Casiotone For The Painfully Alone’s Owen Ashworth is a great big bear of a man.
His fulsome beard, imposing frame, glasses and tonight’s lumberjack outfit suggest an American everyman, a figure of the interior states who wouldn’t look out of place driving a Kenworth. Or a forklift.
But every man has a heart, and every heart is capable of breaking. Ashworth’s heart breaks ten times over tonight, and his audience are there for him in his grief-struck malaise.
Keyboards, pedals and sundry electronic gizmos are wired together without the aid of a computer, on a table. Behind this assorted electronica Ashworth stands, twiddling nobs, flourishing keyboard notes and pressing buttons while singing in a world-weary baritone voice about everyday relationships ending, resuming, dying for good.
A few songs in to this solo electronic dispondency and Ashworth is joined by the willowy, demure singer Jenny Herbinson. Hands clasped before her and clad in a dress that ought to come packed with its own sepia tint, she breathlessly burbles about having never been to London. She’s excited. Ashworth isn’t. He wants to get on with his song. As the two spark off each other, one the repressed wife figure and the other the fed-up bastion of manhood, it’s like watching the two extremes of bipolar disorder fighting for supremecy.
Herbinson sings Scattered Pearls, one of the set’s most memorable head-nodders. Upbeat bedroom rhythms and Casio synth chords underpin lyrics that tackle drinking to dull pain, feeling scattered and crying about small, insignificant things that somehow seem more important than they are.
Almost all of Ashworth’s songs last scarcely two minutes, a technique that emphasises the minutae of the subject matter. Yet Nashville Parthenon’s central lyric, “If I could have my way I wouldn’t be alone,” is all the more poignant amidst such brevity. Across the room, hearts break.
If there’s a criticism of this lonely minstrel’s work, it’s that the instrumentation fails to mask a tendency to use similar chord sequences in several tracks. Perhaps this is a deliberate device to emphasise the never-changing drudgery of CFTPA’s lonely world, but Cold White Christmas and Bobby Malone Comes Home both begin with the same notes, played using the same keyboard sound.
For all that, Bobby Malone Comes Home is possibly the set’s pivotal track. Its lyrics underline a comradely understanding that it’s not always possible or even desirable to present a grinning face to the world: “So you tried your own route and it didn’t work out, well you’re not alone… A job that made you crazy, in a town you won’t miss… And the drunks you call friends were a means to an end… and this is the end.”
Don’t They Have Payphones Where You Were Last Night slows the pace further still, to something like the last song in a jazz basement at 3am when only lonely drunks are listening.
And then Ashworth winds it all up. After making thoroughly sure that his set doesn’t run past his alloted time, he takes his leave. Never did the urge to bear hug a bear sum up a gig so well.