Wednesday at 9.00 am, reading the NME and paying absolutely no heed of what is being said...).

Model Village, an old Loft track, opens the set and makes me think instantly of The Kinks - that might just be association with their Village Preservation Society, but it's a wonderfully English song (don't worry, I am not going all Morrissey!). What follows is a gentle, fun set of acoustic reworking of Pete's songs. I prefer the band versions on the new album, if I am honest, but it's engaging, it's fun and he is a charming performer. He is self effacing throughout, asking us if we want a cheery one or a miserable one - we want the misery. He laughs as even the ones people think are really cheerful have a dark side that someone just hasn't spotted. Pete's reworked The Weather Prophets' She Comes From The Rain has a video, made by his friend, who's merged the newly recorded vocal with images of Pete back in the 80s singing the same song, which is very cool (see below).

There is a short break and then Pete returns with Neil, the sound considerably beefed up by the addition of electric guitar. Pete explains how he had acquired a guitar, once owned by the late, great Peter Cook, before playing a song named after one of Britain's truly great comic geniuses (Peter Cook) though sadly not played on that guitar.

The last three songs of the second set all come from his last album, Time On Earth from 2022, which I absolutely love. Though they missed the keyboard accompaniment of the recorded versions, each sounds brilliant. Time On Earth, English Weather and Fine And Dandy are as strong as anything he has recorded in the last 40 years, the latter a touching tribute to the late Jazz Butcher, Pat Fish.

Pete stays on stage for the applause rather than go off and comically stand in the little hallway for a minute before coming back for the encore. The Soho Poly is a rabbit warren so he might reasonably have got lost, a la Spinal Tap and never made it back...

There is some debating with the audience and Pete asks if we want Almost Prayed, and I worry that this hard core audience might say no, in preference to an obscure b-side I don't know. But fortunately, everyone wants the hit (well, almost hit) too. Acoustic, electric, played through the medium of interpretive dance, it's such a great song, it will always sound brilliant. It's preceded by Good Enough and Hotel At The Edge Of The World from his 1992 album with The Holy Road.

I know there is a story behind the latter, but three cans of Neck Oil and a failure to take notes means I cannot remember it for the life of me. Note taking in my fifties is pretty essential, but given I am technically back at a university, I have defaulted to my crap student habits and written nothing down. Oh dear...

I buy the new record after (still giving it a proper spin but first impressions are it's lovely), but miss Pete at the merch stall. So £20 is handed to Neil Scott and we head off into the night, the drizzle and central London nightlife...or rather our friends Pete and Martine head off to join the nightlife, but we head home to bed.

You may not know Pete's music, but give Tall Stories & New Religions a spin and get to know an accomplished songwriter who deserves to be playing in front of a much larger audience. But tonight, 60-odd people had a lovely evening. Got to go now, I have to write an essay for Professor Astor by Monday and he's a right bastard….

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x

1 Comment

Mar 17

Such a lovely gig, I really loved it. Great review too x

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