Monday, 1 December 2014

Marianne Faithfull - the Royal Festival Hall

Last night we went to see Marianne Faithfull at the Royal Festival Hall on her 50th anniversary tour. She's broken her left hip and thigh and came on with a walking stick and had a big, sturdy chair to sit on to sing a song and ease the pain every couple of songs. Every movement made me wince in sympathy but she still gave us a two hour set of classic Faithfull songs. This is Marianne's 50th anniversary tour and a mere couple of breakages isn't going to stop her.

I've seen Marianne in many modes over the years. I first saw her in, I think, 2002 when she was in rock chick mode at the Astoria (of sticky carpet fame, now demolished) with a heavy band belting out loud guitar music. The last time I saw her was just her and a guitarist giving a very different take on some of those well known songs.

The first album I bought of Marianne was 'Broken English' bought on musi-cassette in the early '80s. Marianne thought she might be dying while recording that album and wanted to leave a legacy behind her and that's the album that revitalised her career and her art. In the '90s I bought her Island Records anthology but it was after seeing her that first time that I started to properly explore her works. And that included seeing her live whenever possible.

When she first came on she came to the front of the stage and out of the blue gave us her Richard III impression using her walking stick before stepping back to the microphone and opening with a raunchy 'Give My Love To London', singing about Kensington and dancing under the moon in Piccadilly and Pirate Jenny. 'Broken English' was introduced early in the set followed by 'Witches' Song' and the explanation that she was doing a mix of her big songs and the lesser known, lesser performed songs because she thought they were worth listening to. They are indeed.

We were given a '60s Corner' with a lovely version of 'As Tears Go by' (obv) and a 'Junkies Corner'  kicked off with 'Sister Morphine' that morphed into 'Late Victorian Holocaust' from the latest album.  In between the corners we had a rocky version of 'The Price Of Love' because she liked the Everly Brothers and a thumping 'Marathon Kiss' that she explained was written for Emmy Lou Harris but given to her to sing (I always like the refrain of 'Fearless when I'm with you').

I've never understood why people think it's okay to shout out at Marianne during her concerts, especially when she'd said at the start that she only hears through one ear these days, but that didn't stop the shouters. I was emphatically pleased when she put down a shouter who shouted out 'name-dropping again' when she named someone who co-wrote one of her songs and she basically said she couldn't make out what was said and please don't do that since it puts her off. That shut people up for a while but then they started again with random shout-outs.

She took her time explaining the background to 'Mother Wolf' from the new album, which is basically based around a book she read while bed-ridden about women and transposed that to Kipling's 'Jungle Book' where she takes the role of the wolf who fights for and brings up Mowgli. She made it clear in the introduction that she didn't have much time for the modern world, hence for the refrain using  the word 'despise'.

Marianne is always worth seeing live if you can and especially on Saturday night. She is a true artist - doesn't necessarily always get it spot on but always worth a listen. And she's lived the life that gives the right to comment on the rock life. I loved 'Broken English' and 'Ballad of Lucy Jordan', 'Sister Morphine', 'Marathon Kiss' and the fearsome 'Mother Wolf.

After a standing ovation and lots of bows Marianne obliged one last song - she was standing centre-stage with her stick while the band marched off stage so it didn't take a genius to realise they'd come back while she stood there. And it was 'Last Song' written with Damon Albarn, with the refrain 'We saw the green fields turn into homes' which is close to my heart since I've seen it myself. More bows from her and the band and then she was gone, slowly and watching her feet, from the stage.

That was Marianne Faithfull y'know, the original rock chick that became an artist and demonstrated a new way for a woman to be a rockster. She's still creating and we should all be grateful for that. I am.

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