You wanna do what? You wanna do what?

Evening, all.

There are a couple of ways we can approach the iffy subject of another extended absence from my post. And in best post-modern conventions, I’ll let you form your own conclusions (if you haven’t already…) We could, for instance, say that I’ve been over-extending myself in the dizzying world of work, fingers to the bone etc. (charming though the image of me swanning around like Hugh Grant smoking cheroots and drinking absinthe, may indeed be, I do actually have a job and domestic staff to pay…). Alternatively, we can venture down the “Phew! Rock And Roll!” route and wave off your (justifiable) protestations, with a foppish wave of the hand and a few off-hand, barely caught words about near-constant ligging and a particularly heavy week of burning the candle at both ends and then blow-torching it from the middle.

As I say, there’s truth where you seek it (and in any case, truth? Who needs it?)

Anyway, after months of anticipation, I stole (softly through snow) down to the Fleece last week to see this chap – a genuine living legend of the Rock circus.

John French, The Fleece

Although he’s billed it as an evening with the Magic Band, French himself acknowledges that this is a little steep, there being by now just the one member of Beefheart’s long-suffering troupe of freaks still on the circuit, and therefore this has been denoted a Farewell Tour, my last chance to see the man who did so much to bring us the music of Captain Beefheart. He looked pretty dapper to me and was genuinely up for it, so whether this really is the end of a very strange journey indeed remains to be seen. But it was good enough for me (in the words of the song) and the deal was done…

The Fleece was pleasingly packed full of balding, whiskery old gits and the merch stall in particular looked a little like a Furry Freak Brothers convention. No support band, just two substantial sets from French and his band of young acolytes, who certainly knew their Beefheart and threw themselves into what must be one of the more difficult songbooks in music. An evening of refreshingly awkward music ensued, running from Safe as Milk right through to Doc at the Radar Station, Shiny Beast featuring heavily. Highlights were a galumphing “Bat Chain Puller”, a snorting, sooty “Click Clack” and four awkward buggers from Trout Mask Replica.

French led from the front, hooting, growling and howling his way through the evening in appropriately lupine fashion. He threw in some blues harp and a heap of suitably demented, van Vliet warblings on sax. He did do a spell behind his kit, too, which was a real treat, his shuffling, stuttering style always a genuinely exhilarating and interesting listen.

I’ve spoken before about his revealing, uncomfortable biography “Through the Eyes of Magic” and I think talked about French’s remarkably forgiving nature, given Beefheart’s treatment of him – he re-joined the Magic Band on more than one occasion, even after having been physically thrown out of the house, post Trout Mask Replica. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that he could’ve done with being a little more steely with his band – the twin guitars of Eric Klerks and Max Kutner occasionally threatened to take over, going over all White Denim at times. Not sure the good Captain would’ve put up with it. (Although nothing a six month stay at the Trout House and a cupful of lentils a day wouldn’t put right…)

To be fair, French is now 69 and playing two full sets plus spending the interval at the merch stall, he could certainly be forgiven for taking the odd breather while the young pups played.

It was a great evening, one which found me pinching myself at times to be sure that I was really there; an evening I will remember for a very long time. John French, in his role as facilitator of the one of the weirdest, most ambitious records of all time, is to my mind one of yer actual Sixties legends, whose position as such is rarely recognised because of the vast, glowing shadow he stood in.

Have a listen to the samples here, they’re not bad at all and, I’m afraid, as close as we’re going to get to those strangest of times…

Bat Chain Puller

My Human Gets Me Blues

Click Clack

Dropout Boogie