Pop: Whole lot of strangeness goin' on

Live; LEE HAZLEWOOD ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL LONDON

"THAT'S WHY the pop stars are here - because they've never seen him before either," a voice in the row behind explains to his female companion as a crowd including Jarvis Cocker and Bobby Gillespie await the presence of the genuinely legendary Lee Hazlewood.

Best known for his extraordinarily off-beat work with Nancy Sinatra in the Sixties, which even her father offered begrudging respect for (and begrudging respect doesn't come much higher), Hazlewood, 70 next month, has spent much of his 45-year career confounding expectations and generally behaving in a contrary manner. Back in the Fifties he created Duane Eddy's "the twang's the thang" guitar style with huge success, and was later the first to spot the talent of the ill-fated originator of country rock, Gram Parsons. But it's his solo records which have long held a place in the hearts of all who relish the downright peculiar, from possibly the first ever concept album - 1963's Trouble is a Lonely Town - to this year's re-emergence with a collection of standards, bearing the title Farmisht, Flatulence, Origami, ARF!!! and me.

That curiosity was recorded with his long-time collaborator Al Casey, a veteran session guitarist whose CV also includes the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night", and who leads Hazlewood's largely Swedish band.

Shambling on in a tatty sweatshirt and jeans, it's clear that Hazlewood's deep tones, down there with Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, are still intact. Declaring "I don't have fans, I have addicts", he kicks off with "Rider on a White Horse" and "Your Thunder and Your Lightning", minor classics of his doom-laden country-psychedelic style. Then it's into standards "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", beautifully played and sung, but hardly a smooth fit. The evening follows this course. Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" precedes his own baroque-country prison number, "Pray Them Bars Away"; "Makin' Whoopee" sits alongside the 1970s flop "Dolly Parton's Guitar". Luckily Hazlewood is a great raconteur, happily pointing out the commercial absurdity of writing a song about a "dead prostitute" when introducing the maudlin, knowingly ridiculous "Feathers".

He even reduces his best known songs to an impressively perfunctory medley, performing mere snippets of "Jackson", "Summer Wine", the subversive "Sugar Town" ("it's bubblegum time and LSD time!" he gleefully cries); the great "Some Velvet Morning"; and, of course, "These Boots are Made for Walking". Concluding with a hilarious slowed-down talkover of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On", delightfully reminiscent of Isaac Hayes, a roomful of bemused but entertained souls can only agree; his cult remains intact. What a strange man he is.

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