An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

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LMG
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An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby LMG » 12 Sep 2011, 22:21



I went to see Peter Blegvad over the weekend in a very small club - Cafe Oto in Dalston. It was his sixtieth birthday celebration. He was performing as part of the Peter Blegvad Trio – Chris Cutler on drums, John Greaves on bass, supplemented for the evening by Karen Mantler. The daughter of Carla Bley (who she resembles rather startlingly) and Mike Mantler, she plays organ and harmonica.

When I arrived the band was sound checking, and a thoughtfully placed chalkboard on a folding chair announced that once the soundcheck was over the venue would open. This shows that the lessons of the Who’s Cincinnati concert in 1979 have been learned. There, a crowd waiting at the doors heard the soundcheck and assumed the show had begun, so they broke down the doors and eleven people died in the resulting crush.

Thanks to the clearly posted information, I felt little threat from the other eight concertgoers congregating with me outside the small café, and we watched the soundcheck together and chatted among ourselves.

Just after eight pm the queue for entry had swelled to virtually double, and PB joined us to greet people he knew. One of these had come from Amsterdam, and I was glad then that afterwork fatigue had not prevented me from travelling three bus stops from work to be there.

The band came on about forty minutes later, by which time there were about 50-60 people in the audience. It was a nice crowd, and those who had brought their children with them managed to keep them under control, which was relatively easy as the kids were in their twenties. I’m saying it was an older audience.

They started with ‘Mad Love Vanishes’ from Just Woke Up, nice and bluesy, and sufficiently loud. The typically self-effacing Mr Blegvad remains seated at far stage right, making him the least visible member of the band. Doh! Next up is a lovely version of ‘The Unborn Byron’, from late-period reunion Slapp Happy, although there is also a PB solo verion on Choices Under Pressure: An Acoustic Retrospective. PB was playing a hollow-body guitar, did not get the make.

‘Man Overboard’ is from Hangman’s Hill, the album PB was selling and signing copies of that evening, which makes utter sense, given that it was released in 1998. The band is just superb – Cutler is a master drummer, and gets his teeth into this more straightforward bluesy material. His fellow Henry Cow alumni John Greaves stood up throughout, contributing unamplified backing vocals and generally satisfying those who consider him one of this nation’s best bass players. Karen Mantle’s backing vocals lent an air of Velvet Underground to proceedings, and she solo'd on harmonica now and then.

‘Face Off ‘ was rescued from the overproduced ‘quirky pop’ album Knights Like This from 1985. Here like most material it is much more bluesy. One of several songs about faces this evening.

Next the show really shifted into high gear and took off to maximum cult artist bliss with two of Blegvad’s metaphysical songs, the first based on a line from William Blake, ‘Hell’s Despite’, an ode to struggling against the bitterness of life. Followed by ‘The Marvellous In The Everyday’, about seeing alternate reality when under duress.

PB explains that the car crash experienced by the woman in the last song took her to a higher plane, whereas the accident suffered by the protagonist in the next one does not. ‘Driver’s Seat’ is a terrifying song, lots of the singer’s patented observation of destructive human behaviour: ‘At eighty miles an hour/the car just seemed to float/I sat back against the seat/tippin’ whiskey down my throat’. Like a later song, he displays little emotion over the horrific damage he inflicts on other people.

Another great song, ‘That’ll Be Him Now’, from Just Woke Up, and I have to admit I have no idea what the hell it’s about, exactly. The arrival of Death, or some cult leader, or something. Ominous song, tho’.

Next up is a pair of songs about parents that were made available through an on-line song club:

http://radiofreesongclub.com/artists/peter-blegvad

“ ‘My Father’s Face’ isn’t new, but it’s unrecorded. It was written after a
long hot train ride from Cornwall back to London in the course of which the
train stopped and to kill the time my kids drew comical pictures of me. I
dreamed the rest, picturing progeniture as a line of sons erasing/redrawing fathers.
(Last month’s song was about sons and mothers…)”

PB did both. ‘Mama’s Boy’ is a simple song about being proud to be just that. Proceedings were rapidly stalled with the close of the first set and the short, playful ‘Stink’: ‘your stink is on my finger/’til the end of time’.

