Vivers: Outside, Cardiff on a Saturday night is the seventh circle. A drunk woman screams at a topless man: “You fucking queeeargh!”. Inside the Barfly, a middle-aged man shouts between Gindrinker songs: “This isn’t music, it’s fucking shit!”. Might be unkind to suggest this is someone who goes to precisely one gig a year, but honestly, how can you not find anything to love in Gindrinker’s spleen attack? DC Gates lets his pickled brain ramble, rant and play the odd bit of improvised cornet over Graf’s strafing guitar and it’s like carrots and pesto, or fire and Dan Brown. If you don’t like it, you’re an idiot. Anyway, Frank Sidebottom is on next and you should see the bum notes he plays!
BusinessKeith: There have been few more character-building experiences for the hardy Cardiff gig-goer over the years than early evening in a cold, deserted Barfly. Time has not dulled its effect; if anything, not having been in here since Swn last year has renewed the impact of the ultra-minimalist decor and view-inhibiting layout. Still, it fills up swiftly during Gindrinker‘s matinee set, and the reception they get at the end is comforting after the early heckles. It’s hard to imagine that many fans of the other turns could find nothing to savour in DC’s caustic, bilious and frequently hilarious prose, or the angle-grinding riffs that accompany it. Good to hear newer favourites like ‘Comedian’ and ‘Transit’ aired in this atmosphere. They’ll all be humming them this time next year, mark my words.
Vivers: It’s a weird, chilling thrill to see Frank Sidebottom‘s head appear at the back of the crowd, and slowly travel towards the stage. It’s securely wedged above a short man’s shoulders, and looks to contain no eyeholes. It’s perfect, slightly unsettling, cartoon heaven, a strange mix of stand up comedy, rudimentary Casio and childhood flashback. Every song’s a medley, and all end the same way: they do, they really do. Dropped references to Wire and the Fall meet the crapness of splitting the crowd in half to see which sings the loudest. There are rubbish costume changes and Little Frank, which is thankfully not his penis. Above all though, it’s that great glazed head looking back, bobbins icon of quality entertainment.
BusinessKeith: I’m sat at the back chatting to a friend when we’re both silenced, with something weirdly approaching awe, as Frank Sidebottom enters the room in a slightly ill-fitting suit, briefcase in hand, giant fibreglass head affixed. It’s as Vivers says, a flashback to your first exposure to his peculiar schtick of working men’s club turn meets children’s entertainer on the skids. Sure, like JCC following him, he’s using material he’s recycled for longer than many of Barfly’s usual patrons have been on this planet; so why is it still making us laugh? It’s not a forced, awkward laughter, it’s genuine, and the goodwill his familiar rambles through ‘tributes’ to the Beatles, Queen and Manchester’s punk lineage generate is utterly heartening. The roomful of thick-set football dads descend on our papier mache hero for photos at the end, and Timperley’s finest has done it again. You know he has, he really has.
Vivers: In this celebratory love-in John Cooper Clarke can’t really fail, but it’s to his credit he pulls off this non-failure with no little charm. Despite starting with some jokes older than a Messel stairlift (how deep would the sea be without sponges – sheesh), there are diamonds here, mostly hidden amongst the easy patter of a professional natterer. It’s nice shaggy dog rambling, disguised as poetry and anecdotes, and it’s interesting to see that Clarke’s disintegrating notes look similar to DC Gates’ when in spoken word mode. Course, he can’t read them cos he’s wearing sunglasses, but such is life as a mostly-good hero to drunk husbands.
BusinessKeith: When John Cooper Clarke supported the Fall at the Coal Exchange in 2005, DC Gates likened his latter-day incarnation to part Les Dawson, part Harold Pinter. Tonight, ten minutes into a routine which could easily have slotted on to ‘The Comedians’ in 1975, I remarked to DC that it was like watching an affable, likeable Bernard Manning. Jokes about JCC’s Irish Catholic/Jewish upbringing, gentle take-my-wife-please cracks and a gag stolen from a 1992 Simpsons episode serve to ease us, and John himself, into the 2009 version of his act. It’s less confrontational, less rapid-fire than you imagine he was 30 years back, which is of course to be expected, but the poetry, when it punctures the jokes and anecdotes, remains valid and the observations are still sharp. His newer material may be different, even softer in style (‘I Love My Wife’ can’t help but be touching) but along with the hair and the shades he’s retained the gift for rolling syntax and delicious payoffs that first emerged with the likes of ‘Evidently Chickentown’. He leaves us with the fastest recital of the latter I’ve ever seen, as if challenging himself to prove he’s still got it. He has.