Robyn Hitchcock is one of those artists whom, for many, will have a name that’s more familiar than the music he’s recorded. Often billed as the “musician’s musician”, the one time Soft Boys frontman has many famous fans, including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. This evening, he’s appearing at the very intimate Ramsgate Music Hall on the Kent coast. He’s attracted a crowd ranging from devoted fans to the merely curious. We’ve arrived with no real expectations, but the opportunity to see such a cult figure up close isn’t one to be missed.
During the first half of 2018, it has felt as if Real Gone has been a semi-permanent resident at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. We’ve seen fantastic gigs by The Wonder Stuff and Carter USM’s Jim Bob; an enjoyable and nostalgic performance from Skid Row; a solid offering from Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and a woeful car-crash from 80s melodic rock legends Night Ranger. Tonight, it’s the turn of The Bluetones – a fantastic band with strong ties to the days of Britpop.
First, though, we’re at The Defector’s Weld for a pre-gig drink with other fans. The pub’s wooden floor and fishy aroma gives the place a more traditional feel than the more popular nearby Brewdog (a venue with overpriced beer, an inconvenient lack of tables and an offensively smelly barman). It’s the perfect place for a gathering and a wonderful hour is spent. A new friendship is formed and other acquaintances made; so good to put faces to familiar Twitter handles.
We live in an age where music feels ever more disposable. Bands no longer have the luxury of multi-album contracts to hone their style and with streaming services all the rage, “the album as an art form” is dying. The very idea that Shonen Knife have endured for decades is fascinating. Since the release of their debut album back in the 80s, countless bands have formed, recorded, toured, disbanded…but the Japanese pop-punk/bubblegum power pop band have genuinely gone the distance. They’ve had line up changes – aside from ZZ Top, who hasn’t? – but they’re still with us and on the basis of tonight’s show in Ramsgate, they’re better than ever.
Perhaps part of the appeal of tonight’s show lies with the venue itself. With a capacity of under 150, the Ramsgate Music Hall is the very definition of intimate and it allows an opportunity to witness bands up close. Really, really up close. When Shonen Knife take the stage, there’s immediately a feeling that tonight will be special.
It’s sometime after 10.20pm and the downstairs of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire is completely rammed. There’s barely any room to move. It didn’t seem this busy when Carter USM‘s Jim Bob played his brilliant sold out show here just a week earlier, but that’s probably due to more people being in the balcony. The majority of people may be downstairs for this second London double headliner between The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin tonight, but that has the effect of adding plenty of atmosphere. Whatever the crowd logistics, it’s impressive the Stourbridge lads can still pull such a huge crowd on their second night in such a large venue.
t’s been an uneven experience at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight. Both Toseland and Bad Touch have offered enjoyable support slots, even if hampered a little by bad sound. Toseland, in particular, have shown they really know how to fill a half hour effectively, with frontman James Toseland coming across very jovially. He’s so likeable that it doesn’t matter or not whether you’re familiar with the material, you’ll have a good time regardless. The evening’s first credited headliner, Night Ranger, were largely awful: not so much classic Night Ranger of old as the Jack Blades Show with support from Kelly Keagy. Their set was ruined further by the worst sound we’ve encountered at a large venue for a number of years…if not ever.