Rock: Here's a reason to be cheerful: the glorious Mr Love Pants is back

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The Independent Culture
Ian Dury and the Blockheads




PJ Harvey

Bridport Arts Centre

With the news of a new album and tour by , music lovers all over Britain have been dusting off their scratched copies of New Boots and Panties!! and revelling in the memory of just how much they admired Ian Dury for gratuitously using four-letter words.

As the Dingwalls show opened with a devastating double whammy of "Wake Up and Make Love With Me" and "Clever Trevor", the affection was dripping down the walls and oozing up from between the floorboards. You couldn't quite believe it was happening (people were screaming, for goodness sake), and neither could the band. Norman Watt-Roy, having spent the interim 12-barring it with Wilco Johnson, was mouthing all the glorious lyrics along with the entire crowd. Ear- to-ear grins were the order of the evening, as the almost completely intact Blockheads thwacked out steaming helpings of what is, let's face it, jazz- funk. And why the heck not?

Because the new material on Mr Love Pants carries on so seamlessly from where the Blockheads left off 17 years ago, there was no impediment to the mood of total celebration. Recent articles on Dury have emphasised that he is suffering from cancer, but there was no hint of sadness here. Dury was stout of both stature and voice, and the funky chops and fluid load lines of the two guitarists elicited shameless mass incidents of air guitar playing.

Summer is the season for solo albums and sabbaticals. Graham Coxon releases a solo effort: the critics call it a work of genius and the public calls it a load of old four-letter words. The Wedding Present's David Gedge forms a band with his girlfriend and the world yawns. Eager to go one better, Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey not only goes extracurricular, but in doing so also collaborates with his wife Pearl (formerly of Powder) in a project called Lodger.

It's a dangerous business. For a start, you should never ignore the music business curse which falls upon all bands whose names end in -er (apart from Foreigner, of course). And if Goffey claims that he needs to spread his wings, maybe that serves as a reminder of just how insubstantial much of Supergrass's work has been. And in case you've ever wondered where BBC1 got that awful indie band for its Fame Game series, one of them has a brother in Supergrass.

It's who you know, you know, especially on the Dingwalls guest list, which ran to four and a half pages. At 8.30pm, the box-office attendant gestured towards the distant waftings of the support band, held her nose and recommended returning at 10pm.

This proved a worthwhile tip, since Lodger fully justified the use of the theme tune to Tales of the Unexpected as their intro tape. Pearl's demure Goth-chic combined and contrasted intriguingly with the dashing Neil Carlhill's unusually dynamic vocal range and slapstick cool. As Lodger laid out the diverse and witty range of songs from their debut album (Cool Breeze), you couldn't help but join co-writer Goffey, grinning in the wings, in celebrating something clever, new and different. Anyone who has enjoyed Cerys Matthews's collaboration with Space will love this. Safely accommodated chez Island Records, Lodger should certainly manage to pay the rent.

If you go down to the sea today, you might well be in for a very big surprise. The sun-worshippers of Dorset certainly were last week. Yes, those photocopied little black and white posters did say: PJ Harvey, live at Bridport Arts Centre.

What was going on was a secret warm-up show for her current string of European festival appearances, and what we got was phenomenal: over two hours' worth of panoramic material from throughout Polly's career, performed in the most intimate of settings. And while her subject-matter tends to lead people to see her as mysterious icon, here things could hardly have been more down to earth, with affectionate cries of "Bugger off, 'Arvey" and a hilarious stage-audience exchange about badgers.

With studious Beefheart/Frank Black sidekick Eric Drew Feldman at the core, not to mention absent-minded professor Robert Ellis poking at something on a stick, Harvey's band is massively inventive and supportive.

Polly herself is back with a vengeance, in fine voice, vigour and good humour. It was great to re-visit songs like "Dress", to marvel at the downbeat atmosphere of "Rope Bridge Crossing" and to be convinced that the new, Flood-produced album Is This Desire?, which continues in much the same vein as To Bring You My Love, contains songs which are, if possible, even better.

PJ Harvey: Edinburgh Jaffa Cake (0131 667 7776), 25 Aug.