It can be a thoroughly grim affair when punk legends degenerate into dreadful old has-beens. Though it’s an appalling cliché to say it, when they die on stage in front of you, a part of you dies with them. I remember having this experience seeing Johnny Thunders as a smacked out old loser, and his actual physical death a year or so later came as no surprise. More recently, and even more painful for me was the experience of witnessing one of the heroes of my youth Jello Biafra at a poetry festival here in Olomouc a few years back. Not only was he shit, he was also clearly a loathsome prima donna. He refused to have a translator, which naturally meant that a large section of the audience hadn’t a clue what he was ranting about, not that they missed out on anything. In addition he refused, at a poetry festival, to perform any poetry or music. Instead he spewed out an incoherent fulmination of bollocks conspiracy theories, to the effect that contemporary US society is comparable to Nazi Germany etc., utterly misjudging and insulting his audience, who in this country have plenty of reason to be hostile to ill thought out, extremist left-wing bullshit. The result was that he deservedly bombed, facing a chorus of booing until most people simply got bored and ignored him or walked out. I lasted about 20 minutes before leaving myself, feeling crushed, while
Last night however I had the opposite experience. There obviously hadn’t been much of an advertising campaign prior to the gig, I only found about it through word of mouth a few days before and even then almost didn’t bother turning up as I was coming down with a cold, in addition to which I’d also misheard who was playing and only caught the name of the support band, a bunch of local mates. In the end I decided to turn up and support them out of loyalty, as well as to catch up with a few old friends, and was pleasantly surprised to find TV Smith headlining. Naturally this was mixed in with a small amount of scepticism and apprehension, but after all TV Smith hadn’t been one of my greatest punk heroes anyway, so I figured that even if I was going to be disappointed it wouldn’t be all that bitter. Plus of course, TV Smith is still quite a name for a small town like Olomouc – he probably played several times in Leeds when I was a student there and spoilt for choice, when I was too busy turning my nose up in favour of hip, upcoming stars like Nirvana, but apart from the aforementioned slug Biafra we’ve had little in the way of internationally known names during the twelve years I’ve been living here, so by Olomouc standards this was pretty prestigious. In the event I left the gig clutching a signed Adverts CD, which as I write I’m listening to, shaking my head in bewilderment at my utter stupidity for having paid so little attention to this astonishing band. The gig was a simple affair, just TV and a miked-up acoustic guitar… and it was absolutely fucking brilliant. Unlike smart-arse Biafra, who sneered at those who still play punk rock, TV Smith wasn’t too proud to give the audience what they wanted and produced all the classics, with quite charming modesty referring to “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” as his only ever hit. Naturally it was a somewhat nostalgic experience, but there was much more to it than mere cuteness. TV wasn’t relying on his legendary status to get him through the gig, but rather played and sang with immense spirit, certainly enough to make his songs sound fresh and relevant today. He told me afterwards that he plays about 150 gigs a year – this is simply a man who loves what he does, and the commitment and honesty shows. Added to that he must have played for a good hour and a half.
Afterwards I was lucky enough to have a drink and a chat with him and was even more pleased, though after that impassioned performance not at all surprised, to find that he’s an extraordinarily nice bloke who genuinely seems to love talking with his fans, which he continued to do long after I left. Out of the blue, a truly life-affirming evening.