Here we are, 40 years ago, midway through the ‘Be Stiff Tour’, travelling the length and breadth of the British Isles by train. There are hotels, of course, including at the higher end the Randolph in Oxford, the Queen’s in Leeds, the Highland in Strathpeffer, and for security reasons, the Europa in Belfast. All of the hotels need to be roomy in order to accommodate a touring party of approximately 50 persons and the giant personality of show co-compere and general vibe-master, Kosmo Vinyl.
Performance-wise, Wreckless Eric is in the lead. En route to the next destination he poses in the caboose, his ticket collector’s hat and tight white denims amplifying his baby face and tiny frame. He is a survivor from the class of ’77, therefore an old hand in matters Stiff. He has a strong new album to promote (‘The Wonderful World of Wreckless Eric’), as does each of his four headline-sharing colleagues: Lene Lovich, Jona Lewie, Rachel Sweet, and Mickey Jupp.
Whilst Eric’s performances are solid, due to a somewhat more competent backing band than he enjoyed last year, it is quite clear that Lene Lovich means serious business, in much the same way that Ian Dury and the Blockheads did on the ’77 Stiff tour. Lene’s band is tighter than two coats of paint and she has a chilling stage presence. Hits can’t be far away.
Jona Lewie is the oddball. Despite his lengthy stint with Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, and two strong supporting musicians, he doesn’t appear to have worked out a ‘set’, and is a bit all over the place, but charming and amusing. Again, the hit parade awaits. Rachel Sweet, backed by The Records, is a terrific vocal belter from Akron, Ohio, just 16 years of age and therefore accompanied by a chaperone (her sister, Lia), and a school-work tutor (in the shape of Mickey Jupp’s girlfriend, Hilary).
Mickey Jupp himself is the reluctant performer, who appears to be here under duress, and not completely ‘on board’. His backing group, informally named The Cable Layers, include pianist Geraint Watkins, and a drummer known as ‘Mac the Mouth’. Most of us will visit New York in December, to play eight sold-out shows across four nights at the Bottom Line, but sadly Mickey will decline this opportunity to showcase his work to a market hungry for great songs.
It is in New York that Jona Lewie comes out of his shell, astonishing the seated audience by jumping off stage and landing on a nearby table, sending wine glasses flying. It’s the first time here for most of us and Geraint pursues his devotion to American jazz and blues by walking some 50 blocks uptown, from the Mayflower Hotel to Harlem.