JUSTIN Currie’s Glaswegian band, Del Amitri, last played York Barbican in May 2002, but come a York Saturday night in September 2021, here we were, all singing along like before, “And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow”.
Ah, yes, we shall, but on this night we were all lonely together, when so many recent months had been spent in loneliness and disconnection brought on by the pandemic, but here we were, revelling in what we had missed. Nights together, lost in songs that had so much individual impact but hold us in collective thrall.
Held back to the last encore, Nothing Ever Happens is one such song, forever Currie’s definitive work, on the one hand capturing monotony, mundanity and routine but also despairing at how the worst human traits prevail, no matter the protestations, as “American businessmen snap up Van Goghs for the price of a hospital wing”…or now billionaires throw money at an egotistical space race.
Of course, plenty has happened in those 19 years, not least Del Amitri re-forming in 2014, touring that year and in 2018, and releasing their seventh studio album – and first since 2002’s Can You Do Me Good? – in May when Fatal Mistakes made the top five.
That chart placing was one affirmation of devotion to a band whose sustained quality, hooks and smart lyrics of heart-on-sleeve sentiment, wit and grit, gnarled social comment and pop culture references, shared experience, nocturnal journeys, and love’s dreams, dashed realities and drowned sorrows have cut deeper than might be first apparent.
As Currie said in an interview earlier this year: “We’ve got a reputation: ‘They’re OK, but they’re not terribly with it’. And that’s fine, but it’s nice to hear people coming back to us years later, saying, ‘Actually, they’re really good songwriters’.”
In a nutshell, these songs have a timeless air, and as Currie says, who cares if “they’re not terribly with it”. That’s the difference between pop and rock; these songs were built to last, and 38 years on from Del Amitri forming, the flow from 1985’s self-titled debut to this year’s renaissance is seamless.
Like Del Amitri’s songs, Currie has weathered well, lean and lanky in jeans and denim jacket with rock-god locks at 56 but he and guitarist Iain Harvey acknowledged the passing of time by opening with an acoustic When We Were Young. The full house tapped immediately into that nostalgia, those shared yesterdays.
But hey, it was good to be alive, more than ever, at CharlesHutchPress’s first Barbican gig in far too long. Currie looked no less grateful to be reconnecting too, but largely let the songs do the talking, aside from an opening amused aside about York’s Food and Drink festival.
Lining up with Currie on bass and vocals, Harvie and Kris Dollimore on guitars, Jim McDermott on drums and Andy Alston on keyboards and accordion, Del Amitri moved between songs old and new, giving an airing to seven out of the 13 tracks from Fatal Mistakes, to go with those set-list staples Always The Last To Know, Kiss This Thing Goodbye, Driving With The Brakes On, Move Away Jimmy Blue, Roll To Me, Spit In The Rain and Stone Cold Sober.
All Hail Blind Love, You Can’t Go Back and first encore Empty were further highs, and from an album made in lockdown, second encore I’m So Scared Of Dying had a chilling resonance, taking nothing for granted even in a world where Nothing Ever Happens.
Here were songs of renewed meaning from a band with an infamously meaningless name. Welcome back Del Amitri. See you in the year 2040…but preferably much sooner.
Review by Charles Hutchinson