The global pandemic of 2020 knocked everyone and everything for six. People found themselves working from home and only meeting their friends virtually across a connected network of webcams. Businesses closed – both temporarily and permanently – and some places became ghost towns. Seaside tourist industries suffered; restaurants and pubs wondered if we’d truly reached the end times, and the entertainment industry ground to a halt with gigs being endlessly postponed. For James Robert Morrison, this seemingly endless landscape of bleakness became something of an inspiration. As man who’d always centred his work around social commentary, current affairs and the state of things in his immediate surroundings, the seemingly broken world and the online anger and self-entitlement surrounding it resulted in a huge burst of creativity.
‘Pop Up Jim Bob’ comes seven years after Jim Bob’s previous studio album, but in that time he’s been doing anything but resting. There have been Carter USM reunion gigs; two massive and critically acclaimed solo tours and, as J.B. Morrison, he’s written award-nominated novels. You can say what you like about this man, but you could never accuse him of being lazy. Compared to his Carter days, Jim’s solo work has sometimes been overlooked, but as those who were present at any of his “National Treasure” shows – or have been lucky enough to catch him at other times with pianist Chris-TT – will attest, he’s lost none of his lyrical bite. Those still paying attention after 1997 have known the pleasures of Jim’s sweary cookery teacher (‘Mrs. Fucking MacMurphy Teaches Food Technology’), Ray Davies-esque romances transplanted to the inner city with added heroin for the heroine (‘In The Future All This Will Be Yours’) and supermarket unrest (‘The Tesco Riots’, a number that melds a very Carter USM-ish lyric with the kind of bluesy arrangement you wouldn’t have found within a hundred miles of his previous band’s albums). With most of his best work carrying a strong narrative, Jim has continued to be one of the UK’s most distinctive songwriters, regardless of any musical differences.
…And so, Real Gone reaches the inevitable end of The Great 80s Project, but what an amazing year for music! The charts didn’t always reflect the interesting things going on, but in terms of albums, it’s a year full of wonder.
“Not a day without a murder / Not a week without a bomb” proclaims Jim Bob, somewhere near the peak of his new single. A burst of punk rock anger shows the one-time Carter USM frontman in a particularly angry mood. …And rightly so, since the world seemed to be falling apart as we all hurtled into the new year, unaware that things were in fact about to get worse.
It’s the middle of December and there’s a conflicting mood in the air. People are gearing up for Christmas so there’s a bustling feel to the city, yet at the same time, it’s the night after a General Election so any excitement is contrasted by the dread of another five years with a Conservative government increasing austerity measures and generally widening an already massive divide between rich and poor.
Taking his place at the mic stand on a sparsely decorated stage, the legendary Jim Bob seems aware of this mood. “I feel like I should say something…profound” he tells the audience, before even playing a note. Quite how profound a man could be while wearing a gold sparkly jacket and sunglasses on loan from The Banana Splits is anyone’s guess. “…Or we could have a sing-song”, he beams, before launching into a stripped down version of Carter’s ‘Is Wrestling Fixed?’, its opening lines greeted with a huge roar. It’s a great performance, but drawing more heavily from the whimsical than the energetic, its a less-than-obvious opener. Nevertheless, the front half of the audience is hugely receptive and even in the bar areas nearer to the back of the venue, bellowing voices are more than evident. Digging further into the Carter back catalogue, the fantastic Billy’s Smart Circus whips up the audience further into a shouting mass – this first dip into the fan favourite ’30 Something’ album boding well for the rest of the set.