A Wild Night with Gavin Friday

‘One had the distinct impression that here was Friday’s unashamed autobiography in 3-D’
Robin Dutt reviews concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

An audience is very often the best clue to understanding a performer. Forget, however, the poster-clutching teenage mutant maniacs at a Take That concert or the droves of Michael Jackson fans dressed almost uniformly in opportunistic merchandise. Loyalty can be much more subtle.

At the one-night spectacular last week, Gavin Friday succeeded in bringing together a decidedly motley crew from a sprinkling of Goths and punks to the fashionably bald and those sporting Levi jean jackets and check shirts. Of course this should come as no surprise. Friday’s career stretches back to 1978 and the inception of the raucous and much-loved Virgin Prunes, specialising in mayhem and magic on a grand scale.

Now a solo performer, he brings a particular style and verve to what some observers might call modern cabaret. Friday knows a good deal about seduction. The set was a vital part of his act, featuring crimson drapes, bunches of flowers, candles and a dry-ice blowing contraption, beneath which was partially hidden a black-and-white television. Friday presented himself with tough and ironic verve – spiky hair, a buttoned-up shiny charcoal suit with a string vest just visible. On his feet were crepe- soled beetle-crushers. He looked cute and dangerous at the same time. He danced with himself, strutted like Jagger, nursed a glass of wine and often flickered his tongue like a viper. No reluctant showman this.

Most of the songs performed feature on Friday’s unusually sensitive and strident album Shag Tobacco and he took his audience from 1930s Berlin to a suburban housewife’s nightmare, on the way passing by real-life characters such as Mr Pussy, a celebrated transvestite, and his ultimate hero, Caruso. Portraits of both appeared in gilt frames on set. One had the distinct impression that here was Friday’s unashamed autobiography in 3-D.

Friday needs to be completely involved in the essence of each song. He needs to change, chameleon-like, from the bedsit late-night worker fantasising about his neighbour upstairs to the unashamedly and near falsetto “Angel” – a sensual experience of floating in pink marshmallow. A total musical mix, classical instruments combined with more unusual electric woodwind, all played skilfully by only three other members of the group who manage to sound like a small orchestra.

To mark definite sections within the set, Friday told stories, cracked the odd joke and spoke through a bejewelled megaphone – whatever it took to remain ringmaster. And this is solely the point. For him to be able to control our emotions so precisely, he needed to be in absolute control. We smiled at the camp bonhomie and bitchery of Mr Pussy, but were genuinely moved by “the last song I’ll ever sing” – a tribute to a dead friend. Breaking the mood lest we knew what to expect came a most original and stormy version of T-Rex’s “The Slider” which Marc Bolan would have loved. Towards the end, he walked among his delighted audience, singing, crooning and making love with his eyes – to everyone. Seduction as ever is nine points of success.