In the video for Luke Haines's new single, "Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop", a series of art-manifesto slogans flashes up on the screen. One of them reads: "I should be bigger than this". It looks like a rueful complaint. Large-scale success with his band, The Auteurs, never really arrived; and you could say that many potential fans stumbled at the first post - "The Auteurs" is a name that seems to pack the maximum possible amount of anti-pop sensibility into two words. Quite a feat when one of them is the relatively innocuous "the".
His next venture, Black Box Recorder, with John Moore and Sarah Nixey, a gifted songwriter and extraordinary singer respectively, made it to Top of the Pops. But lyrics such as "life is hard, kill yourself or get over it", however sweetly sung, couldn't exactly be said to go with the grain.
But Haines is still at it, and even if he can't help sabotaging his career through his own bloody-minded integrity, he can still pack out a venue with advertising more or less restricted to word of mouth. The Luminaire in Kilburn, north London, may not be the largest space on the circuit, but it was surprising, if heartening, to see it so stuffed with fans. I couldn't get anywhere near the stage, and every time I made a note I had to take care not to poke someone in the neck with my pencil.
Haines, now sporting a white suit and the facial hair of a late-Victorian cad, belted through a large selection of old Auteurs songs and new material, most of it unlikely to gain admirers from among those who assume the term "singer-songwriter" means a wimpy falsetto moaning about some unattainable girl or other. The line "I was born to be a monster", for example, comes from the new song "Bad Reputation"; it's about Gary Glitter. The next song is about the Mitford sisters. A cursory acquaintance with Haines could make you very worried about his politics, but what he's doing is lifting the carpet to examine the stuff that Britain sweeps under it.
You will be hard put to find a songwriter with a more penetrating and unsettling intelligence working today, except for his colleague John Moore (who joined him on stage for a few numbers, in order to accompany him on the saw. Yes, you read that correctly the first time).
What's also pleasing about Haines is that his compositions seem, if anything, to be speeding up. Most songwriters put brakes on the tempo as they get older, but another new song, "Freddie Mills is Dead" is practically three songs in one, ending in a truly galvanising punky rock-out. (Mills was the boxer who was either shot by a Kray associate or by himself, in 1965. Do keep up at the back there.) Mainstream success may not still be on the cards, but Haines isn't giving up, or going quietly.Reuse content