The Buggles, Supperclub, London
Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band, Duke of York's Cinema, Brighton
The Buggles always were ahead of their time: it's just a shame their guests aren't quite so timeless
Sunday 03 October 2010
Lying on the grass of the school grounds in 1979, intently tuning into the Top 40 rundown, I first encountered the sound that would define the New Pop of the 1980s.
There was always something ghostly and out of time about "Video Killed the Radio Star", and there are multiple added layers of irony to a band whose greatest hit was a song about the poignancy of hearing a now-forgotten star from three decades earlier making his own comeback 30 years down the line.
This one-off show is sold as the Buggles' first-ever concert, even though they played a couple of songs as part of Trevor Horn's Prince's Trust tribute concert at Wembley in 2004. The Buggles disintegrated before they could do such traditional rock'n'roll things as touring. Horn and Geoff Downes briefly joined Yes, and Downes stayed on in Yes offshoot Asia, while Horn became the production genius of the age. Think that's hyperbole? Compare the versions of ABC's "Tears Are Not Enough" with and without his fairy-dust touch; cower before the 10-megaton thunder of Frankie's "Two Tribes".
The pair have reunited for charity, which only partly excuses the £110-£300 ticket price. The allegedly classy Supperclub will be better known to gig-goers of a certain vintage as Subterrania, the soulless chrome cavern slung under the Westway. But for all the posturing on its comically high-concept website, all Supperclub has really done is spray everything white.
So here I am, waiting to experience that spooked, pristine song in the flesh. It's thrown in surprisingly early by the satin-suited duo, second in a set which begins with side one of debut album The Age of Plastic, played in order, and accompanied by films generally involving old footage of things that once, like the songs, felt impossibly futuristic. Then again, minor hits such as "Clean Clean" and "Elstree" sound radiantly relevant now, and I overhear Andy McCluskey of OMD (tonight's support act) having a wry chuckle about albums being considered classics now that were slaughtered upon release.
Trevor Horn, perhaps accepting he isn't a stellar presence, has arranged a number of star guests. First is Lol Creme of 10cc, whose baroque pop was evidently a Buggles influence, wheeled on for "Rubber Bullets" and "I'm Not in Love". He's followed by Alison Moyet for a cracking rendition of Grace Jones's (Horn-produced) "Slave to the Rhythm", a folksy version of Yazoo's "Only You" and a bossa nova take on "Don't Go". So far, so good. Then it all goes horribly wrong.
Trevor's old mate Richard "Rocky Horror" O'Brien bounds irrelevantly on for "There's a Light" and the bloody "Timewarp". The Horn Family Karaoke Show continues as Gary Barlow hops on for a murderous "Hard to Handle". The night is almost salvaged by a crafty cover of will.i.am's cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star", with Horn rapping through a vocoder, but they then ruin it by playing the song as the big finale with a tone-deaf competition winner on lead vocals. The damage is done: we can't rewind, we've gone too far.
"It's good to see so many faces in a picture house," says the Oscar-winner in front of the silver screen, "and to be down here, not back there."
Tim Robbins is a hard man to dislike. Hollywood-Democrat royalty who runs theatre workshops in prisons, he's one of the good guys. Which is why, when he decides he wants to be a country-blues singer, he's welcomed warmly in the 100-year-old Duke of York's cinema. The players in his Gallery of Rogues, using Aristocats-esque instruments (mandolin, accordion, double bass, penny whistle) reel out lilting, rolling waltzes, while Robbins makes plain his love of Dylan, Earle, Springsteen, Cohen, Cash and Reed.
Robbins' lyrical themes reflect his politics: traumatised Iraq vets, Virginia mining disasters and the like. He's careful to pepper the set with covers: Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", Tom Waits' "All the World Is Green", Warren Zevon's "Don't Let Us Get Sick", Billie Holiday's "What a Little Moonlight Can Do". It's all likeable enough: if you happened upon Tim and his band unawares at a folk festival, you'd smile benignly.
Taking the Gallery of Rogues on the road would, surely, be financially unsustainable without the wealth from Robbins' day job. Maybe it's merely a way for him to escape his daily life, like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, picking away at his cell wall with that hammer.
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