Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney
This low key gig at a re-vamped suburban bowling club was billed as Wreckless Eric’s return to Australia after 38 years. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but went along out of curiosity and because Wreckless Eric featured in my first ever real gig – the Be Stiff tour of 1978 at Leeds Uni (along with Jonah Lewie, Lene Lovich, Mickey Jupp and Rachel Sweet).
Eric was playing solo, with just an amplified acoustic guitar, and this suited the venue, which is literally an old bowling club that has been taken over by the local community of inner-city ageing hipsters and turned into a craft beer bar that puts on a few gigs. As he was tuning up Eric made some quip about having a meat raffle and then launched into one of his newer songs, which went down well. He then did a spiel about this being his first tour Down under in 38 years “and if it goes alright I’ll be back in another 38 …”.
It was a small and intimate venue and a few members of the 100-or so crowd started shouting out questions and anecdotes to him about his last tour. (“I saw you when you had a broken leg …” Wreckless Eric responded by saying something like: “I know some of you have come here in the hope that I will recreate your fondly-remembered yesteryear, but that’s not what I’m about …”. Having said that, he then played a few songs from his new Construction Time & Demolition album, several of which were nods to the past. One about his time in Hull (Gateway to Europe: “A crooked pub propped up the corner of the street, opposite a furniture shop called Everything But The Girl …” and some others whose title I didn’t catch with mentions of Bingo Halls and Market Stalls in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith. Some of the songs were laments, some were mocking ((“Everything is gonna be groovy, Like some happy clappy I-Phone movie”) and they went down well with a sympathetic audience. To keep the punters happy he played a few oldies such as Semaphore Signals and told anecdotes between songs, such as the one about Ian Dury being his drummer (“But I had to sack him because after his hit record everyone was coming to the gigs and looking behind me at him ..”).
After Whole Wide World he told a rambling anecdote about how Stiff Records forced him to use a completely unsuitable producer for one of his albums – something about him wearing high heels and flares. Not knowing much of his music, I have to admit I was enjoying it more for the banter between songs. Wreckless Eric has one of those slightly exaggerated cockney accents that only seem to survive among pop stars who have moved to the States. It seems he lives in upstate New York, in a small town he described as an enclave of liberal artists and musos surrounded by hostile Trump-backing rednecks. He played Renconnez Cherie and then admitted that the French in it was all wrong. “I wrote it when I was young and thought I knew everything”.
Then he apologised for playing a few more songs from his new album, but with a dig at his former Stiff label mate Elvis Costello. (“I’m not like that geezer who goes around playing the same songs over and over again. Some of you might know who I mean. The one with the glasses.”
I was thoroughly enjoying the stories, but had perhaps a few too many craft ales by this point and began to tune out from the newer Wreckless stuff. The cheeky cockney of the Be Stiff tour seemed to have morphed into an older, wiser but also somewhat cynical and bitter (sweet) artiste. Not so much Wreckless and Luckless. I was hoping for something a bit lighter but his final song was an agonising observation about living in Trump’s America, finishing in a nihilistic wash of feedback. If that had been then end of the gig it have been a downer, but he returned for an encore of three more upbeat songs, leaving the crowd satisfied, and perhaps in the mood for a return in another 38 years.
Unsurprisingly mostly in their forties/fifties, presumably fans from the Stiff Records era – but also a fair few younger inner westies. Interestingly, due to the venue there were quite a few original members of the old bowling club, retirees who seemed quite bemused by the angry young/old man on the stage.
It made me think..
Got to admire someone who never had a chart hit (OK, a Number 1 in Belgium) yet is still writing songs and touring with them