Half an hour or so of fresh air and moving about was followed by the band returning and some gentle strumming which PB announces as ‘Audience find your seats music’. Soon followed by a magical appearance of a late Slapp Happy tune, ‘Let’s Travel Light’ (‘and leave our bodies behind – we don’t need bodies, it’s all in the mind’). The second set hits high gear early with the fantastic title track from Just Woke Up, which rocks with a harder edge than the recorded version, Chris Cutler bashing away mightily and PB having fun with the ‘Pretty Woman’ riff he claims he never seens to get right.

Another song from the same album, ‘Waste of Time’, is announced as PB’s homeopathic remedy for personal cynicism. Next up is a wonderful medley of two songs with similar themes about the creative urge/gift: ‘Golden Age’/’Powers In The Air’. The first is from Hangman’s Hill, the second goes all the way back to his solo debut for Virgin, The Naked Shakespeare. It goes ‘Say someone stole a line/from Ezra Pound/Who’s to say/It hadn’t lay there for centuries/just waiting to be found?’.

Admirers of the Blegvad oeuvre are prone to asking how he writes such great songs, and how he pens such captivating and haunting illustrations. PB made light of this on the next Virgin album, the back cover of which shows him asleep, pen in hand, his arm in a cradle ready to become the vessel of angelic writing.

Next up is a frighteningly intense song, ‘Had To Be Bad’, about a serial killer. As usual, PB punctures it with a darkly humorous turn – the killer ends up afraid his Dad will find out what he has done.

Another bittersweet (or just bitter) love song, ‘The Incinerator’ is another that benefits from full band. PB writes about love like Richard Thompson or Stan Ridgway – no one gets out unscathed. ‘I’ve come to light a candle at your shrine/always dark in mine’.

A couple from Hangman’s Hill round out the evening far too early – ‘On All Fours’: ‘I’d rather crawl than walk tall/on all fours you ain’t got so far to fall’. Also includes the wonderful line ‘My face has been on many famous floors’. ‘Hangman’s Hill’ is announced as the last song, to the obvious disappointment of the audience who want PB to play everything he ever did.

It was fine by me – some of the songs sounded new to me because I tend to go for my favourites on the albums, and I’ll forgive him for any disappointment that some of those favourites weren’t present – ‘Gold’, ‘Something Else Is Working Harder’, ‘Shirt And Comb’, ‘Scarred For Life’, ‘Special Delivery’, 'Loss To Mourn'.

The band tries to exit, but PB calls them back – John Greaves is desperate for a beer. PB takes requests, and agrees reluctantly to do ‘King Strut’, title track from an album otherwise unrepresented. He complains there are so many words he may forget them, so the audience will have to help out. It is a great version, leaving out the acoustic guitar melody and making use of the band to punctuate the dynamics of the song.

The audience’s demands for mor are met with an abrupt and (mock?) stern retort ‘That’s enough now – go home!’. Which is countered by a fairly dreadful rendition of Happy Birthday sung back at him.

It was an utterly fantastic evening, very glad I went. Best live performance I have seen him do, so I hope his heartfelt ‘Thanks! I’ll carry on with my hobby!’ means more recordings and more live shows wherever possible. Anyone who has fallen for the spell of his songs or illustrations, which are unique, amusing and disturbing in equal measure will know what I mean.
Last edited by LMG on 11 Feb 2018, 20:00, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Magilla » 12 Sep 2011, 22:25

That sounds like a fantastic gig, must've been great being there, LMG !
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An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Billy » 12 Sep 2011, 22:29

LMG is a reason to exist -- great stuff

Chris Cutler is just the greatest human btw

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Re: An Evening With Peter Blegvad

Postby LMG » 12 Sep 2011, 22:30

Billy wrote:LMG is a reason to exist -- great stuff


*blushes*
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Charlie O. » 12 Sep 2011, 22:49

LMG, you might be interested in this from the latest Ubu Communex communique:

The Archimedes Quartet
The Archimedes Quartet is a project driven by method, mystery and miasma. Five years ago David Thomas described a bath tub epiphany to Peter Blegvad at a chance meeting outside an architectural college in Oxford. "Edison, Einstein, Eisenhower and Elvis - The Four 'E's Who Invented The 20th Century." This evolved, in the way of these sorts of conversations, into a Big Idea - a lecture / symposium slamdown to be refereed by Chris Cutler. A few emails were exchanged, words beginning with "E" were accumulated but, in the way of these things, the Big Idea withered on the vine.

