Country 'n' Northern

Rock
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The Independent Culture
WHEN "Crocodile Shoes" was at Number One, Jimmy Nail appeared on Top of the Pops with Sting, "or Gordon, as I'm allowed to call him". The more famous Tynesider stood with his legs apart, and Nail asked him what he was doing. "He said, `It's the stance, man'. And I said, `Oh, aye, man, the rock-star stance'." Earlier, he'd been to see an Eric Clapton concert, at which Clapton switched guitars between - and sometimes during - songs: "I thought, Ooh, that looks cool. Of course, the difference is, he can play the bloody things."

These are just two of the stories which Nail tells us at the Hammersmith Apollo on Wednesday. Rather than turn on his smouldering hunk persona, he sticks to the clowning lunk. Both his buttoned-up suit and his guitar seem a size too small, and the maudlin "Crocodile Shoes" seems an octave too high. He strains to hit the high notes - ie. all of them - but this awkwardness only aids his emotive country 'n' Northern rendition. More importantly, he sounds like big Oz off the telly trying to sing.

More importantly, because tonight's audience is manifestly not made up of seasoned concert-goers, but those who watched Crocodile Shoes (the TV series), went on to buy "Crocodile Shoes" (the single), took sales of Crocodile Shoes (the album, on East West) close to the million mark, and would no doubt buy the appropriate spin-off footwear, were it available.

They are not expecting anything too demanding, and do not receive it. The songs from the series are here, reproduced by a bright, upbeat band that is so squarely generic that it almost topples into cabaret. Then come Nail's previous hits - "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" and "She's Lying" - a bit of rock'n'roll, a bit of Lennon ("Love"), and a bit of audience participation. "Once Upon a Time" is the closest thing to an aggressive song ("Once upon a time this was a land of plenty . . ."), and Nail precedes it by apologising for being political.

In effect, it's a mild West End revue. While Nail is really not a huge musical talent, he carries it off with unpretentious charm. But in two months' time he returns to tour the biggest indoor arenas in the UK, and it will be interesting to see if his small-screen charisma is enough to fill them.

At the London Astoria on Thursday, the security men at the front of the stage were tapping their hands on it in time to the music. One of them even sang along to the breezy, breathless hit single, "Wake Up, Boo!". Never mind the Number One album and the critical acclaim: this unheard- of level of bouncer approval is surely the sign that the Boo Radleys have made it.

After years of being nicknamed the Do Badlys by sniggering rivals, the band have killed their mockingbirds with Wake Up! (Creation), a distillation of late-period Beach Boys, Small Faces and another group, who, like the Boo Radleys, were a Liverpool four-piece. The album is cluttered with all the techniques that were revolutionary 30 years ago: multi-tracked vocals, backwards tapes, and songs which are divided into more segments than a centipede.

The Boo Radleys in concert have little chance of comparing with this. Lead singer Sice's voice is insignificant, revealing no more soul than Whigfield's, and as the band have the stage presence of a microphone stand, you might as well be a security guard with your back to the stage.

The sound, however, is perked up by a keyboard player and a trumpeter: songwriter Martin Carr is not afraid to marry cheesy disco brass with crashing, distorted guitar. Nor is he scared of that indie rarity, lyrics that have sense and meaning. The band's live show could be better, but they're doing goodly, all the same.

Blur, Elastica, Pulp. With friends like these who needs experience? Menswear didn't. They were sufficiently in with the indie crowd to attract an army of A&R men to their first gig; and they've since been on the front cover of Melody Maker and on Top of the Pops with just a single single to their name.

But are Menswear anything more than the Emperor's new clothes? After seeing them at the Camberley Agincourt on Friday, I'm rather disappointed to say that they probably are. Foppish lead singer Johnny Dean has the fringe, the pout, the chin, the moves and the red military jacket of a pop star. The voice will come in time.

Meanwhile their ham-fisted dbut, "I'll Manage Somehow" (Laurel), does not do them justice. They deliver a consistent set of brash, bouncing pop with some lip-smacking harmonies and prickly, stop-start structures. The trashy guitar of the Kinks is in there along with a gang of mod and new wave influences. Whether they have anything new up their sleeves is another matter. As yet, their music can best be described in three words: Blur, Elastica, Pulp.

Menswear: Bristol Anson Rooms, 0117 929 9008, Mon; Newcastle Riverside, 0191 261 4386, Wed; Glasgow King Tut's, 0141 221 5279, Thurs; and touring.

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