Cafe Musique, Lillers, France . 26.10.94

Rediscovering Kevin earlier this year, after having lost track of him in 1981, was like unexpectedly coming across that piece of the jigsaw you thought had vanished for ever and, despite the passing years and a few crinkles here and there, finding it was no less beautiful, no less magical, and that it still fitted perfectly into the mishmash of a jigsaw called life. Having tracked down most of the records I’d missed, the next step was to catch up on gigs. The London ones came and went, serving only to fuel my addiction, so I decided a trip to France with a couple of friends was in order.

Arriving in the drizzle at the small French town of Lillers I didn’t know what to expect. Having asked a multilingual friend to phone the venue to check details, I’d been advised to arrive early to get a table and that food was available. I prayed this wasn’t some kind of posey nightclub with tables and waiters - the thought of trying to eat a meal whilst listening to Kevin was a little worrying. As it turned out it was a tiny place, barely larger than my living room, with a wonderfully welcoming and unpretentious atmosphere. The tables turned out to be three old picnic-style benches and the food, thank God, didn’t materialise at all. As for the bizarre toilet - well I guess it’s a case of Vive La Difference!

Some while later, by which time the room had filled to capacity, Kevin arrived and fairly promptly took to the stage, picking up an awaiting electric guitar, rather than the acoustic one I had expected to see. He was accompanied, as in London, by Starvin Marvin. I wondered what the sound would be like in such a small place but it was superb. The first set was brief, six numbers in all, starting with ‘Interview’ and closing with the usual ‘See You Later’. My friends said “That was short”. I smiled and said “Wait”.

But little did I then know how much more was to come...

When the second set began so did the surprises, for instance the unexpected ‘Eleanor’s Cake’ - pure magic. This and the equally unexpected ‘Feeling This Way’ were, for me, two of the high spots of the evening. Neither song is among my top favourites on record, but listening to them live was a wholly different experience. I was delighted to hear ‘Animals’ - one of five of Kevin’s songs that I thought I had never heard - that was until I heard it and recognised it. Exactly where or when it crossed my path before remains a mystery.

‘May I’ attempted to become ‘Puis Je’ and almost succeeded except for a few words that went astray - just a minor hiccup that, rather than detracting from the performance, made it more fun. Personally, I always think Kevin’s at his best with an odd hiccup... or two, the occasional chuckle and that wry smile. I’ve no time for self-obsessed icons who’ve lost all their warmth and personality in the struggle for ultimate perfection.

After the intro to ‘Why Are We Sleeping’ Kevin stopped. “I don’t want to play this song”. A few of the audience began chanting the chorus but, much as I too like WAWS, I was glad that he stuck to his guns. I hope he never feels obliged to include certain songs just to fulfil the expectations of a minority of the audience. As the crowd sang out the first line of the ‘Hat Song’ he did however concede to playing that one, albeit at breakneck speed and with a laugh and a mutter of “I’m too old for those songs” afterwards. (Too old...?) ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’, another one that makes me smile, also appeared around this point. By now we seemed to have deviated quite substantially from the list of songs that I could see pinned up on the stage, and I was far too absorbed to memorise an accurate running order. However the other songs were those that many of you will have heard at other recent gigs. Beautiful songs, and a truly captivating performance.

The audience was attentive and enthusiastic throughout, noisy at times yet responsive to occasional requests for quiet, and although they knew the old songs they equally appreciated the new ones. The evening ended with two lengthy encores. Kevin must have been pleased that it had turned out to be such a great gig. Another one to definitely remember when facing the all too predictable and prescriptive world around us.

Margaret Williamson

first published in WAWS #7, Feb 95