Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hail and Hardy - review of Jeremy Hardy

Jeremy Hardy at The Corn Exchange, Newbury on Saturday, November 5

“THANKYOU for coming tonight to this organised event,” quipped Radio 4 stalwart Jeremy Hardy as he stepped onto the stage on Saturday night. “Because holding a comedy event in your own back garden can be dangerous... and remember, you should never return to a comedian once lit, as it may still go off...”

For, of course, this was the fifth of November; and Hardy was in sparky mood; the touchpaper was lit, the audience were standing well back, and away he went. starting by questioning why we should celebrate the failure of a plot to bring down the monarchy. No damp squibs round here; Hardy was in incendiary mood, as he launched a barrage of sky rockets towards the Establishment,.

When Hardy last visited The Corn Exchange two years ago (if it’s November in an odd-numbered year, it must be time for Hardy’s snappily entitled Autumn Tour), I described him as “like a cup of cocoa with a dash of edgy political comedy hiding beneath the whipped cream and marshmallows.” It may be his age - now Hardy has passed the dreaded half-century landmark, he can count himself a card-carrying grumpy old man - but more likely he has been invigorated by the change of Government since his last tour. The “mild-mannered Marxist” isn’t so mild any more  - transfused with a passion by intense frustration and irritation for the way the country is going.

Disappointed that the student protests of last December petered out “just as it was getting interesting, baffled by the interest in the Royal wedding, and frustrated by many of the Government’s current policies - free schools came in for a particular bashing - Hardy concluded that much of Britain’s problems came down to class divisions, which the ruling classes would never truly understand or solve effectively.

Hardy apologised if he came across as preaching, but also highlighted his frustration that he was considered by the media to be a veteran propagator of the alternative comedy of the Thatcher era. However, while ranty young men were always eventually going to get tiresome, those like Hardy that resisted being sucked in by the establishment, have found that middle age suits their  outlook on life rather well, and life experience gives credence to their really quite reasonable opinions.

Not so much a cup  of cocoa as a mug of gunpowder tea. Ka-boom.

(Oh, and one of his fly buttons was undone throughout the second half. The audience couldn’t see this under his untucked shirt; but he mentioned it out of concern that it would be spotted and mentioned in the local newspaper review. Wasn’t spotted, but mentioned anyway. Consider it my little bit of anarchy - I think Hardy would approve.)

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, November 10, 2011

Friday, November 04, 2011

Homegrown is the way that it should be (or: Cottaging with Dodgy)

Dodgy at River Cottage HQ, Axminster, on Saturday, October 22, 2011

YOU know that you're finally a grown up when one of your fave bands hosts an event which includes the words "yurt", "mulled cider" "tractor ride" and "petit fours" in the description, and instead of running for the hills, you think "ooh, that sounds like a lovely evening, as long as I don't have to eat offal".

And indeed, as it turned out, River Cottage HQ - of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall fame - was the perfect venue for the launch of Dodgy's fourth album featuring the original line-up (after a few years' break), as the ethos of Dodgy (and their music) and River Cottage aren't that dissimilar - organic, respectful of tradition, harmonious and, er, tasty.

After a tractor-pulled trailer ride down to Park Farm, home to River Cottage HQ, the 60 holders of the "Willy Wonka golden ticket" (the words of singer Nigel) were greeted with glasses of mulled cider and chunky cheese straws (always a winner in my book) with members of the band mingling as if they were just ordinary people, like you and me.

Dinner was served in a converted barn at long tables, with the school dining room vibe continuing through the set menu, introduced in person by two incredibly posh chefs (pity about the inappropriate faggot joke, but it probably means something different at public school),  featuring seasonal and local ingredients (dietary requirements had to be notified in advance - my opportunity to describe courgette as "the devil's vegetable"). The River Cottage approach is not to over-prepare food, most noticeable in the fruit crumble, which had been prepared in its separate constituents - granola-like crumble, lightly cooked fruit and crab apple jelly - before being assembled in situ.

With our usual lager and vodka off the menu (we're classy types), the man and I were obliged to sample organic wine, cider and ale, which proved quite a revelation the next morning, when our heads weren't aching as we expected. Hooray!

And so to the band. Having not eaten with the rest of us, to avoid pre-performance bloating I presume (I bumped into drummer Math outside, who informed me that he wasn't "a pudding person"), the band were in fine form for a two-part set which included their new album in its entirety. Entitled Stand Upright In A Cool Place (instructions on a bottle of bathroom bleach apparently - note to self: move bleach away from radiator), Nigel assured us that it wasn't a concept album as such, but it is top and tailed by two songs based on the legend of a 14th century monk forced to crawl daily up the ominously named Ragged Stone Hill in the Malverns for the sin of falling in love. The folk-style, near-medieval lilt of these two songs continues throughout much of the album, drawing on old English roots which felt perfect in the earthy, rural setting of River Cottage.

The night was rounded off with a clutch of uplifting and anthemic hits from the 1990s - In A Room, So Let Me Go Far and more - when they were the kings of stoner pop, featuring the rich harmonies of the core trio's blended voices. An unexpected and unplanned treat was an acoustic singalong rendition of hardcore fan favourite Big Brown Moon when the power briefly went kaput. Back on track, the performance finished with a rare outing for Homegrown - perfect as a thankyou from the band to the staff at River Cottage. It may have been the warming effect of the cider, but the night felt like a true communion, and on the tractor ride back up from the valley, it was clear that new friendships had been formed among those who had come to worship at the alter of Dodgy.

And no, there was no offal. Just an offal-y good time. Boom, and indeed boom.