review archive
The Jesus and Mary Chain / The Pastels – 22nd June 2007, Royal Festival Hall
Darklands video recreated in colour pencil, 1987

The last time The Jesus and Mary Chain played The Royal Festival Hall in 1998 (for John Peel's Meltdown Festival) was the last time I saw them play. My only memory of the gig is of William ranting like a crazy street drunk, leaning out over the edge of the stage slagging off the world and his wife in a flurry of swearing. The actual gig that went beforehand is a blank. Luckily I made a note of it in my diary at the time. Not long after this swear-a-thon, the band broke down for good.

Until now! The JAMC are back!! I’ve been really excited all day, hell, all week about this return. Will it all go horribly wrong? Will the band be a sorry shadow of their former glorious, virulent noise-spitting selves? Will William still have big hair? (I know Jim now sports a sensible middle-aged crop. I still love Jim. An international ensemble of JAMC enthusiasts gathers in a spit ‘n’ sawdust Waterloo pub before-hand, savouring the anticipation…

One of many Bobby Gillespie doodles, 1987

We scurry into the RFH just in time for The Pastels. The last time The Pastels and The Jesus and Mary Chain played on the same bill was in Preston, 1985. Stephen Pastel says The JAMC didn’t really speak to his band, surly buggers. Judging by the audience heckles, certain folks here at the RFH are stuck in an ‘80s indie time-warp, a time-warp where The Pastels are synonymous with anoraks and duffle-coats, slapped with the ‘shambling’ label, playing ‘Truck Train Tractor’ and ‘Holy Moly’. Unlike the audience reliving our 80s indie-kid youth, The Pastels have moved on. These days they do things like write film soundtracks and theatre music and get remixed by To Rococo Rot and make chiming, twinkling, jazz inflected, soothing, curious, foggy tunes, mining their own seams of investigative musical oddness. Handily, The Pastels play the kind of music I want to hear; intriguing songs that take you on mini-journeys, writing stories with sound, making images flicker in your mind. The kind of music you need to pay a bit of attention to. And here we are perched on groovy revamped Robin Day seats in a newly refurbished concert hall – perfect!

Only it’s quite hard to concentrate, ‘cos everyone’s itchily to-ing and fro-ing, ferrying beers to their seats and chatting about the gigs they used to go to, rather than paying attention to the gig they’re at. It’s like trying to watch a band play on a station concourse. Still, The Pastels are great. They texture their songs with brass and a flute and have Teenage Fannies Norman and Gerry helping out on bass and guitar. (At least that’s what my squinting eyes see, we’re quite a distance from the stage.)

The first song has a gentle spaghetti western/John Barry feel, twisting across the auditorium like smoke. The second ‘Secret Music’, is soothingly loungey with Katrina singing in her fragile voice from behind her drum-kit. The next song, sung by Stephen in his deep, slightly flat voice has a ticklish, sparkling ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ quality, guitars a-twinkle. ‘Basement Scam’ rolls gleefully in a puddle of atonality, fizzing to a lovely feedbacky end. Then there’ a smudgey ‘50s late night bar of a song, with Miles D. muted brass and jazz-stippled melancholy. A wee nod to indie-pop with the irresistible Stephen/Katrina (a Glaswegian Nancy ‘n’ Lee?) duet, ‘Nothing To Be Done’. Hurrah! We sway merrily in our comfy seats. To end, The Pastels create an oceanic soundscape, then drop in that shmindie-est of indie instruments, a melodica. Perversely perfect.

JAMC Drummers Through The Ages - an illustrated guide, 1987
Happy When It Rains video - diagram, 1987 The lights go up and we peer around us. There are quite a few familiar faces here; lots of blokes of a certain age, sporting the cropped hair of the 30/40-something male whose days of back-combing and hairspray have long since passed. The lights go down, Jarvis Cocker (fot 'tis his Meltdown Fest this year) appears upon high to do a little intro speech from one of the boxes, the dry ice (dry ice! How eighties!!) is pumped out, and shadowy figures appear onstage. The audience rises to its feet as ‘Never Understand’ is cranked out. Exciting! This is swiftly followed by ‘Head On’ – my favourite ‘mid-period’ piece of Chainism. It’s sounding good and to be honest, any critical vision I might have brought to bear on proceedings has been swallowed by gleeful waves of nostalgia. ‘Happy When It Rains’ gets played and I levitate high in the RFH rafters, solid gone on that guitar solo. Look! William still has big hair (and quite a big body to match, ha ha!) .
Every so often he’ll wrangle a messy squawl from his guitar and I’ll look round thrilled and squeal ‘That was totally William-esque!’ Jim does his trade-mark insouciant mic-stand leaning and crouching down, although I do wonder if this is him being rock ‘n’ roll feral or merely just resting his weary old legs. ‘Sidewalkin’ is as poundingly evil as ever, though it’s missing the monumental stabs of tortured guitar shrieking that always use to slice through its middle (and through anything else that happened to be in the way). There’s ‘Teenage Lust’, ‘Snakedriver’, ‘Far Gone and Out’, ‘Catchfire’, but love them though I do, these songs aren’t prime JAMC to me, they came after my shut-away-in-the-teenage-bedroom phase, anything after the first three albums doesn’t have the same rock ‘n’ roll day-dream potency. This doesn’t stop me singing and dancing like a loon though. Best JAMC single ever
Mental comic thing, 1987 Several songs in, we’re starting to wonder about this apparently super-professional JAMC, what with ex-Ride-man Loz Colbert giving them the drumming of a life-time and all, are they real? Happily ‘Snakedriver’ trips itself up, with Jim barking ‘Stop!’ after a few bars. That’s more like it. ‘Just Like Honey’ may have Liela Moss from The Duke Spirit adding husky backing vocals, but it takes three goes to get itself going. Brilliantly, a few days later we’re watching BBC2’s ‘The Seven Ages Of Rock’ which features a clip of the JAMC circa 1985 bashing away until they’re brought to a messy halt by Jim barking out ‘Stop!’ Plus ca change, innit?
Oh yes, and there’s even a new song ‘All Things Must Pass’ as well as ‘Dead End Kids’ from Jim’s Freeheat days, both of which slither in and settle amongst the likes of ‘Blues From A Gun’ and ‘Some Candy Talking’ (ser-woon!) as if they’d always been there. Encores: and its time for some super old-time wonderment with first single B-side Syd-cover ‘Vegetable Man’ – a song me and my pal Loz used to gleefully sing along to, making up the words when we couldn’t hear what Jim was muttering about amidst all the clank and clatter. And then there’s ‘You Trip Me Up’, my favourite ever, ever JAMC single and the point at which my JAMC nostalgia lust is sated. However, there’s still ‘Reverence’ which comes juddering and sneering in and draws things to a nice blasphemous close. Mental comic thing again, 1987
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