Review: Neil Hannon & Pugwash at Royal Festival Hall
Published on November 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Having spent so long as the world’s most critically underappreciated songwriter, how nice for Neil Hannon to celebrate his 42nd birthday (a Douglas Adams fan, perchance?) with a largely solo performance in front of a packed-out and suitably adoring Royal Festival Hall. Sure there were a fair few fluffed lines and missed cues along the way, but as the man himself took great delight in reminding us at frequent intervals: it was his birthday, and he could do want he wanted to.
First up were his good friends Pugwash, fronted by Duckworth Lewis Method collaborator and fellow ELO junkie Thomas Walsh, who mistook the reams of party blowers handed out to (and sounded with relish by) the audience for kazoos. This would have been most apt for the kazoo chorus breakdown on “Answers on a Postcard”, just one of the tracks aired from their wonderful recent LP The Olympus Sound, but Messrs. Walsh, Flood, Fitzgerald and McGee required little assistance as they breezed their way with characteristic good nature through a set of sublime, sunnily disposed pop music caked in luscious harmonies. We were even treated to a rendition of DLM number “Meeting Mr Miandad”, Hanno…sorry, ‘Lewis’ darting onstage clad surreptitiously in mac and hat to lead the way from his piano.
“Everywhere we go, people know us / When we lose our way, people show us / When we break down, people tow us” – has there ever been a more charming display of gentle good humour in a pop song? Answers on a postcard, as it were.
Oh, and a word also for Tosh Flood’s hilarious ‘rocker’ stance to accompany one of the least ‘rock and roll’guitar solos you’re likely to hear. Pugwash are a gem, and they’re supporting Matt Berry & The Maypoles at the 229 in central London tonight, for anyone who reads this in time.
Then it’s Neil’s turn. Starting with the bloody spiffing “Assume the Perpendicular” from his most recent Divine Comedy album Bang Goes the Knighthood, the intimacy levels are cranked up by the aforementioned frequent mistakes – tempered by self-deprecating comments and swigs of gin (“Gin Soaked Boy”, funnily enough, does not get a run-out) – and a couple of special guest singers, Keane’s Tom Chaplin taking on “Love What You Do” and Alison Moyet turns in a fine rendition of “The Certainty of Chance”.
Various other highlights include:
* A big, lit-up 42 being wheeled onto the stage
* The seemingly out-of-time audience clapping during “Indie Disco”
* The instrumental (or, if you like, Father Ted) section of “Songs of Love” incorporating a sea of party blowers at Neil’s behest, though the audience did not manage to find the kind of melodic manipulation of their makeshift instruments that they were encouraged to
* An acoustic performance of “A Lady of a Certain Age”…
…before the stash of ridiculously oversized ‘presents’ behind him were cleared away to reveal a string quartet, with whom he embarked upon a full run-through of The Divine Comedy’s utterly astonishing 1994 LP Promenade, which in Rocksucker’s considered opinion is up there with Forever Changes in terms of a singular vision plastered across the length of an album. In this setting Promenade feels more like a suite and/or song cycle (or ciecle?) than ever before, and what breathtakingly great songs each and every one of them are.
The encore brings “National Express”, “Charmed Life” (written for his daughter Willow, who at one point wheels a birthday cake on stage), “To Die a Virgin” (Rocksucker hadn’t noticed the significance of 8th November until now) and a solo piano version of “Our Mutual Friend” (“sun ain’t gonna shine any more”).
With that, Hannon gave his thanks, told us to look out for Duckworth Lewis Method II and was off. Forget using his birthday as an excuse to do what he likes; nine (ten including DLM) astonishing studio albums to date merit the freedom of every city on earth.
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!