Meltdown

The chaotic star studded theme night has become a much loved Meltdown speciality in recent years. In 2005 Patti Smith had Yoko Ono, Marianne Faithful, Sinead O’Conner, Tori Amos and more doing songs about the Innocence of Childhood (review), and this year Jarvis has declared it Disney time. One evening while getting tired and emotional watching Dumbo with his son, Jarvis pondered the emotional power of the old Disney songs (as opposed to these days when they just rope in Elton for the title tune) and drawing inspiration from a 1988 Disney tribute album by Hal Wilner decided this was the perfect subject for a Meltdown theme night.

Step forward to this evening and the end result is 2 rows in front of me Jarvis Cocker, Shane MacGowen, Nick Cave, and Pete Doherty are howling like dogs at the moon to the tune of “Home Sweet Home“! Welcome to the weird world of the Meltdown tribute night… chaos mixed with the bizarre but shot through with flashes of genius. You want to rub your eyes to check if 3 legends and Pete are really stood before you barking. Blogger Hydragenic bemoaned it as “funny for about ten seconds… this reeked of sloppy self-indulgence and I hated it“. Personally I’m glad I witnessed it self indulgence or not, but Im equally sure I wouldn’t want to hear it again!

The evening began with an introduction from the rich tones of Ken Nordine while the audience busily whispered to each other about all the names on the song sheet handed to them on the way in. Roger McGough’s initial reading of “AEIOU” fell victim to sound problems that plagued the night (it was an hour late starting). Ed Harcourt and Skye from the terminally dull Morcheeba played it straight, but charmed the audience with a sweet version of “Little April Showers“. One of Disney’s finest tunes, currently getting new exposure in a O2 ad, although its gorgeous in German, French, or English (below).

MP3: Bambi OST – “Little April Showers

Ken Nordine – Desolation Theme

Trip Hopper (wow I haven’t written that word for a decade) Howie B performed his own safety test on the newly reopened Royal Albert Hall, “Little Wooden Head” featured a seat shaking repeated bass THUD! With a glorious orchestral backing it both delighted and slightly bruised the ears.

Beth Orton – a woman who’s spellbinding voice cries out for better material than she is sometimes given – performed several songs across the evening, and was utterly beguiling on almost all. Given the sound issues an acapella take on “Stay Awake” was brave, while her version of “Second Star To The Right” is one of the few performances I really wish I could have captured for posterity. Beautiful, Beautiful stuff, that had me reaching for the tissues even if it was only to mop up the wine I’d kicked over! At the risk of pilfering Hydragenic’s entire review, he put it perfectly: “I’m considering proposing her for whatever application process is necessary to get someone acknowledged as a genuine National Treasure.

MP3: Suzanne Vega – “Stay Awake

Beth Orton & Terry Callier – Dolphins – Recommended

Next up the main man himself Jarvis bounded onto stage to huge applause for a highly entertaining if slightly throwaway performance of “I Wanna Be Like You“. Proving that one mans throwaway is another mans genius “Let’s Kill Music” reviewed “Be Like You” as “the highlight of the night, King Louie himself would of been proud… Proof once more that Jarvis is without a doubt one of the greatest performers on this planet“.

And so to Grace Jones next on the line up… except there’s no sign of her and on instead comes Nick Cave with a rollicking version of “Hey Diddle Dee“, grumpily described by Hydragenic as “a bit like your pissed uncle embarrassing you at a wedding. Don’t try to persuade me it was self-parody; it was just crap!“. I was crestfallen at the non appearance of Miss Jones so cant comment.

meow

The evening took a wildly theatrical turn with the appearance of Richard Strange, closely followed by Gavin Friday. Strange performed a dark take on “Headless Horseman” lifting up a homemade version of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull. Pritt-Stick and glitter may have replaced jewels but Strange was one of the highlights of the evening.

Gavin Friday is clearly an all or nothing kind of guy as he threw everything into the “Siamese Cat Song” prowling the stage miaowing, and bearing his claws. It was nothing if not entertaining, and the arrangement by Jun Miyake was oblique… I know this because I read it in The Guardian.

Leafcutter John was apparently only invited to perform days before the event, and on his blog he claims he got so nervous he nearly pulled out. He needn’t have worried as his take on “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” seems to have rightly been acclaimed one of the nights more unexpected treats.

One of the most disappointing performances came from Baaba Maal. “Bare Necessities” is undoubtedly a hard track to cover without parody and despite much effort by Maal and his band it was pretty bland stuff. In his defence my attention was diverted by a large purple shape in the wings… could it possibly be Grace Jones!!??

Ms Jones

A raised platform was brought onto stage along with a wind machine, and out emerged the amazing figure of Grace dressed in a billowing snake like dress, and a huge blue crescent hat. Ms. Jones is not one to follow set lists preferring instead to upstage everyone on the bill with a dramatic first act closing performance of “Trust In Me“. The smoke machine blew her huge dress into dramatic shapes while her voice belted out with diva like strength. Sadly as quickly as she appeared she turned on her impossibly long legs and was gone, not even pausing to individually close the mouths of an audience left agog by her blatantly scene stealing tour de force.

Act Two started with another of the beautiful instrumental numbers that punctuated the evening, full of lush strings, and the best saw player I ever did see.

I’m still not entirely sure why Fenella Fielding is such a familiar name, but nevertheless she’s quite old now, and may have had a little work done. She did however more than do justice to one of THE Disney classics “Feed The Birds“. The moment when she was joined by both the audience and what sounded like a male voice choir (I’m assuming the crowd weren’t THAT good) for a sing-along of the “Feed The Birds..tuppence” refrain was spine tingly good.

