Steve Lamacq wiped tears from his eyes before he walked on-stage and recalled the “emotional three months” when it seemed the radio station he works for would never reach its tenth birthday, which was celebrated tonight, as the BBC planned 6 Music’s death.
If it sometimes feels like an entire channel has been built to replace, in elephantine form, the diversity of a typical John Peel show, its DJs do mostly share Peel’s deference to the music he played, and sense of educative mission. The slightly dull worthiness this implies also allows for dissent and genius, meaning John Lydon’s PiL headline this celebratory gig.
Beth Jeans Houghton begins in a mostly empty hall, and finishes with a speeding punk flourish. Anna Calvi is sheathed by a tight skirt, body restrained as her mouth yawns wide for “Desire” and she theatrically plucks a guitar, exploring the space between Jimmy Page and Duane Eddy. But she’s bashful between songs, not lost in them.
Graham Coxon bounds on, his good humour explained by the fine pop music from his upcoming album, A&E. “Running For Your Life” has Denim’s glam-rock thuggishness, with a chorus that skids downhill. Gruff Rhys follows, with quizzically yearning acid-pop, Cerys Matthews duetting on “Spacedust No. 2”.
This increasingly entertaining music has been made by mostly diffident people not burning with charisma, a perpetual indie fault. John Lydon cures that. Wearing what looks like Sam Spade’s battered brown anorak and peering at us through spectacles, his latest version of PiL make the night’s toughest, most inescapable sound. “This Is Not A Love Song” is remade as dark disco, sung by a man finally taking pleasure in his work, newly sober from his old self’s turmoil.
But after he has thrown out images of a cursed England lit by “the spirit of ‘68” on “Albatross”, he derides the crowd’s “sad sacks” for insufficient response. A new song praising last year’s rioters shows his sympathies remain with teenage anarchy. “Rise” then brings such tensions to life and the crowd to its feet, where they wash against the South Bank’s unusually officious security, a fan waving his walking stick like a weapon on the stairs as John Cale howls with happiness in the stalls. “Anger is an energy”, Lydon sings, waking us with it, and reminding what radios can play.