REAL GONE GOES OUT: Jim Bob – Dreamland Ballroom, Margate, Kent 26/4/2024

It’s a cold night in Margate. Especially cold considering it is almost May, and the (hopefully sunny) tourist season is about to get into full swing. Outside the Dreamland venue, just before doors open, a few keen gig goers make small talk about their shared past with the night’s big attraction – Mr. Jim Bob, the one time vocalist/guitarist/lyricist with the legendary Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. A man from Nottingham has seen many shows over the past couple of months, all over the UK, and considered this appearance in Margate to be unmissable. He and his partner joke about stalking with a knowing glint in their eyes – a travelling advert for true fandom. Another man – sporting a Carter USM ‘60 Something’ shirt and day-glo shoes – talks about other shows he’s seen, and fondly remembers the legendary night at Tonbridge Angel Centre in 1993. He’s clearly hoping this night will create similar memories.

Inside the venue, it’s still cold. The evening, rather disappointingly, has only sold about half as well as expected, but people certainly aren’t going to let that dampen their spirits. Taking the stage at a very early 7:45, Jim Bob – sporting a salmon pink jacket, and sunglasses on loan from The Banana Splits – takes the stage with pianist Chris T-T for a short acoustic set. Beyond the roar of a greeting, the opening number ‘Another Day At The Office’ seems to leave everyone a little indifferent, and it’s only with a rousing version of Carter USM’s ‘Is Wrestling Fixed?’ that the crowd really springs into life. In full voice, everyone latches onto a lyric they’ve been shouting for years, and memories of Jim’s ‘National Treasure’ tour come flooding back. A similar response greets the moody ‘England’. A couple of Jim’s newer tunes, ‘A Bad Day’ and the frankly excellent ‘Mrs. Fucking MacMurphy’ don’t really click with the crowd, and by the time he’s midway through the latter, most of the audience are in mid conversation. This hasn’t escaped the very vocal performer whom – by his own admission – isn’t in the greatest of moods tonight, and addresses the crowd fittingly. “I hope my music isn’t disrupting your chats”, he sneers, and frankly, who could blame him? The newer songs deserve far more respect than they’re actually given on this occasion, and it’s not even like Jim is an unknown support act here. These people have paid to see him…supposedly. On a much more positive note, Jim’s banter about King Charles and the largely forgotten extra members of Carter during the post-‘Worry Bomb’ days “being members of Idles now” reaches the crowd with the good spirits intended. …And those “later days” are well served with strong piano and vocal renditions of ‘Johnny Cash’ (seguing into Bowie’s “Heroes”) and the cult classic ‘And God Created Brixton’. Although this acoustic first set has been greeted with intermittent enthusiasm from the crowd, rather than their fullest attention, it’s still been enjoyable.

During the evening’s interval, Carter USM’s own Les “Fruitbat” Carter mingles with the crowd, chatting amiably with anyone who feels like saying hello, and it’s already expected that Jim’s full band electric set backed by The Hoodrats will be much more of a crowd pleaser. Which it is, for most people. The short, exceptionally loud man, shouting himself hoarse over a great cover of The Boomtown Rats’ ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ in order to finish his general chat clearly has other ideas. He won’t get an opportunity to spoil things any further, though, since from the moment the band launch into the opening notes of ‘Jo’s Got Papercuts’ – a highlight from 2020’s ‘Pop Up Jim Bob’ – the volume is immense. The bass is huge – distorted, even – and between that and the piano, the guitars seem unexpectedly low in the mix. Although there are a few issues with the finer points of the sound here (and going forward) it doesn’t spoil the number, and Jim and band are in great shape.

Now warmed up, Carter’s ‘Let’s Get Tattoos’ sounds great, but the full band sound ensures that it sounds a little different to its younger self – there’s more at stake here than pure nostalgia, Jim has a great band with him and they’re keen to show their muscle – and the crowd responds accordingly. An absolutely blistering “1977” arrangement for ‘Stuff The Jubilee’ offers the evening a definite highlight and an excuse for a massive audience shout along, whilst other USM favourites ‘Prince In A Pauper’s Grave’ – on this night, sounding suitably moody – ‘Do Re Me, So Far So Good’ and ‘Lean On Me (I Won’t Fall Over)’ follow suit, peppering the varied set with some very familiar treats.

It’s great to hear a few old favourites, but in some ways, they’re outshone by the set’s biggest surprise: a cover of the Dexy’s classic ‘Geno’. Even without the original’s distinctive horns and with the venue’s slightly muddy sound, this performance comes with plenty of punch, and it’s a tune that Jim clearly still loves. The man who shouted through The Boomtown Rats has now turned his attentions to unashamed “dad dancing”, and this actually represents one of the times when the whole crowd seems genuinely enthused to hear something not taken from Jim’s catalogue of Carter numbers.

The latter part of the electric set brings a lengthy version of ‘Angelstrike!’, the title cut of Jim’s solo album from 2004, before the band tease with something that sounds like a heavily distorted version of Tony Hatch’s ‘Downtown’. Then, from within the noise, the more familiar strains of ‘Prince of Wales’ emerge, allowing the band to work their musical chops on a heavy indie/glam rock hybrid. This and ‘Sebastian’ fly the flag strongly for the current album ‘Thank You For Reaching Out’, but as expected, it’s the climax of the evening that gives fans what they really want when a run of classic Carter tunes come in quick succession. There’s an opportunity to hear ‘The Only Looney Left In Town’ – a genuine classic from the opinion-dividing ‘Worry Bomb’ – as well as a rowdy ‘Music That Nobody Likes’ with a raucous, crowd pleasing round of ‘bah-bah-bah’s, and a mass sing along for ‘The Impossible Dream’, an old easy listening tune that found its way into the Carter legacy back in 1992. A short encore brings the best of both worlds when ‘Bloodsport For All’ allows the band to add a little extra muscle to a Carter favourite, and they get to stretch out on a raucous, slightly distorted ‘Touchy Feely’ in a nod to the short lived Jim’s Super Stereoworld, ensuring this night has been a well rounded celebration of Jim Bob’s musical adventures to date.

Jim has given audiences some absolutely amazing gig experiences out in the past. This evening hasn’t necessarily been up there with his finest – the final Carter shows and his own ‘National Treasure’ tour would be hard to beat on that score – and the iffy sound hasn’t always allowed the material to be heard at its best. That said, his undersold stop-off in Margate has still been fun. On the occasions where all of the different ingredients have really come together, it’s even been great, but it has definitely been far more of a show geared to the hardcore and the faithful rather than the casual fan looking to re-find a piece of their youth on a Friday night out by the sea.

Read a review of ‘Pop Up Jim Bob’ here.

April 2024