Well, it's back and it's bigger than before and it's booked, Saturday, December 3 2011, at Cafe Oto, London. Only trouble is we still got no idea at all what the Big Idea will look like except it will be musical and bag lunches are advised.

That's the downside. The upside is that Blegvad and Thomas are inventive story-tellers, of the tall tale variety, very cool singers, and, in spite of a mutually shared tendency to over intellectualize, they are shameless entertainers. Egged on by the flamboyant rhythm section of Chris Cutler and John Edwards a concert of "Eureka!" moments is envisioned.

This blog tracks the work-in-progress.


I'd go if I could!
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Guy E » 12 Sep 2011, 22:59

Sounds like a great night.

I have seen Peter perform several times, most recently at The Stone a year or so ago. It was a solo gig and the place holds no more than 60 people. He was very funny and touching. He reminded the audience more than once that he was "retired." I ran into a few friends at the gig and we went up to Zum Schneider for beers after the show. Peter was there and we all hung out. That was a great night too.
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Snarfyguy » 12 Sep 2011, 23:13

I really haven't kept up with his career but I wish I could have been there.
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby hookfinger » 13 Sep 2011, 01:58

Agreed ...sounds like a blast.
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Neige » 13 Sep 2011, 07:51

Peter Blegvad is one of my favourite songwriters...

I would have been disappointed by the absence of songs from King Strut - his most accomplished album - but still...

Thanks for sharing, Chris.

And I wish I could go to London on December 3... :|
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby Maurits » 13 Sep 2011, 17:58

Nice report of a wonderful evening!
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby TG » 13 Sep 2011, 19:23

Charlie O. wrote:LMG, you might be interested in this from the latest Ubu Communex communique:

The Archimedes Quartet
The Archimedes Quartet is a project driven by method, mystery and miasma. Five years ago David Thomas described a bath tub epiphany to Peter Blegvad at a chance meeting outside an architectural college in Oxford. "Edison, Einstein, Eisenhower and Elvis - The Four 'E's Who Invented The 20th Century." This evolved, in the way of these sorts of conversations, into a Big Idea - a lecture / symposium slamdown to be refereed by Chris Cutler. A few emails were exchanged, words beginning with "E" were accumulated but, in the way of these things, the Big Idea withered on the vine.

Well, it's back and it's bigger than before and it's booked, Saturday, December 3 2011, at Cafe Oto, London. Only trouble is we still got no idea at all what the Big Idea will look like except it will be musical and bag lunches are advised.

That's the downside. The upside is that Blegvad and Thomas are inventive story-tellers, of the tall tale variety, very cool singers, and, in spite of a mutually shared tendency to over intellectualize, they are shameless entertainers. Egged on by the flamboyant rhythm section of Chris Cutler and John Edwards a concert of "Eureka!" moments is envisioned.

This blog tracks the work-in-progress.


I'd go if I could!


Several months ago I saw David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome, Mike Hudson & Bob Pfeifer do a book signing/reading at the L.A. Grammy Museum. David Thomas read an excerpt from something he had been working on that had to do with Thomas Edison; by virtue of having "invented" recording and Edison reels and what have you, being the true inventor of Rock & Roll. It was far more involved than that description and was far more entertaining too. Anyway, it may have been part of what you are referring to and, if so, I would recommend going.
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LMG
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby LMG » 12 Apr 2019, 22:38

Going to see him again Sunday at Café Oto.

They are playing in a Clapham library the night before!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-peter- ... ovDelivery
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Re: An Evening WIth Peter Blegvad

Postby ConnyOlivetti » 13 Apr 2019, 05:31

Robust post! Thanks for sharing!
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