Friday, January 25, 2019

Partners in Crime

Not so much a gig, more a very enjoyable Audience With, as The Portable Club presented 'an evening of conversation and music starring Vic Godard with Johnny Britton' amidst the crushed velvet drapes of The Nightingale Room, upstairs at the Grand Central pub next to Brighton station, last night.

Vic needs no introduction but Johnny perhaps does: a Bristolian who was guitarist in the second line-up of Subway Sect that toured with Buzzcocks in 1978, he later had his own band poached by Vic and The Clash's manager, Bernie "call me Bernard" Rhodes, for Vic's 1982 loungecore incarnation at the time of his Songs For Sale LP (that band, with Dig Wayne as singer, went on to become JoBoxers of Boxer Beat and Just Got Lucky chart fame); he then became a protégé of Rhodes, who thought Johnny's matinee idol good looks gave him star quality and, when his time with Rhodes fizzled out, he joined the final incarnation of Orange Juice - perhaps because when Edwyn looked at him it would have been like seeing his own reflection. Now reunited years later, ("I was in need of friendship" - Vic) there is no animosity on Johnny's part for losing his band to Vic and the two have an easy and affectionate rapport.

The evening began with the duo both on guitars and vocals and a couple of songs, starting with Vic's 1999 single, Place We Used To Live. An onstage interview then followed, which teased out some excellent stories about the pair's lives. Vic was on a £200 a week retainer from Bernie (who they both spoke of warmly, contrary to Rhodes' popular Svengali reputation) to write songs with the word 'girl' in them for Johnny, which he had to deliver at the rate of ten a week every Friday. Leaving it until the last minute, he stayed up all night on Thursdays recording them onto cassette very quietly, so as not to wake up his mum and dad; the result was Johnny could barely make out the hushed songs. The Portable Club's host, Algy, reminded us that Vic was arrested on the day of the Sex Pistols' infamous Silver Jubilee riverboat trip; but it turns out he was not on the boat but on Tower Bridge with The Slits, throwing stones at the pleasure cruiser as it passed below - I would have paid handsomely to have seen that.

Further brushes with the law followed in Vic's heroin years: forging cheques, scamming bookies and - a particular favourite - nicking Marks & Sparks carriage clocks were regular necessities to fund his habit. Later, Vic continued to release music regularly - but not exactly prolifically - against the backdrop of day jobs at Ladbrokes and the Post Office, while Johnny had an award-winning career as a costume designer for high-profile horror films.

When they returned to the music, we got covers of T.Rex's New York City and the Velvet Underground's Heroin and a song about Johnny's cat. There were then two of those songs with the word 'girl' in the title: firstly, Girl From Trincomalee (it's in Sri Lanka, in case you're wondering - we were asked but none of us knew) and, the final number of the night, Stop That Girl, from T.R.O.U.B.L.E., Vic's 1986 Rough Trade album. Listening to the beauty and craft of that song, and to Johnny's effortless harmonising, it made me wish that the partnership that Rhodes tried to foster all those years ago, had resulted in more.