On Saturday night, I went to the Brixton Academy. And I saw music hall.
Not washboards and how’s yer father. Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, since you ask. And it occurred to me that what makes so much British music great and, unAmerican, is its nature as music hall.
All the elements were there. The alcohol. The singalongs. The banter from the stage. The songs about local places (Peckham, Tulse Hill, Brixton). The call from Jim Bob for someone, anyone, to get him a brandy. And the general sense of being part of a shared gag.
It made me think of a list of bands who would qualify as music hall. The Beatles would. The Stones wouldn’t. Blur would. Oasis wouldn’t. Madness would. The Clash would. The Cure did for a while, then didn’t.
(And, incidentally, it’s this music hall quality which Simon Cowell doesn’t get – he thinks pop music is about hummability and spectacle. It’s not. It’s about a oneness with the performer. At least British pop is.)
I know this is not an original thought: Paul du Noyer had it years ago. But it took a reunion greatest hits gig from an undervalued band who were based in Gypsy Hill (I think) for me to understand British pop’s sweet spot is somewhere equidistant between Memphis, Tennessee and Whitechapel.