First Night: Jamie T, Rock City, Nottingham
Faithful followers rewarded with a rousing return to the stage
Wednesday 20 January 2010
Britain has waited a long time for Jamie T to rise from his sickbed. Laryngitis forced this tour's postponement last autumn, just as Jamie (original surname Treays) finally presented his second, stubbornly honed, Top 10 album Kings & Queens, two years after his debut, Panic Prevention. The happy clamour for Treays at last year's Reading Festival shows how loved he's been, since "Calm Down Dearest" and "Sheila" became anthems of the legless classes. This first night back, far north of where London acts normally prosper, shows how nationally treasured his raw home truths are.
It's been tempting to call Treays and Lily Allen crowned heads of their post-Britpop generation. Both look back to antagonistic late 1970s figures – The Jam, The Specials, The Clash – as guides for their seemingly careless unspooling observations. But Treays, especially, filters his immediate world through wide-eyed, often pie-eyed personal observation. He's not the spokesman for his generation; merely the Gonzo diarist of his Wimbledon and London West End milieu. Hip-hop honed precision and rhythm of language and unforced, infectious pop music have cracked a wider world. More searching themes may develop. But for now, Jamie T skims London's vomit-spattered, seething surface with cheek and poise.
He is an open-mouthed, anonymous member of his punk-inclined band, a student, not replacement, of Strummer and Jones. You can hear the latter's ominous bass on "368" – a figure referring to calamitous levels of alcohol – but Treays has no special charisma, even of Jones's weak masculine kind. His intense, literate ordinariness, which he invites the crowd into, is his pop passport. Fans fervently raise their open hands, not punching but grasping the Kings & Queens songs they're now word-perfect in.
The buzz of scattered, laddish singing is more forceful than Treays. "Back in the Game", on acoustic guitar, is greeted like one of Oasis's old national anthems, despised in every metropolitan soiree, but a heart-held classic in all other homes. "That money that you said was just a loan..." he half-sings, burying us in daily, dodgy transactions. He dedicates the song to Thin Lizzy, and his splicing of classic rock sources and youthful, grimy street-sounds is striking.
"Concrete and rubble, all we've got to keep us together," is Treays's added, solid bond on "The Spider's Web". The song's sly references to hip Americana fans as he essays slow bluegrass picking from London's deep south, alongside Gaza Strip kids raining stones on his window, looking not to overthrow Israel, but wake the lazy Wimbledon kid, combines interest and ignorance of the socio-political world which absorbed his heroes, The Clash. He speaks to a younger constituency, to whom politics isn't obvious, if it's mentioned at all. Injustice and exclusion, though, are constant truths, and Treays's boisterous narratives grasp both.
It's his fans' conviction in him, not anything in Treays' own performance, which makes this a fine first night. When he encores with "Sheila", he short-circuits every Daily Mail and David Cameron jeremiad about broken Britain. The song is observationally spot-on and emotionally splendid, about the sort of girl whose best mate is "Stella, it gets poured all over her fella". Treays knows this character when the CCTV footage of her vomiting infamy has been replaced by female strength back at home.
What he lacks in generation-grabbing force, is compensated for in sympathetic observation. He is too much the everyman to lead pop music anywhere. But in his egoless truth, he has roused faithful followers.
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