sat 25/06/2022

Jonathan Richman, Amersham Arms | reviews, news & interviews

Jonathan Richman, Amersham Arms

Jonathan Richman, Amersham Arms

The rock'n'roll one-off brings that summer feeling to New Cross

In 1985 I travelled to Madrid to interview Jonathan Richman. Two questions into our perfectly amicable chat, proceedings assumed pear-shaped proportions. The eccentric musician behind the proto-punk hit "Roadrunner" announced that he did not want to speak any more so that he could preserve his voice for the gig that night. The rest of the interview was conducted by pen on a piece of scrap cardboard.

Last night's show in a tiny bar in New Cross – part of a typically quirky mini-tour of intimate venues – briefly looked in danger of ending early too. Or not starting at all. Richman and drummer Tommy Larkins strolled on only for the power to be off. A gentle panic ensued and after a well-received acoustic number Richman disappeared. Luckily someone put a shilling in the meter and the gig started. For the next 80 minutes the packed crowd was treated to some of the purest, most innocently enjoyable rock music heard in London this year. And also some of the sweatiest. A quarter of a century on, he still worries about getting his sound just right and had the air conditioning turned off because he didn't want his voice backed by "a leaf blower".

There is a new album in the pipeline and the latest songs are as endearingly accessible as ever. Richman explained that the title track, "O Moon, Queen of the Night on Earth", came to him while he was building a bread oven and could see no light but the Moon. The trim 59-year-old has been recording for nearly 40 years and the nearest he has got to mainstream fame recently is appearing as a wandering Greek chorus in There’s Something About Mary, but he still retains an undiminished romantic streak so wide you can probably see it from outer space.

'He sadly drew the line at performing "I'm a Little Dinosaur", which tends to involve him on all fours and waggling his bottom'

Despite not wanting "to be a prisoner of the past", Richman happily lobbed in plenty of familiar tunes, including 1977’s oddball smash "Egyptian Reggae". But when he did do a classic he kept things fresh by messing with it. The gloriously yearning "That Summer Feeling" had a looser feel, while "Pablo Picasso" – famous for the refrain "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole"  – was positively belted out. "No One Was Like Vermeer" and a chanson-like croon about Matisse continued the painterly theme. Another song brilliantly paid homage to riff artist Keith Richards: "See him over to the right when he's playing guitar with them Rolling Stones/ Been standing over to the right since the days of Brian Jones".

There was a beautiful spontaneity, with Spanish and French lyrics slipped in and Richman at one point responding to requests with an excited rendition of "I was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar". Talking of throwing shapes, a thesis could be written about Richman's moves. I cannot see him being invited onto Strictly Come Dancing, but he certainly shimmies with confidence, shaking his booty and at one point arcing his leg shoulder-high into the air. He sadly drew the line at performing "I'm a Little Dinosaur", which tends to involve him on all fours and waggling his bottom.

As the show reached its end he announced that instead of hiding behind an amp then returning for an encore he would stay on and skip the theatrical pretence. Yet he still returned for another number, clearly touched by the affection of the audience. Richman may never be a pop star again, but he will always be one of music’s most distinctive talents.

Watch Jonathan Richman perform "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar":

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