Lee Hazlewood, Royal Festival Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Never trust a man who wears sunglasses indoors: they hide a whole world of mischief.

Never trust a man who wears sunglasses indoors: they hide a whole world of mischief. Despite being best known for turning around the careers of other people - among them Duane Eddy, Gram Parsons and Nancy Sinatra - Lee Hazlewood somehow found the time to make 29 albums of his own. Among his many talents was writing songs with a darkly sexual undercurrent. On "Some Velvet Morning", his hit duet with Sinatra, he rumbled "Some velvet morning when I'm straight/ I'm going to open up your gate". Hazlewood never told Nancy what it was about; she said she'd rather not know.

Five years ago Hazlewood had all but given up on music and was living off royalty cheques. Now, however, he's enjoying a renaissance. As new generations of musicians plunder his back catalogue, he has decided to play a few gigs and show the little blighters how it's done. Perched centre-stage on a stool behind the regulation shades, our host pledges to sing us songs "from way back", adding grumpily: "If you're looking for hits you oughta be in a disco."

His songs may have gone over a few heads when they were first performed but now they send ripples of glee through the crowd. "Whole Lotta Shakin'", with its repeated semi-spoken refrain "Shake it, baby, that's right", is pure porn, while "For My Birthday" ("I want a POA or a BJ for my birthday") is delivered with wicked relish. "I really wanted to sing it for President Clinton," says Hazlewood, by way of introduction. "I wouldn't do it for our current President, 'cause it would take too damn long to explain it to him."

Perhaps most disturbing is that, aged 75 ("Did I tell you I just had a birthday?"), Hazlewood can still pull it off. The drooping porn-star moustache may be ancient history, but his singing, as worn and gravelly as the Arizona desert, has retained its licentious baritone. His laconic murmurs of "That feels good, hmmm, that feels even better" should, by rights, have us all gagging into our pints though a quick scan around the room reveals that even the stewards are fanning themselves in order to cool off.

But it's not all sauciness. Hazlewood constructs vivid tales about escaping from Hicksville and lives gone down the drain. "Toocie and the River" is a slow blues number about an opium-addicted whore - "Drove me down to her level/ Smokin' good ol' opium/ Payin' dues to the devil/ All she left me was this song" - while "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" paints a stifling picture of suburban living.

A medley during the encore grudgingly takes in the Hazlewood classics, among them "Some Velvet Morning", "Summer Wine", "These Boots Are Made for Walking" and the ode to LSD "Sugartown". "These are songs which enabled my children to attend some of the best schools in America," Hazlewood remarks with a smile. "They're called hits, God help us."

Comments