Friday, 13 June 2014

Review: Babar Luck/Liam O'Kane, The Chelsea, Bristol 11/6/2014

"Hello Everyone, my name is Babar Luck and it all begins with Frank...with the last few minutes we have let's be Frank."

Well, exactly.  The uninitiated will amble in late, in ones and twos, and miss the opening salvo.
I am not the uninitiated; I have been here before.
I don't even remember the first time I saw Babar Luck, though I should.
I have seen him many times, and it is never ever the same, except that it is always highly engaging and  always worth heading across town for, whichever town he's in.

I time my arrival perfectly: Liam O'Kane has just started when I come in, with his soulful voice appreciated by the few who have come out early enough.  He's often been Babar Luck's touring partner, and it's good to see them together again, Liam's simple, honest songs and sweet melodies setting us up nicely for the unique unpredictability to come.

Most reviews would, at this point, mention what Babar looks like, but this, as the regular reader will know, is not most reviews.  (He's got a big beard and wears a shalwar kameez, in case you'd like to know.)

I can't really pin down what he does, except that he plays guitar and sings and improvises a lot and is a captivating presence.
(In person, he is relatively quiet, polite and friendly.  He's a friend.  On stage, he can be savage - I've seen him berate people for talking during his set, sing about peace and love in the most aggressive way imaginable for a slight man with a nylon-string acoustic guitar - and leave crowds awe-struck.
(I do remember that the first time I saw him, he said, on stage: "I'm a Musslimm - and I'm a femminnissst - and I'm a terrorist."  Confrontational, radical; funny; ballsy.  I was hooked.))

"I was raised on these streets, fourth or fifth generation - wanted to be English once, wanted to be British once."

He describes The Chelsea as one of his favourite places, and in introducing his punk-inspired trilogy, he references Discharge (cheer), Exploited (cheers) and Stiff Little Fingers.  The song is called 'Care In The Community'. 

"School's on fire, let the motherfucker burn...this is a pro-education song."

There's a danger that this set will go largely un-noticed by the patrons of The Chelsea, but I largely un-notice this, because as usual, I can't take my eyes - or ears - off Babar.

"There's CDs in the Reggae Bag I trust you I trust you I trust you - so this is not a capitalist statement it's a pay-my-council-tax statement."

Yes, there's a brightly-coloured bag with CDs in, an honesty bag where any willing punter can drop some coin in and pull a CD out.  There are Liam O'Kane CDs and Babar Luck CDs in it, and that's the end of the sales pitch.
"And I play this song for your children's children."

"Yes brothers and sisters we can make a better world."

It would be a better world if people would shut the fuck up and listen, I think to myself - here and now, as well as in general.  I'd like Babar to not have to deal with it, but he's got experience of playing to people whose attention must be fought for, and sometimes it seems like it's his mission - and he's really good at it.
His eyes are closed, his face set intently as he delivers his peaceloveinvective.

"This song is for Clayton Blizzard and for all those who don't believe in God or any metaphysical or omnipotent higher force as such..."

Aww, shucks.

"I'm all for peace and love but I got fists, knives and guns for anyone who hurts you."

I want to grab people and ask why they're not listening, but I take my queue from The Man Himself: they'll come round.  Sure enough, as soon as he's given a chance, he wins everyone over.

"America:  I love what you're giving me: James Brown and Chuck D...Bill Hicks and Chomsky..."

At some point a bloke picks up the speaker and holds it high above his head, like dudes carrying ghetto blasters back in the day.  He dances with it balanced on top of his head; Liam O'Kane looks worried.
"Is it your PA?" I ask.
He shakes his head and grins.

"Getting crazy at The Chelsea..." says Babar.
A punter walks in and looks at the guy with the speaker for a long moment, eyebrows raised, then looks around at everyone else, mostly smiling faces, and the geezer strides on chuckling, like: "Yeah, that'd be right."

The man with the speaker pretends to drop it and laughs.  People start dancing.  The speaker goes back on the table, facing the mic a bit more than it had been, causing some feedback.  There are four men on the dancefloor, doing that jig thing where you link arms with someone and go round in a circle, then link your other arm to the next person and keep going until everyone is bored or tired or falls over.
The speaker goes back up on the bloke's shoulder, and eventually, inevitably, right at the end, he grabs the mic and shouts something about "Sharkey!  And Babar Luck!"
Babar lets him:  "Getting crazy at The Chelsea..." he confirms.

As is often the way with these kind of sets, suddenly all the people talking through the first half of the set now want more.

And we get one more song, dedicated to the landlord: "It's for you Lemmy and you ain't paid me yet and I love you."

So, all in all, a fairly typical Babar Luck gig: an unpredictable spectacle from a true one-off, original, honest, complex and and inspirational.

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