Sunday, 23 June 2013

An audience with God

"Hi Jon. What are you doing tonight?" came the call from darling Paul. I was on the bus in Wood Green at the time, having spent time sheltering from the grey and grizzly hideousness of what laughingly passes for British mid-Summer in the equally hideous "Shopping City".

"No plans," I said.

"How do you fancy going to see Marianne Faithfull tonight? I have a ticket going. My treat, as part of your birthday present."

The bus full of grey and grizzly people was treated to a half-choke, half scream! Well, dear reader - what would you do?

Miss Marianne Faithfull - famously depicted by Edina Monsoon in Ab Fab as God - has been an icon, an inspiration and a heroine of mine forever, yet I had never seen her live. On each previous opportunity, something else got in the way. Holidays, money, that sort of thing. It was mainly the latter that prevented me from even trying for a ticket this time around, when details of Yoko Ono's lineup for the Meltdown Festival 2013 was announced (I wanted to see Siouxsie too).

And so it was I headed to the South Bank and met up with Paul - and "journo-slut" Alex Hopkins, and the effervescent Lauren Henderson (aka Rebecca Chance) and her coterie, who were also attending the pilgrimage - for the grande dame's show.

She's tiny. She is older and rounder. Yet Marianne Faithfull is electrifying. Even from the outset she had the audience rapt with attention, as the strains of Broken English - "What are you fighting for?!" - echoed around the impressive auditorium of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

This was a subtle, understated set, just Miss Faithfull and guitarist Bill Frisell. Yet every nuance, every emotion was wracked out of a wonderfully varied selection from her enviable back catalogue - famous and not-so-famous numbers including Vagabond Ways, Rich Kid Blues, She, Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song, Bob Dylan's I'll Keep It with Mine, a chillingly minimalist version of Randy Newman’s song In Germany Before The War, Tom Waits' Strange Weather and the crowd-pleaser As Tears Go By [a song which is, remarkably, 50 years old next year].

She proved that the old rebel was still alive and kicking and received rapturous applause for her defiant version of John Lennon's Working Class Hero (given that this was Yoko's festival, I guess it was a must). Every hair on my neck was on end. And as she lit up a (forbidden) cigarette on stage, the rebels in the audience cheered some more!

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they're telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

I adored her version of the 30s classic Boulevard of Broken Dreams ("Where gigolo and gigolette can take a kiss without regret"), and of course I was in raptures when she sang that eternal anthem for frustrated middle-aged people everywhere The Ballad of Lucy Jordan.

It was a brief show (just over an hour) but for me one of the most satisfying concerts in a long while. The crowd (and I) gave her a well-deserved standing ovation. I am still coming down to earth today...

Eddie Monsoon was right. Marianne Faithfull is God.

And here she is singing As Tears Go By last night:

Miss Faithfull's official website


  1. Replies
    1. "Oh, big grey mother, I love you forever
      With your barbed wire pussy and your good and bad weather."


  2. Funny, I was just watching her GOD appearance on AB Fab a couple of days ago. She certainly is older and rounder now, but the voice is still there.

    I missed out on seeing her when she did a concert over here some years ago (I hated the venue they put her in). I love the video of "As Tears Go By", really gives you the feeling of being there. "The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan" must have been wonderful!

    You might enjoy this, if you haven't seen it already:

    1. The voice most certainly is still there - and, my heavens! Did she use it!

      Thanks for the clip - that was one of the very opportunities I had to see Miss F (I got free tickets from a BBC draw), but couldn't go...


  3. How fab - friends like Paul you do need xox

    1. You, Yoda, turning into yet? But seriously - it was an incredible treat! Jx


Please leave a message - I value your comments!

[NB Bear with me if there is a delay - thanks to spammers I might need to approve comments]