The day is spent with the same colouring-in juggling act as the previous. So nothing really interesting until the evening.
Today being the day I go and see Cardiacs in concert. Hurrah. I meet up with Ben at the Starbucks on New Oxford Street (curiously pleasant) and then we wander down to the Astoria, where the event is to occur.
The queue at that time (7:00 – doors opening time) is remarkably short and stretches only a little way down the alley that leads to Soho Square. The building next door has been refurbished, with apparantly completely pointless blue lights at knee-height embedded in it.
I was curious to see what the Astoria was like on the inside. It was like one of those dreams that I at least sometimes have, where I go to a concert and spend fifteen minutes trying to find the auditorium (check – up and down windy staircases, through tiny corridors until eventually we emerge into an extraordinarily dingy room) and then when you get there find that the seating is intensely strange. My first experience of this (in real life) was at the Royal Albert Hall, where you go through one of a large number of identical doors in a corridor into a tiny room, then through a curtain into an enormous one.
At the Astoria (upstairs) there are all these benches with small, ineptly-made tables. I suppose it’s supposed to inspire a sort of cabaret/Roman collosseum vibe, and is possibly related to the venue’s primary function as a club.
Oh, and it smells of chip fat. This is the first venue I’ve ever been to that mostly smells of chip fat.
Anyway, having ascertained where the auditorium was, Ben and I set off in search of the concessions stand. First it takes us a very long time to find the Stalls (or at least the large open area where the Pond will later be), and then we can’t find the concessions stand. This is a shame because we both want t-shirts very much. I do, particularly, because it’s rumoured that if you wear a Cardiacs t-shirt people will come up and talk to you in the street, even if those people are other Cardiacs fans (not necessarily a bad thing). We wander back upstairs and claim one of the tables at the front of the balcony.
The first act, called Eva Lema and comprising two-thirds of a band called Sidi Bou Said come on and start playing to a largely empty but nonetheless pleasant hall. They’re very good, and I’d like to see them play somewhere smaller and more likely to allow them to shine – this is a bit cavernous for a guitar/drums duo. Their first song is in 7/4.
Almost immediately they finish the next support – Oceansize – come on, although their start is delayed because the lead singer is having problems with his guitar. Their first song is also in 7/4, which I think is interesting – very few gigs produce even one act who would start a set with such a time signature, a Cardiacs gig throws up two.
I suppose that now would have been a good time to go and look for t-shirts, but we don’t. Our mistake.
From about half-way through the Oceansize set people are streaming into the venue and taking up position on the floor of the stalls. This mass of humanity is referred to as The Pond.
After a respectable wait, the lights dim and the callsign of the Alphabet Business Concern rings out. Cue for a lengthy teasing wait, broken when the drummer and two young women in red dresses begin to hammer out a military rhythm (the young women beating on Alphabet Business Concern bass drums, one either side of the kit) and the band (and Eva Lema) come on and sing Home of Fadeless Splendour, the company song, then more noises and the first song Arnald (I can’t remember whether it’s in 7/4). In fact, here’s the set list for reference (acquired from the Cardiacs mailing list after the fact).
HOME OF FADELESS SPLENDOUR
A HORSES TAIL
DAY IS GONE
TARRED AND FEATHERED
CRY WET SMILE DRY
FIERY GUN HAND
O SIZE – WORMS HERO
THE ICING ON THE WORLD
THE DUCK AND ROGER THE HORSE
IS THIS THE LIFE
The dashes are points of interaction with the crowd (there is none of the fabled Jim abuse that I’ve read so much about) and the asterisks are the break between the set and the encore, and “noize” signifies a tape of industrial sounds.
Quite a good mixture of Older and Newer – The band stream offstage to be replaced by Oceansize who play Eat It Up Worms Hero; The Duck and Roger the Horse is performed twice – once almost inaudably by Tim Smith solo with an acoustic guitar and then very audibly indeed by the full band.
Oh, for those of you who don’t know, there’s a curious militaristic tinge to the band’s appearance, Jon and Jim in grey shirts and trousers (Jon in shorts), Tim in a black suit and tie and large black coat which makes him look rather like a headmaster. Which I suppose he is. He occasionally berates the audience.
The version of Dirty Boy is magnificent, huge and world-filling, with the Eva Lema girls on backing vocals. Is This the Life? is also enormous and a fitting finish.
The Pond is by the end a huge morass of bouncing sweaty people and I’m very glad that at my advanced age I’m not in it.
Smith is very good at playing with the crowd – apart from the switch with Oceansize, there’s a moment before the encore where he walks onstage eliciting a huge cheer and then walks off the other side, then there’s the trick with The Duck…, the periods of inactivity with tapes of industrial noise playing, all sorts of tricks.
Afterwards, we try to sneak into the auditorium to get t-shirts and so forth but the pressure of bodies outwards through those tiny corridors is so great that we can’t get there. A terrible shame. I would very much have liked a t-shirt.
Ben walks with me down to Trafalgar Square and then I walk home across the downstream Hungerford Bridge.