Last week I read a piece (can’t remember where) on Paul Simon’s Bloomsbury Theatre show, where the journalist quipped that the only people in the audience with hair were women. Well, it was a bit like that down Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Friday night as the capital’s not-as-young-as-they-were fans turned out to see ex-Aztec Camera mainman Roddy Frame do a solo acoustic show. And if the thinning locks weren’t enough to prove the 'older' point, further evidence was the complete absence of that other modern gig staple – rows of upraised camera phones, all ready to take blurry photos of their owners’ heroes.
Roddy Frame, on the other hand is looking in better shape than most of his fans. He's still slender of frame, and (from where I was anyway) smooth of skin, and he’s even proving he’s still got some hair by growing it longer, but unfortunately ending up with a rather dodgy hairstyle. If he was a lot more famous, the gossip mags would have a field day.
But thankfully his looks aren’t really on the agenda tonight as he cranks out the favourites, old and new. The gig is ostensibly to promote his new album Western Skies, but in the end, only four tracks from that record (out of 22 in total) are given an airing. Not that the crowd seems to mind. Towards the end of the main set, he plays song after song from the Aztec Camera back catalogue. I'm not sure if this was planned or if he was just responding to the increasingly enraptured audience, singing along heartily. Whatever the case, it was quite brilliant, even if I felt a bit like a slightly awkward guest at someone else’s party.
You see, I wasn’t really around for these great hits. I’m no spring chicken either, but when their classic High Land Hard Rain was released in 1983, I was a wee kid at primary school, probably just coming to realise who Boy George was. Sure, I heard the classic 'Camera hits like Somewhere in My Heart, and the less classic like Good Morning Britain, but I never really gave them much listening time. I got into Roddy Frame, as er, Roddy Frame, and specifically on his Surf album from 2002.
Surf is one of these albums that given a little time, grows on you like a rash, and you'll soon(well I did) come to realise that it’s a masterclass in the one-man-and-his-acoustic guitar genre. Roddy may be unaccompanied, but the melodies still soar as they always did, and the tunes work their way into your subconscious where they stay stubbornly, until you realise that they are all guitar pop classics.
Thankfully, there are a good few of these played at the gig, as well as a few from his first solo album The North Star. It’s all great. His guitar playing is top-notch, and on occasions mesmerising. The aforementioned melodies soar to the roof of the Empire. And he has a nice line in between-song banter, leaving me sort of wishing he didn’t seem to be in such a rush to play quite as many songs. The 'vegetarian drummer story' and the 'Glasweigans with swords' stories were particularly amusing, though there just isn’t the time to go into them just now.
The new album is pretty fine too, and like Surf, is a bit of a grower. And the title track stands out as a pretty glorious thing. He first did it as a sorta ambient dance track with Rob da Bank side project Lazyboy, back in 2004. The version on the album is stripped back and slightly jazzy. The gig version is even more stripped down, with a bluesy harmonica, and it's quite sublime. On this kind of form he could have played all night. And then the fans would have had a good few irate babysitters. For me, there’s the warm glow of experiencing one of Scotland’s finest songwriters in action, and the amusing comfort, that after going to see the likes of Be Your Own Pet, I’m not really that old!
Discover Roddy Frame...
From Western Skies (buy it from Amazon)
I posted Western Skies on Monday
From Surf (buy it from Amazon)
From The North Star (buy it from Amazon)
I have a couple more photos on Flickr.