As we climb the stairs to Academy 3 on the top floor of Manchester University’s Student Union building, we are greeted by Art Brut’s charismatic and affable front man. Eddie Argos is working on the t-shirt stall. “Still selling your own merchandise Eddie?” “Yeah man, we are punk rock” he replies with a cheeky smile. He pays me a compliment on my own t-shirt which is a parody of the famous Sex Pistols Album Cover, “Never mind Hamburg Here is Saint Pauli” a reference to the German Football Team he wrote a song about. While we are chatting, we are interrupted by giddy female fan who tells a story of how she once had tickets to see Art Brut Play at the Academy but got locked in the house and couldn’t attend. Eddie is the perfect gentleman, with a soft smile he claims “We came back just for you". Here is a rock star with his feet firmly on the ground and as we moved into Academy 3 the rest of the band are up there stage humping their monitors and plugging in their guitars. There’s no airs and graces around Art Brut. But it could have been so different. Once they were darlings of music press the NME included them in its Art Wave scene along with the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Block Party and even Coldplay (what would music journos do all day if not creating new genres?). Whilst those other bands have gone on to enjoy success both commercially and with the critics. Art Brut has developed a smaller but dedicated cult audience.
Four studio albums and a decade after they exploded on to the indie scene screaming “Look At Us - We Formed A Band”, this tour is celebrate ten years of Art Brut and coincides with the release of their greatest hits (well they were all hits with me), entitled “Art Brut - Top Of The Pops”. But tonight is also a historic night in the history of Art Brut, as they have a line-up change Mike Breyer and Jasper Future have left; completely amicably it would seem from the press release on the website. “Being a classic rock band isn’t just the laps of honour around the world and photo-shoots in Rolling Stones magazine. It also involves personnel changes.” quips Eddie Argos whimsically.
One of the biggest appeals of Art Brut is the way that Eddie Argos explores the every day and mundane with a heavy dose of dry wit. He says that his songs are like having conservation in a pub and although more often than not his tongue is firmly in his cheek; but there’s an honesty and humanity that shines through. We are laughing with Eddie as he points out both his and our short comings. New band members Toby Macfarlaine and Steven Gilchrist have been poached from Graham Cochrane’s Band. The line-up is completed by Art Brut stalwarts; guitarist Ian Catskilkin with his energy, enthusiasm and wild eye stare into the crowd and German female bass player Freddie Feedback. Like many bass players Freddie seems happy to be side stage while the boys jump about at the front but she is the rock that keeps the band together with her really tight baselines. She is attractive in an indie geek chic sort of a way; smiling coyly as she watches Eddie perform.
Freddie is not alone; everybody is smiling watching Eddie Argos. A man who was born to perform. The band strike up was sounds like the chords of 20th Century Boy by T-Rex as Eddie Argos takes to the stage and Art Brut break into their first single ‘We Formed A Band’. “We going to be the band that writes the song, that makes Israel and Palestine get along” Then for the first time of many this evening, Eddie shows us how adept he is at changing lyrics and adlibbing as he comes off script. “Then we’ll move on to India and Pakistan - Easy Peasy!”
It’s a well known fact that most bands fine tune their set considerably between first and last gigs of a tour – but most bands don’t advertise this, let alone ask for feedback. Eddie introduces the new band members to the crowd. “They have been rehearsing” he says “I never rehearse; I like to live in the moment. Tell me what you think about them later on Twitter.” Art Brut launch into another track from the debut album ‘Bang Bang, Rock & Roll’ with ‘My Little Brother’. Once again Eddie comes off script in the song which tells how his brother made him a mixed tape of songs which all said ‘why don’t our parents worry about us’. “He no longer listens to B-sides; as they don’t exist any longer. Neither do A-sides. There’s no music you can physically holding your hands” laments Argos, who you can tell has a romantic attachment to the pre-digital music buying era. “My brother thinks that song is patronising” he tells us as the number comes to an end. “He is a maths teacher now. It’s not him my parents are worried about”.
A hat trick of songs from the debut album is completed by ‘Modern Art’. Eddie leans across the stage like a figurehead at the front of the sailing ship and pronounces halfway through the song that “We are an international touring band! That means we been to one more art gallery than you!” before he jumps into the crowd and tells a story about a trip to an art gallery in Amsterdam, where he escorted of the premises for licking the paintings. A couple of times he teases the audience that they are about to start pogoing into the chorus; before coming back to his semi-adlibbed anecdote; while the band are trying frantically to feed him more mic lead for his walkabout. Eddie Argos really does live in the moment and everybody has a smile from ear to ear wondering what he’s going to do next as he scurries around to the side of the stage before reappearing suggesting that climbing back on the stage in his tight trousers would be complete folly.
There are two new songs on offer from the greatest hits album ‘Arizona Bay’ which tells the story of California falling into the Pacific Ocean after an earthquake and ‘We Make Pop Music’.
I must admit I am at a loss as to how Art Brut haven’t established themselves with a bigger audience. They are for my money the best cult band of the last decade. Sure they were never going to sell out stadiums like Coldplay, but you should stick seeing this band live on your bucket list. They even take requests; someone shouts out asking for ’18,000 Lira’, “Okay” says Eddie “Are you ready Freddie” he says to his bass player. She finishes sipping a glass of water before launching straight into the bass line of the track, also from their debut album.
Eddie comes off script once again in the middle of ‘Emily Kane’ a song about his long lost first love. “I haven’t seen her in years…. That’s a lie. In fact, I am now in contact with her through Facebook. She’s married now but that’s okay I got a girlfriend. This song helped brings us back together!”. He continues with another rant “They say you only play the Manchester Academy at maximum of seven times of your way up. But we are going to ignore that rock protocol” claims Eddie “But the chances are, because we played here so many times; you will have seen us before. Last time I was here I told you to form a band, so how come you aren’t in one yet?” he asks rhetorically before randomly selecting members of the audience. “You are the bass player. You are on guitar”. It’s true anyone can form a band and shout “Look at us”. But not everybody has the quirky view of the world, the wonderful gift of words, the talent to delivery them or the unique stage persona of Eddie Argos.
After the gig Eddie returns to the t-shirt stall to a very warm and polite round of applause from his adoring audience. Not only will your favourite rock star sell you a t-shirt; he also has some interesting pieces of his own art including painting of cigarette packs with the health warning “Ignorance is Bliss”. Don’t you remain ignorant; ‘Emily Kane’ was Art Brut’s highest charting single at a position of number forty one. Now that is a rock ‘n roll travesty! Personally I’d love to see Art Brut eight weeks in a row on Top of the Pops. Now, do yourself a favour and make sure you see Art Brut next time they tour.Review & photos by Paul Holloway
Paul Holloway presents The Guest List (Wednesdays 7pm) on Stockport’s radio station Pure 107.8FM. Listen anywhere www.pureradio.org.uk
Follow Paul on twitter @PaulHolloRadio and @PureGuestList