Saturday, 3 October 2009
Clayson and the Argonauts Reading South Street Arts Centre 24th September 2009
In the past, the band’s act had the distinction in rock circles to be branded a ‘travelling asylum’. It is no exaggeration to say that lead singer Alan Clayson must surely be a key candidate for election to ‘rock’s lunatic fringe’ if we should ever go to such a poll. The band’s early stage act often used to defy concise description and it was deeply gratifying to see that despite the ravages of time they can still ‘cut the mustard’, a sure sign of their unswerving professionalism and dedication.
With a tight mix of drums, keyboards, sax and guitar, they routinely traversed musical boundaries, offering an eclectic mix and an immense theatrical presence. This theatricality underpinned their dramatic stage entrance that glided seamlessly into three blinding openers, Superman 42, Rue Morgue (‘let’s not be beastly to the Germans’) and Searchlight, a song from Clayson’s earlier collaboration with Dave Berry on his 1987 album Hostage to the Beat.
They moved on cranking up the pace allowing Clayson to dive into the Landlocked Sailor, a roaring folk rock sea shanty. Probably worth noting that in ‘71 he sang for Turnpike a band that he humbly confesses were ‘a folk-rock quintet’ aspiring like Traffic to 'get it together in the country’ somewhere ‘near Reading’.
Luckily, for this audience he moved on from such adolescent tosh forming the ‘Argonauts’, a band that revelling in diversity and exemplified on Friday by the weirdly spaced psychedelic Sol Nova and the contrasting Eleanor in Bondage.
Moreover, just to remind that this was not just a rock concert Clayson delivered a jaw dropping turn covering On the Street Where I Live from Lerner and Loewe’s soundtrack to My Fair Lady.
Finally, Pagan Mercia, Rakes Progress, On the Waterfront, Days in Old Rotterdam and Rebel Rocker led to a beautifully accurate Arnold Layne. In suitable contrast to Syd Barrett’s quirky Englishness Alan Clayson gave his all on the melancholic Moonlight Skater. Taken from the album Soiree it underlined Clayson’s versatility and mastery of the chanson offering more than a passing reference to Jacques Brel and Scott Walker.
It is a pity that this band has not had more success. My guess is that as a ‘performance’ they offer an ‘experience’ - something that lies in the very bowels of European arthouse or Rue Morgue’s ‘mothers of Dada’ and possibly does not travel too well.
In an interview Alan Clayson quoted R L Stevenson, “Our business in this world is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” No failures but good spirit was keynote to this performance, a blistering set that had to be experienced and neither the DVD nor the two CD set, Sunset On A Legend, will ever catch such a performance as Friday’s.