The sweetest gig

First review from the Scritti Politti gig at the Hay Literary Festival 02-06-2006, by Karren Ablaze

The birth of Scritti Politti

Here’s a review-ette of the Clyro Court gig… somewhere in the middle of Wales, last night… it took place in a large purpose built venue at the back of a Shelock Holmes-themed hotel, the crowd seemed to be mainly literary festival attendees. They didn’t dance, but they were REALLY into it… The Double G posse, now consciously calling themselves Scritti Politti, seemed kind of edgy at first – there’d not been as much time as they would have liked to set up and soundcheck (and they like to do LONG soundchecks). I was worried about them, but when they came onstage what struck me was they LOOKED so good. Ranging personalities and styles, no uniform, but nevertheless they had definitely gelled into a group and were a pleasure to watch. Alyssa is a focal point of gorgeousness there at the front, and opposite her, Dicky looked suave, his performance dreamlike. Dave took on the role of setting up Green’s lyrics on the music stand for each song, and his manner of doing it was a performance in itself, seeming to whistle as he loped across the stage, self-assured and loving evey minute. Green’s appearance is chimeric – who is he? what is he? is he really there? But as a group, as a team, is seems that they have BECOME Scritti Politti. This show was evidence of that birth.

As usual they opened with Boom Boom Bap, Green issuing requests for the backing track to be louder between his lines (one of his trademarks by now – the ability to harangue the soundman/apologise for perceived faults in the song/order a pizza whilst giving a perfect vocal rendition). I think the next one was a Snow In Sun, and now once again I can’t give you an actual setlist so I’m going to go on impressions. The set veered between fragility and totally rockin, as they stepped from self-consciousness/fear (Green said he was terrified beforehand) to self-belief and confidence. They’re learning that it’s not about being technically perfect and having a studio-quality sound, and Green even just about managed to tolerate a buzzing noise that was there the whole time (only noticeable between songs, and only then because he kept pointing it out, before dismissing it as unimportant). Alyssa went from seeming worried to sometimes smiling… I wonder if you find yourself wishing, almost willing confidence upon them when you watch them play? Anyway they did seem to find it, from whatever source, as the set progressed through the hits (Robin Hood, Dr Abernathy, D to the O, E11th Nuts, The Road To No Regret, Come Clean, The Edge of Degradation, that Jesus one, etc, not in this order, of course).

So it was like this. And it was good. And then… Rhodri played something eerily familiar, something displaced in time… Alyssa started a gentle dubby bassline… Dicky was chopping out a reggae rhythm… and ok, Green has announced “this is The ‘Sweetest Girl'”… I don’t know how many jaws hit the floor at this point but I never thought I would witness Green peforming this song, and figured it must be the first time he ever had. Hearing it live brought out aspects of the song I had never really reckoned on before. For a start I’d hadn’t ever FELT the bassline till this moment (when listening to Scritti was literally my LIFE, in the early 80’s, I didn’t dare turn up the bass on my stereo for fear of parental oppression – my dad would turn off all the electricity in the house if he could hear my music). And I’d never heard the song as OMINOUS before. It wasn’t that anyone was adding extra ominousness to the song, but there it suddenly was – chilling. Maybe it’s an ominous bassline and I just heard them both together? Maybe it’s just me? Anyway I look forward to you cats getting to witness this at future shows – there’s going to be a UK tour in the first half of July if I heard Rhodri right, and I expect you to start taking bets on whatever other old Scritti material might come out of the closet for those.

So Scritti have just put some audience members into shock. What do they do next? Do they go easy on us and play something reassurringly familiar to calm the nerves? Do they hell. They play Mrs Hughes. I’d not heard this before, and it seems to me that Green has never come out with anything quite like this before… so psychologically dark, dreamlike and eerie, except perhaps some Early moments, something off the Peel session EP… I am astounded at his songwriting ability – usually people get older and lose their edge. At this point we should by rights be being taken out on stretchers… but it goes on. When they leave the stage after maybe an hour, an encore is demanded and they do four more songs, finishing up with The “Sweetest Girl” again! At this point Green was so in his element, like playing live was his natural state.

Afterwards he went ambassadorially out there and talked to everyone who wanted to see him, standing patiently while people sorted out their cameras and snapped him, and giving out autographs (each time he does so, he writes his name in a completely different style, and with graphics that vary just as much – bizarre). As we drove off into the mountains and the night it seemed unbelievable to have seen them play in (roughly) the place where Green used to go and hide from such attention, and even to have seen Scritti Politti at all. But I can testify to their existence, and that they are the genuine article, your actual Scritti Politti.

With love,
Karren Ablaze! xxx

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