Arts: Pop: Nice banter, shame about the songs

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THE FIRST couple of songs in Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy's set were endearingly inept. Having decided to perform all the acoustic tracks first, he sat down with his guitar and began a song to which he couldn't remember the words, inviting us to fill in the gaps by posting lyrics to his website. Finally, Gough was forced to admit "I don't know how to finish this", and came to a stuttering halt. He said he couldn't remember the title of the second song. No matter. It only lasted 20 seconds. "You still here?" he asked cheerfully after a shambolic third number.

If Gough's musical performance was uneven, he had his between-songs banter off pat. He encouraged heckling, announcing: "I'm a simple man with simple needs and a huge talent. Now cheer up and enjoy yourselves."

Oddly enough, it was the bumbling nature of Gough's live set that prompted an A&R scramble and got him a deal with XL records, home to the Prodigy. Even James Lavelle, the Mo Wax boss who prides himself on being able to spot new talent, requisitioned Gough for last year's Unkle project alongside Radiohead's Thom Yorke and The Verve's Richard Ashcroft. But Gough has always been impervious to the storm surrounding his talents. Badly Drawn Boy's moniker may denote someone a little rough around the edges, but it scandalously understates his chaotic nature.

There was a protracted silence while Gough tried to figure out how to switch on his keyboards.The audience, by now showing signs of restlessness, chattered loudly among themselves. "Stop that noise," scolded Gough, "I've a good mind to come over and tan your arses." Another silence followed as he frantically searched for his set list.

The idea that, after all these months, Gough still isn't familiar with his own material doesn't ring true. A likelier story is that he is trading on the cack-handed credentials that won him his deal in the first place. This wasn't just anti-pop, it was anti-performance. And the joke was as much on us as it was on his investors. "Are you going to laugh at everything I say?" he inquired, to more nervous titters.

Yes, it appeared, we were.

The show wasn't without its magical moments. Gough's lo-fi inventiveness came to the fore as he performed songs from his three EPs. Haphazard tinkering on keyboards and harmonica echoed the sparkling kookiness of Money Mark, though his maudlin acoustic numbers revealed a more melancholy side.

But, for some, the catastrophic nature of Gough's set proved too much. As the crowd thinned, you realised that though this performance was unique, it showed scant regard for paying punters. As a statement it was one of the best shows of the year, but musically it was by far the worst.