Who’s present at tonight’s Vic Godard gig? That’s easy. The audience includes the likes of legendary punk scenester Steve Shy and Fall co-founder Una Baines, whose current band Poppycock provided support. But in many ways tonight is dominated by an absent friend, namely Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley who died two days earlier. Poppycock deliver a bespoke cover version of Boredom and a great many Buzzcocks songs are on the PA between each act.
That’s not to say this is a maudlin, defeated sort of occasion. Not a bit of it. Godard often tours at this time of year and it never fails to be a stirring occasion. If the loss of his contemporary Shelley colours the gig – and Vic only mentions it in passing, in fact – it’s just that it adds to the sense of celebration in the face of wintry darkness.
It’s certainly a high-octane performance, partly demanded by circumstances. The support acts run on past schedule and Vic wastes no time in commanding his band Subway Sect to assemble, almost as though they’re the flippin’ Avengers or something. Actually, it’s only fitting. With Vic Godard there’s rarely any messing about.
Once on stage, the first few songs seem a bit uncertain, unsurprisingly given that abrupt start, but there’s no doubting the tightness of the band and sure enough things soon click into gear and gather momentum. There’s also something entirely appropriate about the intimate, no frills space of the Yes basement (and incidentally, here’s tipping the hat to the opening of this fine new establishment in these straitened times).
The energy and dedication of Vic and co does justice to the songs, and what a brilliant, idiosyncratic songwriter he is, from early classic Stool Pigeon to this year’s Nightingales collaboration Commercial Suicide Man. There are casualties of the truncated set – some songs are discarded, and sadly there’s no showing for the mighty Ambition or even festive cracker Holiday Hymn. The latter was once covered by Orange Juice and tonight, as it happens, Vic covers their début single Falling & Laughing with verve and style before bringing down the proverbial curtain with an storming version of his own Stop That Girl.
Once the gig is done, Vic turns to his oppo Johnny Britton and laughs, “We got there In the end”. Too right. At best it was bloody blistering, conjuring something glorious and life-affirming in a moment of gloom and loss. Marc Riley has been known to refer to Vic Godard as the greatest living Englishman, and on this showing he might be on to something.