“Man, I’m nervous,” admits Green Gartside, the notoriously stage shy Eighties pop star, before a faultless rendition of his perky paean to hip-hop “The Boom Boom Bap”, from 2006’s White Bread Black Beer.
Gartside, the musician who is Scritti Politti, wastefully shunned live performance for a whopping 26 years, all through his most productive and high-profile years – namely the 1980s. However, tonight in front of an intimate and adoring crowd, the once anxious musician is a relaxed, even waggish presence with plenty of in-between song patter: “Is there any sight less edifying than a middle-aged white man rapping?” he jokes. And his honey-coated vocals are as dazzling as they ever were; it’s galling that he lacked the confidence to show off his ravishing voice live for all those years.
Gartside, with his neatly trimmed beard and slim physique, looks far younger than his 56 years and nothing like he appeared at the height of his fame when, with his resplendent blond locks, he could have been mistaken for the sixth member of Duran Duran. Scritti Politti always had the look of Eighties pop stars just right and their breezy pop was definitely MTV friendly. However, delve closer and this was never an ordinary pop outfit. The band’s name, for instance, was a homage to the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci. A bit loftier than The Thompson Twins.
Scritti Politti were never that hugely popular either, even at their giddy, mid-1980s Cupid & Psyche 85 peak, but they’ve always had noteworthy champions: Paul McCartney memorably endorsed the band on Saturday Superstore, Miles Davis guested with them on “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)” and the members of Hot Chip are in the audience tonight. But what lifted Gartside’s synth-pop-funk outfit from the ordinary were his smart, somewhat impenetrable lyrics such as on the big hit “Word Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)”, where he pleads “There’s nothing I wouldn’t take/ Oh even intravenous/ There’s nothing I wouldn’t take/ To get approved/ There’s nothing I wouldn’t be/ Oh that’s the gift of schizo.” The song is a highlight tonight along with the fabulous lovers’ rock anthem “The Word Girl”.
However, there are longueurs towards the end, some rather weak dub and, on occasion, the experience strays perilously close to twee. But it’s rescued by Gartside’s sumptuous voice, his charming anecdotes and by enduring gems like “Absolute”, one of the Eighties most evocative pop tunes, and his arch and caustic “The ‘Sweetest’ Girl”. It’s good to have you back, Gartside.
The Sweetest Girl
Snow in Sun
Day Late and a Dollar Short
Jacques Derrida / Come Clean
The Boom Boom Bap
The Word Girl
Brushed with Oil, Dusted with Powder
Skank Bloc Bologna