The Waterfront, Norwich.
It’s difficult to think of another singer whose voice has neither matured or declined with age, but has remained exactly the same for the last thirty years or so, but if you were to pursue such an arcane pursuit ( this is TheAfterword, after all) Justin Currie would undoubtedly come top of the list. His delivery remains an earthy, soulful croon, able to swoop into a falsetto as the occasion demands before landing back on earth and dragging you with it.
His songwriting scope is not inexhaustible – essentially, boy meets girl, boy is unable to avoid fucking things up, boy reflects that he’s fucked things up again – but Currie’s skill in putting together these saloon bar-opera vignettes (this is, after all, the man who reduced master lyricists Chris Difford to tears during a BBC Songwriter’s Circle) is such that he can get a room full of people singing lustily along to an unashamed tale of misanthropy without any cajoling on his part at all. “Don’t be bullied into changing your behaviour by the performer” he instructs us (paradoxically) at one point. “If I ask if you’re having a good time, I want to hear silence”. When his three piece band leaves the stage to him so he can perform a couple of solo numbers he seems cheered. “On my own, just the way I like it” he quips. An audience member responds with a quip. “If you could all just fuck off too, that’d be great. I’ve got your money” Justin replies. It’s not even close to being a joke.
The band itself are a sturdy supporting cast – none too showy, but on the del Amitri reimaginings the guitar player throws in some aposite jazzy licks, and references the original power chords and riffs just enough to keep the original feel intact. He is, we decide, in his day job, a guitar tutor. The bass player, by using the same application of logic and deduction, would appear have been offered the job as he was the last man standing after a particularly brutal Glasgow bar fight. Rising tears – and they were frequent – at the delivery of another Currietal tale of tragedy and betrayal could generally be swiftly quelled by a glance to stage left and imaging being asked just what you were looking at, laddie? Not always though. Reader, I wept.
Emphatically not a laurel-resting exercise, although you’d forgive the inclusion of Always the Last to Know, Be My Downfall, Driving With the Brakes On and Move Away, Jimmy Blue in anyone’s Greatest Hits set, Currie concludes the set before the early, Hepworthian, curfew of ten o’clock – “There’s a disco later. It’s not a club, you don’t have to be a member, it’s a fucking disco” – with No, Surrender – possibly the most Nihilist lyric ever committed to hard drive. He pulls off the almost impossible trick of giving you hope for the future while comitantly denying that there actually is any.
I’ve loved Justin Currie’s songwriting and performance for years now, he’s soundtracked too many events in my life for me to pull out of the cupboard of my soul all at once and maintain my English stiff upper lip. I try and stay above it, but he is my downfall once again tonight.
It made me think..
I can only imaginge the opprobrium if I called him the best songwriter treading the boards in Britain right now to his face.