Given its rise from the brink of closure like a phoenix from the flames, BBC 6music’s 10th birthday celebrations were always likely to be a home banker. And so it proved, with the message from headliners Public Image Ltd that ‘anger is an energy’ resonating loudly in the ears and minds of those who had taken the time to rescue the station from closure by the BBC.
In truth PiL were perhaps the least suited of a bill crammed full of recent favourites of the station, and while the impressively swift changeovers in the Queen Elizabeth Hall were employed we were invited in to the lobby to enjoy selections from the radio station’s DJs, freely interacting with their listeners. Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie in particular lapped up the enthusiasm thrown at them, while Don Letts impressed with an effortlessly spaced out mix of dub, creatively recasting Lana Del Rey, Adele and Stevie Wonder. All that before Craig Charles signed off with a hugely affirmative mix of funk and soul.
In the hall itself, Anna Calvi gave a characteristically passionate set, the very definition of musical intensity. Calvi is like a mix of a particularly strong brand of dark chocolate and a fine red wine, her songs gloriously and thrillingly dark, the singer at one with her guitar. Established favourites like Desire were delivered with gut wrenching passion, but the new material offered hope that her second album will be a step up even from the self titled debut.
Calvi, flanked by drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz, made quite a noise – louder even than Graham Coxon, who had at times five sets of frets on the go in his band. Coxon’s set veered between the impressively urgent new material and the still endearing stage banter, self deprecating but anything but that when armed with a guitar. The low slung Ooh Yeah Yeah was a highlight, as was the punch of What’s Wrong With Me.
A ray of sunshine followed in the form of Gruff Rhys, complete with guest Cerys Matthews, who sang a meltingly good Space Dust. Rhys had audience participation cards to hold up, so we were invited to give APPLAUSE, to shout WOAH and to leave at THE END. The Super Furry Animals singer has always had a winning way with his crowd and this night was no different, with the mariachi trumpet backing Sensations In The Mind especially enjoyable. Rhys exuded an easy bonhomie, which translated effortlessly to the crowd.
It was a world away from Public Image Ltd., who, while giving a most impressive and tight performance, didn’t fully capture the mood of the evening. “God bless 6Music!” yelled John Lydon at the end, himself no stranger to a cause. The band took the opportunity to deliver two new songs, Deeper Water and One Drop, which were powerfully assured, while classic PiL material – This Is Not A Love Song and Albatross, were grade one rabble rousers. Yet their personality, and the more sleek delivery of the songs, seemed a bit out of kilter with the rest of the evening.
Yet with that observation comes a caveat, which is that 6music as a station has a reputation for keeping musical exploration and celebration of classic material hand in hand. Trying something different is their blueprint – and that it almost all came together so handsomely in a night that perfectly summed up their appeal says much for a station that is now setting its course straight ahead, rather than fighting off closure. Here’s to the next 10 years.