I was visiting an old friend in Sheffield last weekend, partially because the guitarist Eugene Chadbourne was playing on that Saturday night at The Shakespeare pub in the former Steel City.
I’d never seen Chadbourne before, but had been aware of him since the 80s and his work with Shockabilly and Derek Bailey. What a surprise, in a rather schadenfreude sense, to see him still playing in the ‘toilet venue’ scene, to put it bluntly. The Shakespeare is a good old fashioned boozer, the sort which are becoming rapidly extinct in London, where most venues don’t know who they are supposed to be catering for, certainly not ordinary people.
The downside of this is the ‘room upstairs’, which was a mainstay of early English free improv. It’s still there, believe me, and I have recently experienced it in The Shakespeare (there are others, like The Three Cranes). I am conflated here, as this is a rather noxious point - what was/is the value of these rather dodgy venues? Improvisers such as Evan Parker and Barry Guy might have moved beyond the ‘toilet circuit’, but what is left to their successors?
Chadbourne himself was superb - a mix of country, a superb Beefheart rendition of The Dust Blows Forward and the Dust Blows Back, for Pete’s sake, some Hendrix/Sharrock/Heino inspired shrock and a few Hollywood numbers to conclude. A consumate performer, in front of 30 fans, at best.
A great performer (and a great facial at that). Go see him.