It was all about Pete. Not Ed Harcourt. Not Madame Jo Jos in Soho. And not the staggering one hour 40 minute set played before a sold-out 150-strong audience. No, for me it was Pete that held the throne tonight, albeit unexpectedly so.
Little did Harcourt know what he would start when, on introducing his band, he says in passing: “It’s Pete’s last tour ladies and gentlemen”. Well don’t toy with us young man, tell us why he’s going! And like community spirit at its best, various heads in the crowd start calling out for an answer. Would we ever find out?
All this happens mid-way through a set that drifts through maudlin melancholia one moment, and beat-driven Tom Waits blues the next, with a luxury dollop of jaunty pop for good measure. Sloping on without introduction, the 27-year-old looks resplendently dressed in the boudoir red-and-black colours of the tiny underground club, all topped off with his endearingly foppish fringe. He sounds like a man who sings his woes in secret, with at first only a plaintive accordion and frosty wind chimes for company.
His current album Strangers takes centre stage, and it’s not long before he launches into the most beautiful song in the world, This One’s For You, which he dedicates to his mum and brother who are huddled somewhere among the silhouettes. Throughout the gig he masterfully reels off almost all the songs off this third album, but also unearths favourites from his previous two, such as Beneath The Heart Of Darkness, All Of Your Days Will Be Blessed and Metaphorically Yours. Later on he even showcases a new track, wonderfully entitled You Only Call Me When You’re Drunk. Pete is still in forefront of many minds however, and only when he brings on support band The Magic Numbers to help sing Loneliness are they momentarily distracted.
But for now the night is happily sedate. Bottles clinked at the bar serve as inadvertent instruments for the Sussex gent and his keyboard on stage. The whole merry band traipse on for Kids however, with warm parping trumpets almost immediately lightening the deeply emotive atmosphere. Ed is also brought to life as he pummells that piano during Let Love Not Weigh Me Down.
And rather than the love-struck troubadour he portrays in his music, Ed shows the audience he can be quite the gobby bloke. At one point he says: “Come on London crowd, you’re looking at me like I’m brash and arrogant, well I don’t care”, then growling in a Darth Vader voice: “I will smite you with my sword”. The prince of darkness returns momentarily to rasp “I love Bruce Springsteen” after the singer coquettishly announces that current single Born In The ’70s is “for all the old codgers in the audience”.
Humour reigns forth again when he launches into a quick rendition of R Kelly‘s I Believe I Can Fly, but changes tack when delivering the elegant Black Dress. His voice that at first splintered ever so slightly from lengthy touring now sings out pure and lolling. And yet still the crowd call out about Pete, nearly after each song. But Harcourt only responds with: “I’ve never been heckled before”. By now frustration mounts, and when he declares he’s going to play his first ever single Something In My Eye, one Northern lass feels compelled to shout: “We don’t give a shite about your first single, we wanna know about Pete!” Startled laughter ripples through the crowd, causing a befuddled Harcourt to ask, “what’s so funny?”.
With his dark humour peppering the set, at one point even leading him to say “you can suck my weener”, it’s actually good to see that for once the joke was on him. Though in fairness he doesn’t really deserve it considering what a blinding and impassioned set he’s just played. One obvious thing still rings in my mind though. What’s happened to Pete?