An Evening With Nigel And Clem

What follows may well be the last entry for a while. This week, I’ve begun a demanding part time job, as course leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University and accepted a commission to write a full length non-fiction book that has to be completed within two months. On top of the teaching and writing, I’ve got several other appearances lined up, including the Teenage Kicks conference on Young Adult Fiction, which should be interesting. Maybe I’ll regret it, but, at the moment, I’m thriving on getting up early and doing a lot of hard work. Is this a sign of middle age encroaching?

Before I go, a quick account of a memorable evening. Last night began with the crowded launch for my friend Nigel Pickard’s first poetry collection, Making Sense from the excellent Shoestring Press (I’m doing a Shoestring reading with Nigel at the Flying Goose Cafe in Beeston on Tuesday, March 16 at 7.30). Nigel read two poems from Making Sense and a short, new, funny poem about his recent vasectomy (‘so that’s why he was off school last week’, one of his colleagues muttured when he finished). You’d never have guessed it was Nigel’s first ever reading. He’s written a great book. Read it.

Then it was off to The Rescue Rooms to see the mighty Clem Snide. They’ve been one of my very favourite groups for four years now. Friends tease me about them. Seems you either love them or hate them. Their songs are unique: catchy, funny and bleak with wry, quirky slice of life lyrics. Some are reminiscent of Leonard Cohen or Loudon Wainwright III with added cello.

I’ve made copies of their masterpiece Your Favourite Music for several friends in the hope of persuading them along to this gig, but only Terry and Sue show up. They bring Bea, who I’ve met once before. Turns out she’s a huge fan too. Like me, she’s tracked down nearly all of their exceedingly hard to find recordings. We’ve each got one that the other hasn’t.

The venue’s far from full. As the band wander on, the five of us (Bea’s husband Marek has just made it from work), walk to the front of the club, dead centre, a few feet from the band, whose singer/songwriter Eef Barzelay begins with an acapella song about (I kid you not) David Icke.

It’s a great set, drawing from all but their first album, featuring a great version of ‘Your Favourite Music’ that incorporates ‘If You’re Going To San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)’ and concluding with a drawn out encore of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’. This last might seem odd from a band whose genre is usually described as ‘art country’ but it works, mainly because they play it incredibly straight (and well). They say they’ve got time for one more song. Someone shouts out for ‘Dairy Queen’ – I know who it is: the young fan I met in the loo who told me how he wooed his girlfriend to Your Favourite Music after seeing the band in Leeds back in ’99. I call out for early classic ‘Accident’ but Eef says they tried that the night before and it didn’t work out too well.

Bea hurries to the front of the stage and demands Eef’s attention. He bends down and talks to her. A moment later, he’s playing a perfect version of her favourite song, ‘Bread’, Two encores later, she pulls the same trick and gets him to do ‘The Dairy Queen’ (which he refused to play earlier) as the last number. I suspect Bea’s requests were helped by her being a small, Italianate beauty (didn’t I mention that before?).

The White Stripes were good a couple of weeks ago, but this was in a different league. A magic gig. I even bought a copy of my one missing Snide cd (the Beautiful EP: one of the encores was a corking cover of the Christina Aguilera song) and got Eef to sign it when I happened upon him after the show (conversation – me: drunken superlatives, him: friendly thanks and a couple of warm handshakes). By the way, stick-thin, geek and proud of it, Eef is the only frontman I’ve ever seen wearing a cardigan (blue). It seemed entirely appropriate.

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