Everybody was in high spirits on the first night of the tour, with the help of one thing or another. Everybody concerned appeared to regard it as a spree. Nick Lowe slipped out of the Three Tuns, High Wycombe carrying two large suspiciously chinking brown paper bags — "Just bought a couple of sarnies in case I get peckish onstage," he offered innocently. And token longhair Larry Wallis reeled back in the street, mock horrified when I proffered the KP — "What! I'm on the Stiff tour and she offers me nuts!"
Amidst all this locker-room style Good Fun, you could hear some music that in my hawk-eared way I've categorised as good-better-best (for me personally, natch.)
Good was Nick Lowe. I can't get over-enthusiastic about that kind of straight ahead boogie rock but I'm aware that a) it's my problem that I can only perceive it as the last thrashings about of a dead art form, and b) musicianship counts for a lot, and nobody could say that Nick Lowe isn't a musician. Also, I really like "Heart Of The City."
Not so good was Elvis Costello, much to my disappointment (first time I'd seen him). He played lots of stuff that isn't on his very good (Stiff) record. I'm told his appeal exists on an "everyman" level — it's just like the geezer next door had splashed out on some leathers, and decided to do it on stage, charisma or no charisma.
I can see that, but it's still not my idea of fun. Les from the Albertos (who was definitely the star of the show as impromptu m.c.) commented from the wings — "However funny you are, you can never be as funny as the people who are doing it for real" — namely Elvis's totally self-absorbed way of lecturing the audience like a parrot in NHS specs, holding a warning finger in the air while cocking his bead pensively to one side. He sang "Less Than Zero" well, but I preferred Wreckless Eric.
Ian Dury played drums with Wreckless Eric, Denise played bass, and Wreckless Eric came on just like (I imagine) Roky Erikson (would). I didn't catch any of the other titles, but he definitely did the Big Hit Single, "Whole Wide World" which I've always loved. The other numbers were musically and visually interesting and fun, sounded pared-down and ready to trot and totally bizarre. The set built up to a fantastic 13th Floor Elevators-style crescendo. Question Mark & the Mysterians may be resurrected in Wreckless Eric.
My high spot of the night was Ian Dury. Judging by response, the audience felt the same way on my unofficial clapometer (give me a break — spare me the patented Stiff gags on that one). Although Ian had lost his voice (see article this ish) he still managed to grip the onlookers by the appropriate areas. He was great when he barked out the staccato litany of "white face black tie etc" from "Sweet Gene Vincent" like a demented fairground barker on STP, and his rendition of "Billericay Dickie"s got three stars.
The band's musicianship was showcased in touches like the neat guitar solo in "Clever Trever," and by the time Ian had finished "Blockheads" and was going into "Plaistow Patricia" there was untrammelled ecstasy all around me.
Even if people don't know Ian's songs they can enjoy 'em, 'cos they've got music-hall fairground end-of-the-pier roots that elicit a Pavlovian instant fun response. See him if you can.