MP3: Mary Poppins OST – Feed The Birds

Gavin Hudson – Feed The Birds” (MP3)

In a superb review of the evening Blogger Farquhar not content with wishing death by fatal fall from Southbank terrace on the noisy woman sat next to him, also labelled her “frightful“, an insult that has never before been heard in Colour! 😉 David Thomas & Nick Cave took his vote for highlight of the evening as they “managed to turn Heigh-Ho into a Zola-like incubus” – a sentence in itself almost as impressive as the performance it describes. David Thomas, barefooted and with luminous red braces was something of an unsung hero throughout delivering several superb turns particularly with Cave, but also on a fantastic stomping version of “Pink Elephants on Parade“.

MP3: Sun Ra Arkestra – Pink Elephants On Parade

Arc

He was ably assisted on “Pink Elephants” by Marshall Allen, the 83 year old alto sax player and leader of the Sun-Ra-less Arkestra. He and his sax have clearly been inseparable for over 60 years as his hands appear to have moulded to form part of the instrument itself. They may be the hands of an 83 year old but the speed at which his fingers expertly formed the amazing sound he produced was a sight to behold. He also backed Rosin Murphy, who took a leaf out of Grace Jone’s book and totally vamped up “He’s A Tramp“. Looking stunning in a slinky outfit topped with a feather covered hat, she produced a performance to match that glamour. Yet another person Ive wanted to see for years crossed off in a single night.

Doherty

My patience with Pete Doherty has been worn thin by several lacklustre performances, and once waiting till 3am for him to show up to a gig I was reviewing. He is however, dull drug escapades, and bad poetry aside more than capable of holding an audience under his spell. In short he “has something“. Covering “Chim Chim Cheree” would seem like the musical equivalent of a banana skin in front of a open manhole cover next to some acme explosives, but Pete kept it simple and delivered a straight but surprisingly tender touching version that won over what seemed like a slightly sceptical crowd. The Telegraph summed up the many plaudits :

“He was the only singer all night to have memorised his song. Almost whispered and at times strangely poignant, his rendition of the Dick Van Dyke chimney-sweep’s anthem had the hall spellbound. It was a truly inspired piece of casting”.

I couldn’t agree more, although I was more in awe of his talent and stage presence than his ability to memorise the words to a children’s song. 😉 As he performed Kate Moss appeared from nowhere and plonked herself right in front of me, Super-8 whirring away while beaming with justifiable pride. I must be going soft in my old age but the pair of them are really sweet… for god sake someone go fetch me a fresh dose of cynicism!

Pete was supposed to perform “Blue Shadows On The Trail” with The Smoke Fairies, but for some reason left the fairies on their own with just a glass harmonica (albeit the only one in the uk) as accompaniment. They may be supporting Bryan Ferry on tour but I wouldn’t let that put you off, The Fairies were simply magical. If I could get their Murdochspace page to play songs I’d probably now be raving about how their own material is as equally mesmerising as this cover was! As it is I’ll simply have to add them to my list of “must listens”.
They also write a very witty blog describing how one day they were “sitting around in our pyjamas, drinking whisky and feeling like unemployed bums” and the next they have to learn a Disney song and perform it in front of thousands!

We felt like incredibly small fish in a sea of very large talented fish. Or like a grain of sand in a very large beach in which all the other grains of sand are actually giant boulders that say “hello I’m Nick Cave“. – The Smoke Fairies

MP3: Syd Straw – Blue Shadows On The Trail
Roy Rodgers – Blue Shadows On The Trail

Shane
Its a miracle that Shane MacGowen is still alive, let alone taking to the Royal Festival Hall stage to perform Disney cover versions. Shambling on, drink in hand, cigarette holes in his crumpled suit, but still able to rasp his way through “Zip-a-dee Doo Dah“. Suddenly “My, oh, my, what a wonderful day” becomes a lyrical tribute to living life at its fullest, for burning the candle at both ends, and with that completed Shane staggers off blowing kisses as the crowd cheers him to the rafters.

The previously mentioned beauty of Beth Orton followed leaving it to Jarvis to close an extraordinary night with a subtly understated “When You Wish Upon A Star“. Its pleasant if not actually amazing but throughout the evening every single turn has been unexpected, and occasionally magical, and not many gigs can claim that. As the stars along with the evenings musical director Hal Wilner return to receive the halls adulation you cant help but applaud Cockers sheer bravado in putting on such a night.

Forest Of No Return

Setlist

Look:

Photos from my view point in the 2nd row (with a lyrics stand in the way) – Flickr Set

JeanieWorld’s fantastic shots on Flickr.

Intermezzo had a great vantage point above the lecturns.

Pogues fan Strummerscalling focuses on Shane

Amiderham100’s view from the side – Flickr set

BigMarvin and four howling stars.

Read:

Hydragenic’s wonderfully comprehensive review

Everything ended happily for Intermezzo

Author Marie Phillips gets tongue-tied at the after show party

Leafcutter John reflects on the night, and talks about the rehearsals on a cycling forum

4star Guardian review

Watch:

Dumbo “Pink Elephants On Parade” – Disney goes trippy

Pete Doherty “Chim Chim Cheree” (YouTube – 7 videos)

Jarvis, Nick Cave, Shane Macgowen & Pete Doherty “Home Sweet Home” (YouTube)