Melody Maker | Live | 30 March 1991 | Photos: Richard Bellia
Le Zenith, Paris
Let me start with the absurdly named ELMER FOOD BEAT, whose debut LP has sold more than 300,000 copies in France over the last year. One of only two French groups to play this weekend festival in a massive tent permanently sited in a Paris park, their cartoon capers and zippy tunes are reminiscent of The Dickies and - here's the rub - every song is about how big their todgers are. Fellow Gauls KATONAMA are also weirdly fun, mainly on account of their avant-garde jazz version of "C'mon Everybody". Total confusion.
Now here's something else that's strange. Despite frontman Rudeboy's encouragement, there are no stage dives during URBAN DANCE SQUAD's set. The veritable chasm between the group and the audience obviously has something to do with it, but even if the lack of chaos is a tad disappointing, they further prove they are one of the most entertaining live acts around. Rudeboy stamps across the stage like a drunken hippo and whereas "Brainstorm" is a furious collision of HM guitars and hip hop beats, the vocal harmonies of "Deeper Shade Of Soul" are almost barbershop. The new songs sound mighty fine too. Let's hope this year they'll win the wider support they've long deserved. Let's twist.
Letts, Roberts and Williams – Mick Jones's former partners in Big Audio Dynamite – have only played a couple of gigs as SCREAMING TARGET, but they're already a force to be reckoned with. With the help of the albino indian from "Twin Peaks" on guitar and female singer Chez, a personification of perpetual motion, their dubby, housey, rocking rap-a-rama (sorry, it's the best I can do) is truly unique. The sonic bass, acid effects and 101 samples of "Who Killed King Tubby?", the grit blasted "Knowledge 'N' Numbers", the bit where Chez hitches a lift on an invisible space hopper, and some of the most amazing hats I've ever seen contribute equally to the fun. Huge hats, huge sound. Let's twist again.
THE POGUES bring the first day of the festival to a close and are utter shite. Shane MacGowan has put on a pound or 20 of late, and with a pair of sunglasses nailed in place and his beard merging with his navel fluff, he looks like a cross between Roy Orbison and Dave Lee Travis. Unbelievably, his voice is even more dreadful than on the group's last album. Shuffling into the wings every other song, he leaves much of the singing to the mandolin player, which would have been a sensible move if it wasn't for the latter's faulty microphone. "Young Ned Of The Hill" becomes a hilarious impersonation of Norman Collier.
Although they have problems understanding the lyrics and are probably baffled by the countless references to the Birmingham Six, the French punters seem to think The Pogues' farcical folk music is brilliant. Perhaps it's the accordian. They merrily bop along to the wobbly-headed rhythms and shrill melodies of "Hell's Ditch", "Schlaranoya" and "Shunnysideadaschtreet", and whenever the pace drops hundreds of flames flicker above swaying bodies. A few miles down the road at Pere Lachaise cemetary, poor Jim Morrison must have been spinning in his grave.
THE SUGARCUBES' abysmal "Here Today" LP suggested they were another great loss and, as such, their performance at this festival can only be described as a miraculous resurrection. "Regina" and "Dear Plastic" are given fresh nips and tucks of invention, "Dear Plastic" sounding nearly as strong as "Deus" and "Delicious Demon", Bjork's voice soaring and the hem of her skirt riding up in a show of solidarity. Einar has problems with his clothes too. After sitting down for a whole song in order to take off his trousers, he spends the next two trying to put them back on. Bjork playing his leg like a guitar doesn't help much. Spendidly stupid stuff.
With The Soup Dragons pulling out, JAMES are drafted in as last-minute replacements. The night before appearing at Le Zenith, they'd performed a set of almost entirely new songs at Dave Haslam's Freedom Club at La Locomotive. A couple of them were pretty impressive, especially the one featuring some neat quasi-country guitar picking. The reissue of "Sit Down" doesn't mean they've completely run out of ideas, then. My main worry remains that Tim Booth looks too much like Tommy Boyd, the annoying prat who used to present "Magpie", to be considered a serious pop pin-up of the 1990s.
Within moments of James taking the stage at the Ricard Festival, the heavens open up. By the half way point, the rain is dripping through the canvas roof. Not that anyone is particularly bothered, least of all Booth. His idiot dancing during the opening songs has left his shirt soaking wet and he struggles to find enough breath to deliver "Come Home". "Johnny Yen" and "How Was It For You?" are far better, Booth taunting the rest of the band throughout the second of these, falling on his knees in front of the guitarist and ending up flat on his back. His companion has to haul him to his feet by his hair.
PREFAB SPROUT, the headliners of the second day, are as tedious as James are playful. In fact, they are positively sleep inducing. And guess what I dreamt? I dreamt I had a penny for every hair on Paddy McAloon's chin and another for every glittering speck on the skin tight trousers worn by his drippy blonde sidekick. I used this vast sum of money to buy Prefab Sprout's record company and immediately banished Paddy to a rowing boat anchored in the middle of the Baltic. Then I woke up and found him still warbling away like a Las Vegas toilet cleaner and his sidekick still looking drippy and blonde. Reality is so humdrum.