Last night something unquestionably serendipitous happened to me and my wife. We were staying in Newcastle where I was working. Leaving the excellent Sleeperz hotel at 6.30 to wander about the Toon the astoundingly friendly and helpful new guy on the front desk enquired as to our evening’s plans.
“None really, just going to wander.” I replied “But I’m going to pay a visit to the Free Trade Inn and possibly The Cluny.”
“Excellent choices my friend, let me look and see what’s on at The Cluny.” replied Dean (for that was, no is, his name.)
“Hmmm, it’s their folk rock night.”
“Hmmm.” I replied. “Who’s on?”
“Some guy called Ben Watt.”
“Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl?” I gasped.
“Yeah that’s what it says.”
“Who’s the support.”
“Someone called Bernard Butler.”
“Bernard Butler of Suede?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
So, off we went. “It’ll be sold out.” I speculated to Jeana “But if we can get in do you want to see them?”
“Why not?” She replied.
Fast forward an hour. Not only to be we grab two of the few remaining tickets (twice we’d been told it was sold out) but we also get the best seats in what is a very good house. On the balcony barely 20 feet from stage.
As it turns out Bernard Butler isn’t supporting Ben Watt, they are playing together, mostly his beautiful new album, Hedra, but four old Cherry Red songs (including the gorgeous Some Things Don’t Matter, that was surely an early precursor for Everything But The Girl material).
This is remarkable. Not only do the pair have 12 UK top ten hits between them and probably more in album hits but Ben Watt is a celebrated Club DJ too. And here they are in Cluny 2 on a Wednesday night in Newcastle and we have tickets. I have been a fan of Ben (and Tracey and Bernard) since my university days 34 years ago but have never seen any of them live. In that time Ben has nearly died, become a father and released his second solo album 31 years after his debut. It was a wait worth enduing because it is wonderful.
Stripped down to just him and Butler on electric guitar and the occasional Wurlitzer the atmosphere is respectful. The sound is killer. Maybe the best I have ever heard at a gig. Every word perfectly enunciated, every finger pick heard, every click of the guitar pedals audible too which gives us a real sense of the artistry at work here.
Putting to one side Ben Watt’s excellent musicianship you just have to bow your head in awe of the craft that Bernard Butler displays with a Gibson in his hands.
16 songs and a decent dollop of insightful singer songwriter chat later we are at an end.
“That’s all I’ve got.” says Watt modestly.
That’s all we needed.
Absolute 5 star. Nailed on.
As we walked back to the hotel on Newcastle’s glorious quayside a young man in red jogs past us. Turning and waving, he shouts “Did you enjoy the Free Trade Inn?”
It was Dean.
“Yeah, but we saw Ben Watt. Ben Fucking Watt.” I yelled as he disappeared into the distance.
Then we had Souvlaki. The night was complete.