Amp Fiddler, Jazz Cafe, London <br/> Stunners International, Great Eastern Hotel, London

I'd rather be funky than a junkie
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The Independent Culture

Let us begin, shall we, with people who do believe that if someone buys a ticket to see you perform, you have an obligation to actually show up and entertain them. Joseph "Amp" Fiddler is a funk keyboardist whose looks belie his age. With his Kramer-from-Seinfeld quiffro and goatee, he doesn't look a day over 30, but his track record includes Seventies spells as a member of Parliament/Funkadelic. His remarkable state of preservation suggests that one or the other - his age or his CV - must be a lie, until he takes off his shades, and the kindly crinkles around his eyes convince you that maybe he has been around that long. Some people are just born with lucky genes.

Let us begin, shall we, with people who do believe that if someone buys a ticket to see you perform, you have an obligation to actually show up and entertain them. Joseph "Amp" Fiddler is a funk keyboardist whose looks belie his age. With his Kramer-from-Seinfeld quiffro and goatee, he doesn't look a day over 30, but his track record includes Seventies spells as a member of Parliament/Funkadelic. His remarkable state of preservation suggests that one or the other - his age or his CV - must be a lie, until he takes off his shades, and the kindly crinkles around his eyes convince you that maybe he has been around that long. Some people are just born with lucky genes.

The claims made for his latest album, Waltz of a Ghetto Fly, have been somewhat outlandish, perhaps partly due to his avant garde-sounding name (you expect someone called Amp Fiddler to be making unlistenable post-rock for a bunch of speccy Mr Potato Heads at Camber Sands). This isn't groundbreaking, this isn't taking funk to the next level (as veteran keysmen go, David Axelrod's your man for that), and there's nothing here that George Benson or Roy Ayers wouldn't understand. This is jazz-funk, pure and simple, and Amp acknowledges his debt to the former with a snatch of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", and the latter with a steal from Stevie's "Superstition".

He plays, as do his band, with a level of musicianship which surpasseth all understanding, particularly to the eye and ears of someone who spends most of their time watching indie-rock. I'm not here by choice - Amp is one of the few artists to be performing in the graveyard fortnight at the start of the year - but I'm glad I was lured out of my usual waters.

There's something grimly fascinating about the facial expressions of jazz-funk musicians when they're getting into their groove. Amp Fiddler's drummer pops his head like a pigeon. His bassist (and brother) Bubz stares downwards with the solemnity of someone who's just been informed he's lost a son. His keyboardist stares intently ahead, as though she's solving ineffably complex equations (and, this being jazz-funk, she arguably is). Amp himself has the satiated smile of someone who's receiving the finest fellatio in the history of mankind beneath his keyboard. (He isn't. I checked.) He is, of course, so cool that council gritters need to be scrambled every time he comes into town. I attempt to join in the spirit of boho cool by sparking up a cigarette, but a photocopied sign on the wall informs me that "This Is A Non-Smoking Event!!" Welcome to Camden, California.

Amp Fiddler is a genial, likeable character, albeit one given to mug-of-cocoa sentiments like "I believe we can save the world" and exhortations to feel the "vibrations" between us. He introduces has band members in song form, which is impressive. And he can dance. All in all, worth £20 if you like that sort of thing. And at least he turned up. Consider, if you will, the hundreds of people who forked out £15 on New Year's Day to see someone who didn't. Indeed, some of the partygoers at Stunners International, an occasional Hoxtonite knees-up at the super-chic Great Eastern Hotel, had stumped up £265 for a package including a room, and some had come from as far away as Japan.

The reason? Pete Doherty, sometime Babyshamble and former Libertine, had been booked to headline. Now, you might raise a weary eyebrow and put this down to serves-them-right misadventure, particularly in the light of Babyshambles' December no-show at the Astoria, which saw security guards keeping angry kids at bay by using electrical cables as lashes, making Doherty's words, "did you see the stylish kids in the riot?" ("Time For Heroes", The Libertines) somewhat prophetic.

At half past eight, the signs are already bad. I can see from the haunted looks on the organisers' faces that they're mentally rewriting the showbiz mantra to read "Never work with children, animals or junkies". For me, fortunately, there's a fairly decent Pizza Express round the corner. When I return, somebody called The Cazals - Bethnal Green blokes with Bobby Gillespie/Dolf de Datsun hair - are onstage. It's depressing to realise that London is still churning out rubbish garage rock revivalists, four years after the last upsurge, so I decamp to the Inner Sanctum, where Erol Alkan (Trash) and Richard Norris (The Grid) are spinning mellow psychedelia under the banner "Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve".

Back in the main room, the girls in puffballs, leggings and pointy Eighties footwear, and boys who still haven't moved on from Casablancas, wait patiently. After all, the fact that Doherty turned up to four different New Year's Eve shows the previous night bodes well for his sense of professionalism, as does the fact that he was supposedly spotted in the hotel earlier in the day.

At around 1am, with still no sign of the main attraction, Simon Bookish wishes us a happy new year, and somebody throws something at him. The cups, wisely, are paper. A brightly-dressed, flamboyant God-help-us-if-there's-a-war type, Bookish probably deserves better. His style, declaiming wordy lyrics (he used to be a librarian, hence the name) over jumpy laptop backing tracks, recalls The Normal or Silicon Teens, and his single "Portrait of the Artist" was hailed by none other than Franz Ferdinand. He just happened to be caught in the firing line.

At 1.10pm I'm told that a definitive yes/no announcement about Doherty will be made in 10 minutes. It never is. People drift away (maybe these kids are too stylish to riot), although one girl does destroy a valuable artwork, albeit by accident. One hopes they won't get fooled again.

Babyshambles will allegedly be playing Brixton Academy on 22 February. It would be a neat trick if everyone who bought a ticket failed to show up, leaving Doherty and his cronies to play to an empty hall. Pass it on.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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