A first proper album in 21 years, deserves a proper tour and so EP’s Matt Catchpole (Words) and Sam Wells (Pictures) find themselves in the bowels of London’s 100 Club to witness the live return of Babybird.
Stephen Jones and his accomplices shuffle onto the famous stage and we’re barely a song in before the banter kicks off.
Grateful the place is full, despite “no publicity”, the frontman is nonetheless perplexed that not everybody’s got to their feet.
“I see there are some people sat down, are you disabled?’ Jones inquires in his Sheffield burr.
“I really said I wouldn’t talk tonight,” he apologises. “I like singing, I don’t like talking.”
Well you could have fooled us, because tonight is all about audience engagement.
If All Men Are Evil is dedicated to “Mein Fuhrer, Morrissey,” Jones going on to recount a bizarre encounter with the Pope of Mope.
“I was stood behind Morrissey and a male partner in a pet shop and he bought 600lb of bird seed – that’s a true story, I swear.
“Johnny Marr hangs around a similar area and he wears very tight, sparkly shorts – that’s The Smiths for you in a couple of seconds.”
Next Jones goes on to imply the tour is being sponsored by Aldi – “how the fuck do you get four birds into a roast?” he ponders, before launching into a beefed up version of Cornershop.
The excellent Drug Time – “You can dance to this – I wouldn’t – but you can,” gets the crowd moving, before Jones takes a brief foray in politics and current affairs.
“Is anyone here Scottish? You’ve had Sturgeon, you’ve had Salmond, what’s next?” he asks, with genuine bewilderment.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Tories also get a slating as the night wears on and I’ll leave you to guess which song prompted a reference to Prince Andrew.
“I killed myself once,” Jones remarks by way of intro to Failed Suicide Club, before the charming If You’ll Be Mine.
Rather than showcase material from new album Photosynthesis – the set list features a career retrospective of the band’s best loved songs.
Not a bad move when you’ve also got a compilation album Happy, Stupid Nothing to promote in the run up to Christmas.
“Johnny played guitar on this – he’s on the wall over there,” Jones says, nodding to a snap of Johnny Depp with Alice Cooper in the Hollywood Vampires.
As Jones explains in a recent EP interview, Depp a long-time fan and ally, did indeed perform on Unloveable, also directing the video and helping to finance the Ex-Maniac album.
Jones follows up with an anecdote about performing The F-Word “on the National Lottery with Lulu – that’s not a joke either!”.
There’s a great version of In The Place of Love, before Jones briefly puts on his salesman’s hat
“A lot of people think I stopped in 1996, but go on Bandcamp,” he says. “No not Mein Kampf,” he scolds ,“My website.”
“Sing along you Cockney cunts!,” he urges, before announcing he’s beginning to flag and in need of a brandy.
Duly refreshed, courtesy of a devoted acolyte in the crowd, he then turns his attention to some of the more hirsute members of the audience,
“There are quite a lot people with beards in, like you sir, Jeff Bridges?” he says, pointing to someone down the front “…and you madam.”
Out Of Sight and Eyes In The Back Of My Head get a well-deserved airing – before Bad Old Man – one of Jones’ more serious and affecting songs.
“Number 31 in the top 40 with the word Paedophile,” he says proudly, “Are you still having a good time despite the lyrical content?”
Described variously as a millstone and a demon in interviews, the band’s biggest hit You’re Gorgeous is quite deliberately and ruthlessly murdered in the encore.
“This is the worst version of You’re Gorgeous you’re ever gonna see,” Jones says proudly. “It was shit when it first came out and this is even fucking worse.”
Another hit Goodnight is more faithfully rendered, before a moving singalong version of Take Me Back.
“This was written before my kids were born, but it’s about all children everywhere,” Jones says, before taking a final bow.
After a recent heart scare, it’s a pleasure to see him on such fine form.
“I apologise if I demean our songs with my between-song banter,” he remarks at one point, but, as he’s no doubt aware, the opposite is true.
It’s a long time since I’ve seen a performer actually make the effort to entertain and amuse, rather than earnestly delivering their songs, eyes firmly fixed on the floor.
At times the songs seem almost incidental, but the band Luke Scott (guitar), Danny Lowe (bass) and Robert Gregory (drums) – are very much on their game.
The music – faster, harder and rockier than on the record – is conveyed with real intent.
Amidst all the cynicism and acid wit, there’s a real warmth to Jones and tonight he has this 100 Club crowd in the palm of his hand.
In the unlikely event he should ever tire of music, a career in stand-up surely awaits.
- Photosynthesis is available through RW/FF Recordings here.
- More about Babybird here.
- Visit Stephen Jones’ Bandcamp page for details of his latest recordings.