The publicity for his present solo concerts is based on recollections of a rocking night at the Grughalle Essen in 1980, my own decision to visit the Harmonie on Monday was the memory of some great albums made by the man in the late 1970’s, and most of the audience were of an age that suggested this probably wasn’t their first Graham Parker concert, but also that the last was a long time ago. Carrying the past on your back is a heavy burden, Chobhams biggest music hero seemed unconcerned about the load.
“You look back at some songs, and ask yourself ‘What WAS I thinking?” mused Graham Parker. “ recalling “I wrote this song in 1983 called ‘Life gets better’. No it doesn’t – it SUCKS!”. Later he announces “Now I’m going to play the worst song off the album ‘Squeezing out Sparks’” and launches into ‘Waiting for the UFO’s’ with a wry grin every time the chorus comes round. He even has us joining in the madness.
Behind the banter though there are compositions of a quality that had ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine put two of Parkers’ releases in their top 500 albums of all time. I say ‘compositions’ because stripped bare of the drums and bass there is a strident, sneering lyrical style that bears even more resemblance to Dylan than the harmonica rack under the mans chin.
There are wonderful rough-cut versions of Parker classics like the funky ‘White Honey’, the poppy ‘Discovering Japan’ and the jiving ‘Silly Thing’ as well as the odd surprise such as Stevie Rays ‘Pride & Joy’ and if the tracks from his latest album with the re-formed ‘Rumour’ don’t quite have the punk style of old they are still well worth a listen. Graham Parker has matured, no doubt about it. Proof, he concedes, is in the pink electric guitar he pulls on later in the set. “Real men don’t have an issue with pink” he smiles.
Most important of all, Parker hasn’t lost that wonderful rasping voice that comes somewhere between Dylan and Elvis Costello in it’s delivery. Closing my eyes to the encore ‘Hey Lord, don’t ask me questions’ I could see the man in a sweaty club Stateside in the 1970’s when The Rumour did a power packed tour supporting Thin Lizzy – the venom in his delivery may be a little more tempered with age in 2013 but it’s still a powerful weapon of a voice.
Halfway through the show Parker admits his voice is going and he’s going to have problems in Nürnberg tomorrow. It’s a busy time again, with the Rumour reforming, a new CD and lots of interest in the man and his music still. There are sold out signs already up for his Shepards Bush Empire show in London in October. A new lease of life? Where will it all end? Hey Lord, don’t ask me questions…