It was not a young audience. I have to start this way, because Jim told me I would. He's right though. This was the first thing that struck me. Perched on the wonky tabletop that I claimed as my seat for the gig, waiting for Jim to bring me beer in a brittle plastic cup, I counted up the number of times I had seen Robyn Hitchcock play, multiplied that number by three and reached the average age of the crowd.
There were plenty of late thirties men with bad haircuts, and Marks and Spencer casual jackets. There were a few painted leather jackets, and faded band tshirts, but they were mostly stretched over ballooning bellies. The one slim-hipped leather-trousered boy ruined the effect by fussing for five minutes with his telescopic umbrella.
I counted three tie-dyed skirts flouncing over well polished doc marten boots, a solitary shaven head, and a matched pair of silverygrey bubblecurl hairshocks bursting out over badly fitting spectacles (one male, and one female of the einstein-do species). Me, I was in work clothes. So I don't count. But maybe that made it even worse. For there I was, looking like a little kid playing dress up in an attempt at office clothes, smoking my cigarette with grouching intent, wishing I had a pen and paper to while a way a little time, and labelling the rest of the people in the half underground darklit room.
The support band were the most stylish bunch in the place. But, Robyn has never been a driver on the trendwagon. And his audience is growing old and affluent along with him.
I've finally figured out why I like going to watch musicians play. It's not seeing the band. I grow tired of seeing someone play guitar in about three minutes flat. And I can't sit and watch an orchestra unless there's enough light to read a book. Listening alone doesn't fill my head. Music doesn't stream pictures into my mind. And most bands are not visually entertaining. I enjoy watching other people listen to music.
I've been to see Robyn Hitchcock play about a dozen times. Usually, of course, when Jim has presented me with a ticket and no reason to refuse. I like going. I like watching the muted crowd mouth all the words and do that slight swaying dance into their doublehanded pints. I spent three years hating his music. But, he spent about three years writing annoyingly 'clever' songs that made me spit feathers and grumble about wannabe surrealists who try too damn hard. Because most of the time his songs are astonishingly lovely. (I'll pass rapidly by the kitschy horrors of 'The Cheese Alarm' and other hilarious novelty moments.) 'Madonna of the Wasps' tightens a small wire around my throat and makes it a little harder than usual to breathe. 'Glass Hotel' is something that drifts into my dreams and hovers in the base of my skull for the two days following that waking. 'I Feel Beautiful' gives me a smug shimmer of pleasure. And then there's 'Queen Elvis' which is one of the very few songs I can listen to on repeat for an hour.
He's far from funky, and he's frequently annoying, and no one has ever heard of him, but I'll go along the next time he plays in London.
As long as the annoying dancing woman isn't there. She was standing next to me, her fingers curling around the black painted railings, grooving away with her eyes closed. And that's fine. Music can do that, seep into your spine and make you curve. But this chick did a series of Playboy bunnygirl dips, ducking her neatly clad bottom down so daintily, and then swinging it, just a little, from side to side. And she must have been dancing to some other band, because her dance had no relation to any beat in that building. And she scooped her shoulders down, twitching them up, kicking them forward with a little pout and a tiny shiver. And she rocked back and forth, drumming her palms on the railings, to the third song before last.
But even though she was driving me crazy, and repeatedly bashing my knees with her swinging shoulderbag, I couldn't stop watching her listening to the music. I was a little higher up that most, on my precarious tabletop, and I could see down between the people who surged politely towards the front, could see how they leaned into each other, then jumped apart when noticing they were pressed against a stranger.
I could see who nodded their head to the songs, who let a smile slide across when they recognised the opening bars, who caught the beat with a loose-tapping heel. I could see those who stood stockstill, eyes closed. I could see some people who so wanted to dance, but weren't quite sure what to do about it. I watched someone else, who didn't care, dance like Gumby, and then like Morrissey in the heaven knows he was miserable then days. I could see small clumps in little huddles, talking deep into each others ears, sharing spliffs and sometimes glancing back over their shoulders to the music.
But then the annoying dancing woman shook back her hair, pointed her chin to the skies and began to play air piano.
I got the giggles so badly I dropped the leftovers of my pint onto an apologetic american called holden.