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- Jamie T »
19/10/06, a BT phonebox, approx. 18:50 hours:_ "My phone's dead again, so can I just meet you somewhere round Kings Cross? Yeah yeah yeah, I know, it's a joke, I'll get a new one soon. The McDonald's is shut; all the lights are out... meet me outside the Scala... What? It's not hard. It's lit up with 'Scala' in massive purple letters. Okay. See you in a bit."_
This evening there's no time to get from Paddington to Hackney and halfway back again to Kings Cross. This journey is a slim triangle that covers far too much of north London to have a point. So I loiter in the traffic and noise of St Pancras for 45 minutes, arriving before the touts line the route from the underground and the bouncers have time to mark out their territory with the velvet rope.
I pace the path from the Thameslink to St Pancras a handful of times. A woman with the face and empathy of an addict hustles for cigarettes as she twirls and skips over the cracks in the pavement, not letting a lack of success close her streetlit dancehall. Crowds will stop and watch as 'City Guardians' shut it down later.
More phone calls as the queue grows. A man tries to bunk the train and his embarrassment takes offence at the hands-on security guard. Back outside the venue, a Canadian - not American, he hastens to add - unzips his purple hoodie to reveal a plea scrawled in marker ink: "I am visiting from Canada and would love to see the show tonight. If you could spare me a ticket I would really really appreciate it, and I could take off this degrading t-shirt. Thanks!" I get offered a ticket by someone bailing 'cause of sickness and point them the way of a deal which is struck up from 15 to 20 quid. As 45 minutes go, I've had longer.
After a support band who are far more likeable than they are memorable have been and gone, the main draws take the stage. What is immediately obvious is that the band, thrown together when album recordings began in early summer, have been cut a lot leaner by the months spent rolling around the country. Take away the politick and the fury, replace it with cheek and enthusiasm, and you could have an update on the live footage from The Clash film Rude Boy. It's a shame that the sound quality has to bank up on a par with Ray Gange's acting, then. Vocals down, keys up Mr Soundman.
Jamie slurs and stoops as he treads the boards, at times looking slightly taken by the adulation; shaking outstretched hands. For most his age, the trick would be in reconciling all the shadows the various genres cast - jungle MC, ratty punk, asbo scally, rockabilly troubadour, satellite town poet_ etc etc_ - into one character. But he's done that without the stage-tricks, using his own bubble to reflect each when _he_ chooses to make use of them. You get the feeling that he won't let caricature consume him in the same way it has other waifish, fresh-faced recents.
They return for the obvious encore and after ambling through acoustic versions of 'Back in the Game' and Bragg’s 'A New England', the show turns on its highest light: the sharp-shooting, Jack-the-Lad skiffle of 'Bass Guitar'. The 20-year-old grins as he gushes about how he likes this last song best because playing it makes him feel like Johnny Cash. "So let me pretend, and maybe you can pretend this is a prison, and you’re prisoners, and these are the guards…" He’s pointing to security, who are the only ones not smiling and punters are rattling their cages overhead. When I ask my plus-one later how he found the show, he'll say he took a while to get into it, but this song was the clincher.
The afterparty is dull and strangely mature. P'raps it's the Virgin connection, I don't know. It's a connection that brings other pitfalls with it, I reckon. Here have been the V Festival slots when surely Reading would be a better fit. Here come the fangirls and the ticket touts and the 28-year-old Topmen in leather and pre-ripped jeans throwing devil horns at the stage halfway through 'Alicia Keys'. No, I can’t say that I like it. I don’t like it one bit. Course, you can’t blame Jamie for any of this – him and these tunes were always too big for his bedroom – but the people that pack out the Scala tonight are too big for mine, and that’s the bone for your contention. I know it's easy to cry green eyes or 'scene points'. It’s poncey and it’s precious, but you’re a liar if you say it’s a type of envy that hasn't touched you, too.
Another grievance is that some of the songs still aren’t transmitting at the same frequencies they mark on record, or on demo. The eerie, rattling verses of 'Ike and Tina' and 'Northern Line' aren’t allowed the time to stretch and breathe before going all rush-up when the chorus hits; instead the subtlety is sunk beneath the haste and labour of keeping five people employed onstage at once. That’s not to say they aren’t still good songs in their own right, it’s more that they’re different from the ones that are now so bled into my circulation they flow through my brain at least once an hour; clattering round my skull like hijacked night buses.
_ Photgraph by Jenny Hardcore, click here for link_
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