“15 watts of sheer power” – that’s the ampage of Big Russ Wilkins’ ‘PA’. Well, we are in the Glad Cafe, an intimate venue and one which welcomes a mostly-masked-up crowd on Glasgow’s southside.
Wilkins is a veteran of the ‘Medway scene’ (the North Kent musical movement which spawned countless bands including Billy Childish, and The Milkshakes), and along with Lightnin’ Holling is usually one third of Lord Rochester, who in that Medway tradition make back-to-basics bluesy rock.
With vocal and guitar duties split, Holling offers ‘Incredible Disappearing Woman Of A Certain Age’ which Wilkins augments with Cramps-y guitar, before revealing that two close family members have recently passed away due to ‘Asbestos Blues’.
Now based in Dumfries, the duo aptly deliver a version of Robert Burns’ ‘Holy Willie’ with a Nick Cave vibe to it, while the downbeat (lyrical) vibe carries through to the set’s “apocalyptic” closer.
No such doom and gloom from Helen McCookerybook – a woman who could hold an audience’s attention if she set the Yellow Pages to music.
A founder member of sprightly Brighton pop combo The Chefs, McCookerybook (not her birth name) later fronted Helen and the Horns, both regulars on John Peel’s show and both characterised by quirky tunes and wry lyrics. She now moonlights as a musical academic but retains links to the old scene having published a couple of books including ‘The Lost Women of Rock Music’ and appeared on the ‘Stories from the She Punks’ documentary made by Raincoat Gina Birch.
Tonight’s short and sweet set, comprising mostly material from current album ‘Green’, is her first show in “ages”. Confessing to being slightly rusty, she laughs off the odd mistake, perfectly excusable given the jazzy and complex-looking/sounding chords on ‘A Bad Day’, one of a smattering of tracks from her excellent 2013 release ‘Suburban Pastoral’.
Lyrically and delivered in her distinctive fragile tones it’s as true-to-life as we can get in these times – ‘These Streets’, about unwelcome memories of an ex, and seemingly with the subtitle “Fuck Barcelona”, while ‘So Long Elon’ is self-explanatory, concerning millionaires in (s)wanky cars. There’s a nod to Lightnin’ Holling’s earlier tune with ‘Song Of The Unsung Heroine’, while ‘A Good Life With A Bad Apple’ references the “Temptations” on page three… of the Bible.
All delivered in a soaraway trill, it’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face, the all-seated audience even coaxed into a slightly-muffled singalong on ‘At The Bathing Pond’, which of course turns out to have a darker side, with a Peeping Tom lurking in the bushes.
There’s even a brace of Helen and the Horns tunes to close, ‘Snakebite’, and ‘Freight Train’ taking us back to the cheerier times of early 80s late night radio. However, with McCookerybook’s gig schedule rapidly filling up, there may be no finer way to finally kick off 2022.