The first BBC Electric Proms – a five-day music festival spread over half a dozen venues in Camden, which is intended to become an annual event – got off to a storming start with a gig headlined by Paul Weller at the Roundhouse. This rock music landmark reopened during the summer after a two-year closure and a 30 million pound refurbishment, so that the Victorian industrial architectural heritage is preserved within a stylish new design with excellent acoustics for the 2,000-capacity Main Space. The sell-out crowd certainly got their money’s worth.
As the support band it was The Magic Numbers who had the honour of kicking off the new phase in the Roundhouse’s rock history, which includes legendary shows by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd and The Clash. Most of their 45-minute set featured new songs from their forthcoming album, the awkwardly titled Those The Brokes. There was nothing awkward about the Numbers’ performance though – they may not be the most dynamic act around but their musicianship is as assured live as it is recorded.
As an easy listening pop band I’ve regarded them as lightweight (yes, really!) but their lilting melodies and sweet vocal harmonies came across very well. With catchy tunes like the current single Take a Chance, plus the more sophisticated use of a string septet (who joined them on stage for a couple of songs), the second album sounds as if it will be even stronger than their highly rated debut.
The Modfather – as he hates to be called – was also in fine form, with his usual band as tight as ever and Steve Craddock razor sharp on lead guitar. Playing at the Roundhouse for the first time since his Jam days in 1977, Weller looked relaxed and was evidently enjoying himself – he seems to have finally mellowed out of his notorious sullenness, but the music still has bite.
While a lot of the songs played were from last year’s successful album As Is Now, all phases of his career were represented apart from (thankfully) The Style Council years. He also performed live for the first time his new snappy single, Wild Blue Yonder (which will also feature on his forthcoming comprehensive compilation album). There’s certainly plenty of life in the old dog yet as he proved in his one and three-quarter-hour show.
As a contrast to the up-tempo rockers such as Paper Smile and The Changing Man, and the extended psychedelic distortions of Porcelain Gods and Walk on Gilded Splinters, Weller affirmed his soul credentials by teaming up with Amy Winehouse for two songs: a highly effective duet version of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It through the Grapevine and the more jazzy Etta Jones number Don’t Go to Strangers, with the sultry Winehouse on lead vocals and Weller on piano.
Later he was joined by Carl Barat (repaying the compliment of Weller performing on stage with Dirty Pretty Things) and Hard-Fi‘s Richard Archer, each singing two Jam tracks without bringing much to the party. It was noticeable though that it was the old Jam favourites that still got the crowd going the most, especially the usual closing song, A Town Called Malice, where pints of lager sprayed through the air. Until fairly recently you got the impression that Weller performed these songs reluctantly, as a concession to loyal fans – now he seems to relish them.