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Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

February 19th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Categories: music reviews · Musing on Music |

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ –

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Jeff Schmidt

    I have almost completely fallen OUT of love with perfection in art.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure if my beef is with perfection or predictability… the great thing about people screwing stuff up is the not knowing. No-one wants to go and see a shit band play badly… no fun in that. There’s a balance where really talented people reach for things they may or may not get, knowing that the magic is in it being unplanned and unpredictable. If they screw up, it’s funny, and if they don’t, it’s awe inspiring…

    Sx