They have come from far and wide to be here tonight. Mick Harvey was playing a solo show in Lisbon last night, only arriving in Newcastle via Manchester airport earlier this evening. His co-headliner and fellow Australian J.P. Shilo landed in the North East from Fiorano Modenese in Italy, the location of his previous appearance with Harvey last week. Steve Shelley was on stage in Berlin less than 24 hours ago playing drums with his former Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore. And as for two more Antipodeans – bass guitarist Glenn Lewis and backing singer Lyndelle-Jayne Spruyt – well, it is not immediately clear where they had arrived from for this gig but you can bet your sweet bippy it will have been somewhere much further afield than either Chillingham Road or Cullercoats on the local Metro line.
It is undeniably a foul, wet and extremely miserable Monday night on Tyneside but given the individual efforts that the musicians have made to get here on time it is still rather disappointing that only 38 people have braved the elements to come to this show, and that is only if you also include the guy on the door, the barman and the chap behind the merch stall in the total number inside the room.
But the principals don’t seem too bothered about the lack of numbers in the Cluny tonight. They clearly enjoy each other’s company; there is a relaxed, almost casual air about proceedings and they just get about their business with a minimum of fuss treating us to a long, varied and often playful exploration of alternative music’s grand design as they do so.
The evening is split into two equal parts, the first set being led by J.P. Shilo and featuring ten of the best from the Melbourne multi-instrumentalist who has served valuable musical time in Hungry Ghosts, The Black Eyed Susans and The Triffids. Here, though, he concentrates on material from his recently released second solo album, Invisible You, of which his inspired cover of Joe Meek and the Blue Men’s ‘I Hear A New World’ is an undoubted highlight.
After the interval it is then the turn of Mick Harvey to move into the spotlight – he had spent the majority of J. P. Shilo’s set happily immersed in dark shadows whilst sat behind his keyboard stage right – and take us on a meandering trip past various staging posts in his illustrious solo career. He opens with ‘October Boy’, his tribute to Rowland S. Howard his former bandmate in The Birthday Party who died prematurely almost ten years ago at the age of 50, and ends more than an hour and a dozen songs later with his second encore, ‘Out of Time Man’.
In between times, Mick Harvey plays ‘Summertime in New York’, a ragged, chaotic beast of a tune he describes as being “as close to The Birthday Party as you can get” reinforcing the point by teasing us with a couple of bars of that band’s ‘Big-Jesus-Trash-Can’. He also delivers two fine covers, Tim Buckley’s ‘The River’ and his initial encore, an inaugural solo outing for his interpretation of Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’.
But there’s no place for ‘Red Right Hand’, ‘Tupelo’ or ‘The Mercy Seat’ or any of those other truly great songs Mick Harvey co-wrote with Nick Cave during the quarter of a century that he spent with the Bad Seeds until his departure from that band ten years ago. It is almost as if that period is somehow airbrushed out of Harvey’s own personal musical history.
At a time when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have just announced details of next year’s tour of the UK and Europe where they will play in a series of sold-out 10,000 capacity arena venues, Mick Harvey is performing to a handful of people in small pubs and clubs. You sense that he has probably never been happier.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show are HERE