If you switched over to BBC Two‘s recent Glastonbury footage at just the right point after midnight on the Saturday, you’d have seen a cheerful, shaven-headed man in a floppy watermelon hat performing with his band, interspersed with interview clips of him declaring “I live off ideas and cheese and ham sandwiches…People come to me because they’ve had a hard day and they want some chaos, and I’ll bring them chaos…I’m like an old baby”. This is Leeds’ own Mik Artistik, singer, songwriter, artist, former stand-up comic, occasional actor and copper-bottomed Glastonbury legend who has performed more than 200 sets on assorted smaller stages at the festival since 2007, ten this year alone.
While we’re talking numbers, Mik Artistik’s Ego-Trip have just released their tenth album, More. Now, Mik and his band really deserve to be seen live. He’s a born performer and the rapport with his audience brings out the best in him. You get the impression that he’s much more at home on a stage than in a recording studio, and his albums can struggle to bottle that lightning. That said, the Ego-Trip’s songs, vivid, often surreal, often very funny snapshots, stand up on their own and reward being listened to away from a boozy crowd.
Needless to say, More is a strange beast indeed. Despite the eye-opening title, the opener, I Don’t Need Heroin, is all about joie de vivre and how the little things are what it’s really all about. Actually, so too is Signs of Life, which identifies what some of those little things are, including kingfishers, neon, cucumber and Lurpak. There’s something a bit Beefhearty about the echo-laden wallop of Signs of Life and that’s not a bad touchstone for what Mik and his limber band – guitarist Jonny Flockton and new bassist Sam Quintana – are trying to do. Mind you, so is the sheer out-thereness of Vic & Bob (for example, halloumi makes not one but two appearances in the lyrics) or John Cooper Clarke‘s skewed observational poetry.
Seasoned Mik watchers might note that, despite the sheer lust for life on show, overall this is perhaps his most low-key, reflective album. Tracks like Pavlo Picasso and the two-part Tribute Band are basically spoken-word stories with a musical backing, which have funny moments but are simultaneously rather melancholy, suffused with a soft, daft sadness.
It’s there in I’ll Ring You on the Landline, a crooned lament for the days of actual phone conversations, which you could just about imagine a jump-suited Elvis singing if he were still alive and Las Vegas had been twinned with Leeds. The album highlight, though, is surely Box Sets, a genuinely affecting and gently self-mocking modern love song for the Netflix generation.
The final four tracks are reworkings of older Ego-Trip songs, to be fair a trick they’ve often done before. As a result, they might not all feel of a piece with the rest of the album, though of them all, Castaway actually fits well, being as it is the acoustic tale of a sad, bearded island dweller who is “still a fan of The Smiths / You had your last kiss / in an English bar in Spain in ’85” (it also rejoices in the glorious line “all of your friends are fat and bald / except Carl who’s selling cars / for Renault”).
It’s a mixed bag at times, then, and the absolutely perfect Mik Artistik album is probably still yet to be made. More is a collection of curious, cherishable delights, though, and there’s always something strange and interesting going on with Mik. He’s a fascinating, entertaining geezer, like a pure outsider artist, and if his music is an acquired taste, it’s one well worth acquiring.
To read Andy’s interview with Mik Artistik, click here.