Live: Cud, The Barfly, Brighton

I was all ready to write a review that was full of pathos and dry, dark, Didion-esque humour. I had my opening line set up: “this is where the indie bands go when they die.” It was going to be a tragic if affectionate portrait of a middle-aged, second division rock act reeling around in their twilight years, a piece full of telling details and unsparing prose. But I can’t do that. Because it wouldn’t be honest. Because last night was just too good, too free and unburdened, too much like old-fashioned, light-hearted, unqualified FUN.

At the same time, there’s no point in pretending that I went for any other reason than nostalgia. Cud were an important band in my youth; between the ages of 16 and 22 I saw them dozens of times, and I have hundreds of stories and memories attached to them and their songs. I was in the right time and place for them; they formed at Leeds University in 1985, when I was 14 in nearby Halifax, and for the first few years of their existence they were a massive northern cult, only gradually filtering through to the bemused London media.

Like their contemporaries Pulp, Cud combined an art school love of the camp and the kitsch with a self-deprecating sense of humour, style, drama, showmanship and a huge romantic streak, along with bellowing post-punk pop tunes that fused half-inched Radio 2 melodies to caustic slabs of juddering guitar noise and an increasing dose of funk.

I’m not going to try to make a case here for Cud as overlooked sonic innovators, or to try to argue for their place in the history books alongside the musical greats. I know full well that you had to be there. But if you were, they were great. Never the paradigms of dull, sexless, under-achieving indie rock they were often held up as (blame the name: there were plenty of other, more worthy candidates for that honour), Cud were always an exhilirating live act with a brilliant frontman in Carl Puttnam, a singer with a voice to rival Tom Jones and a lyrical wit and dexterity that would have done Wilde proud, as revealed in lines like “I was a teenage stamp collector, I’d lie on my back and you’d stamp on my face.” Ned’s Atomic Dustbin never had song titles like ‘An Epicurean’s Answer.’

 Tom Jones and Oscar Wilde- Carl’s physical presence and dress sense was also somewhere between the two, while musically Cud pioneered the indie-dance crossover at least as effectively as the Roses or the Mondays, but in their own unique fashion. And, as last night proved, they simply had an embarrassing wealth of brilliant songs.

As for me, well, unashamedly digging out a period t-shirt (Senseless Things ‘Pop Kid’ logo), and combining it with the ripped black jeans, black baseball boots and leather jacket I’ve pretty much been wearing for the past 20 years, I looked as though I’d gone out in 1989 without a change of clothes and hadn’t been home since. Even my hair is back to its teenage length, though somewhat greyer, and the Barfly had Olde English cider on draught. I can’t remember the last time I encountered Olde English in a bar; it was probably around the same time I last encountered Cud. If you’re going to relive your youth though there’s no point in half measures, or half pints, come to that. 

The support act, bizzarely, were an Eat tribute band. Eat, you will recall, were sort of a second generation Stourbridge band, a Wonder Stuff manque, but with somewhat more hard rock bluster, and have been duly consigned to the margins and footnotes of rock history. Why would anybody… aah, okay, it’s the original singer from Eat, Ange, backed by two younger guys on bass and acoustic guitar, and a drum machine, playing some of his old tunes. Which is fair enough, I suppose. They’re called Doolittle, a name which, to anyone of an age to remember Eat and Cud, must automatically trigger Proustian associations with the seminal and indeed generation-defining 1989 Pixies album of that title. It’s a loaded and in some ways inspired choice.

I must admit that I never really bothered much with Eat at the time (though my student band did record a demo using their amplifiers), but I seem to remember that Ange was generally regarded as a motormouth rock god in waiting, whose arrogance was almost justified by his talent. He was a good-looking chap too, who posed naked on one of their record sleeves I think. Now somewhat humbler, but with a trace of the old swagger, he looks… craggy, but still with an impressive mane of curly hair. He’s in fine voice and on last night’s showing has written some excellent songs, particularly the penultimate ‘Tombstone.’ Maybe I should have paid more attention when it mattered… but I said I wasn’t going to do pathos. Let me just say that Doolittle are well worth seeing if you fancy some brooding, low-key folk rock, and leave it at that.

As for Cud, it’s like they’ve never been away. Alright, so guitarist Mike Dunphy, now a deputy headmaster, has opted out of the reunion shows, but his place is ably filled by the youthful Felix Frey, sporting a splendid black beard that makes him resemble a young Warren Ellis of Bad Seeds/Dirty Three/Grinderman infamy. Drummer Steve Goodwin, now to be found playing alongside Felix in Lazerboy, may be flecked with grey and noticably pained and breathless during some of the more powerhouse drum parts he once executed so recklessly, and bassist, cartoonist and recently, childrens’ comic editor William Potter does seem to be turning into Melvin Hayes. But Carl Puttnam- singer, frontman, father of two and AWOL Oddbins employee- is resplendent in leather kecks, a tight, ruff-fronted purple shirt, shades and a handlebar moustache framing his magnificent collection of chins. And his voice? Well, as he demonstrates on ‘Vocally Speaking,’ with its ironic refrain, “I’m as limited as my vocal range,” those famously powerful and expressive lungs have plenty of life in them yet. Besides, being older suits Cud; it was always the joke that Carl was this speccy, geeky and rather portly fellow playing the part of a rock n’ roll love god. Now that he’s balding and middle-aged it works even better. It never seemed quite right that he was young.

Significantly, the rapturously-received set concentrates on songs from their first two albums, i.e. the good ones: When in Rome Kill Me and Leggy Mambo. There’s only a reluctant airing for their biggest hit, ‘Rich and Strange’ from airbrushed major label debut Asquarius, and nothing at all from the fatally compromised fourth album, Showbiz. 

What we did get were solid gold Cud classics like ‘Only a Prawn in Whitby,’ ‘Strange Kind of Love,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ ‘Purple Love Balloon,’ ‘Now!’, ‘Hey Boots,’ ‘You’re the Boss,’ ‘Love in a Hollow Tree,’ ‘Wobbly Jelly,’ ‘Eau Water,’ and ‘Not Exactly D.L.E.R.C.’ My only criticism is that they didn’t play for another hour, and it’s a testament to their songwriting riches that  so many other favourites went unaired: wither ‘Slack Time,’ ‘Push and Shove,’ ‘Hey! Wire’ and many others?

They encored with their Mission Impossible styled version of Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the Past’ and, of course, traditional set closer ‘I’ve Had It With Blondes.’ If I was doing pathos, I would describe this song’s refrain of “things get worse when you get old” as poignant. But I’m not. And it isn’t. So I won’t. Because, on last night’s evidence, they don’t.

Not at all.           

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One Response to “Live: Cud, The Barfly, Brighton”

  1. Rust Paint : Says:

    the thing i like about leather jacket is that they give you the impression that you are a bad ass guy `

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