Graham Coxon at the Barbican

Bronwyn and myself went to the Barbican, London, on Saturday to watch Graham Coxon perform.

We both enjoyed the event. Bronwyn was excited to meet friends she had only spoken to online. Well, she’s been excited for the whole of the last week, but it’s all related!

London is big.

The weather was ok for the Friday and Saturday while we were wandering around taking in sights and sounds. We visited the National Gallery, and were handed a sheet saying a candle-lit baroque concert would be happening later, but it clashed with our previous plans.

Arrived at the Barbican. Bronwyn didn’t see any of her friends. We said we’d meet up around the bar, so that’s where we went, and sat opposite it.

We were there about five minutes when I spotted a huge amazing monstrosity of a drum-machine, Felix’s Machines. You have to see the videos of that thing!

As I stood there, Simon from Resigned (also the admin of the Graham Coxon forum) noticed me and waved to get my attention – ah, that’s where they are! We joined a group of Coxon fans.

We had two hours, so we gently infused ourselves thanks to the bar, with some opting for chips and complaining that you shouldn’t need to buy fish&chips just to get some chips (as a vegetarian, I agree wholeheartedly with this, and not just through a hatred of waste).

The show was to start at 8, so we headed down and got our seats.

Simon had thoughtfully gotten us row G (haha – G for Graham. very good. ahem…), which had a walk-space directly in front of us, meaning we could stretch our legs and walk to the toilets without stepping on people’s heads.

Bronwyn decided a new piece of policy was to be created henceforth: when purchasing tickets, people should be measured for height, and really tall people should be confined to the back of the auditorium.

The band came out and the place became loud with cheers.

The sound engineers didn’t do the best job in the world. The band played brilliantly apart from a few minor hiccups, but some of the sound problems were distracting.

When Graham spoke, it was difficult to hear. I was afraid that his singing would be the same, but when he sings, he crouches close to the microphone, and when he talks, it’s like he’s unaware the mic is there.

Some of the songs were technical, involving a lot of finger-picking. An example is Sorrow’s Army. Graham started out on that one, then Robyn Hitchcock joined in a few bars later. Robyn’s guitar, though, was louder, so it drowned out Graham’s playing. This was pointed out independently to me by Simon later on, so it wasn’t just my ears playing tricks.

There was a feedback problem later on at the beginning of one tune, which was quickly and cheerfully quelled and restarted.

One of the three female singers was very loud at points. I didn’t like that – it was like she was stealing the spotlight.

On the far left of the stage, Max Eastley was playing the Arc. At most points in the concert I couldn’t hear anything of what he was doing. Only in quiet songs with only one or two other instruments.

When the songs got loud, they got very loud. Graham was unintelligible at some points as he tried to sing above the sound of the other instruments.

Apart from these gripes (and they’re minor – Bronwyn doesn’t agree with any of the above points), I enjoyed the concert.

I think the only tune I didn’t like was the ending of Caspian Sea, where the band appeared to get stuck in a rut, repeating the same bar over and over and over.

I liked how the music was not perfectly in-tune or perfectly rhythmic, but was just a little off here and there. This gave the music a more natural and “used” feel, like an old rickety piano which is played when the pianist is surrounded by friends – you feel like he’s playing personally to you and it’s not a surgical procedure.

The concert was basically Graham’s latest album, The Spinning Top, with a few extra old songs played at the end.

One of the things I like about this album is the finger-picking. Graham has recently been trying to increase his finger-picking skills, inspired by his love of old blues and folk. His interest in Nick Drake really shines through in the singing, and Bert Jansch (of Pentangle) in the playing.

In a lot of the songs, there is not just one finger-picking “voice”, but two. This could be seen obviously at the concert where Graham was playing one finger-picking riff and Robyn was playing another, yet they meshed nicely.

Overall, I enjoyed this concert and if he does it again with another album, I’m sure we’ll be going over again.

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