17 July 2011 (gig)
25 July 2011
Sunday week ago, Stoke Newington’s sacred temple for lowbrow existentialists, the glorious Rochester Castle, played host to the even more glorious Nigel Burch and his Flea-Pit Orchestra, well, a stripped down version of the band that is.
Treating the punters to a one-hour gig, the banjulele-bashing bard and his musical misfits played twisted skiffle and pub-room ballads - an intoxicating mix of spit- and sawdust vaudeville and Cockney-Brechtian folk-punk cabaret.
Burch’s lyrics are both humorous and gritty, and they are as poignant as they are debauched. Most of all, his urban ditties invite you to enjoy a drink (or several), or perhaps you can appreciate them even more if you’re already drunk. No wonder that Nigel Burch once received correspondence from the genius that is Charles Bukowski, describing Burch’s writing as “the best cure for a hangover”.
Nigel Burch started performing at the tender age of ten, though his career began writing and performing in the 70’s and 80’s with a number of new-wave/punk outfits such as The Outpatients, sharing bills with bands such as The Damned and Sham 69.
In the mid-80’s - solo and armed only with a ukulele and a scary pair of tonsils - he stormed the stages of the pub/club/cabaret scene like some demented neo-George Formby, appearing alongside the likes of John Cooper Clarke and Patrick Fitzgerald. Finally, in 1997, with an expanded sound that included such instruments as the violin, double bass, cello, drums plus added musicians, this eccentric ensemble - now called NIGEL BURCH AND THE FLEA-PIT ORCHESTRA - played their first performance.
In London they have played every venue that matters and does not. They have also toured in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Australia and Moscow - where they are very popular, seeming to appeal to the Russian alcoholic sensibility.
For the Rochester gig (the first gig the Rochester has seen in 35 years!), Burch was supported by violinist Dylan Bates (the ‘Paganini of East London’) and bassist Richard Lee.
Playing Flea-Pit favourites throughout, the punters embraced the onstage manic minstrel antics of Mr. Burch, who delighted with classics such as ‘Love Letters Down The Toilet’, ‘Darling Please Don’t Bite My Head Off’ and ‘Misery Guts’.
Musically, the sound is influenced by skiffle, folk-punk, Weimar Berlin ‘Three Penny Opera’ style ballads and artists like Ian Drury as well as The Pogues, although the aforementioned ‘Love Letters Down The Toilet’ has as slight Django Reinhardt twang to it.
The most astonishing thing are the lyrics which are almost short stories, each and every one of them. How Mr. Burch is able to memorize so many lines is quite frankly beyond me! Speaking of his lyrics, they are an absolute riot to listen to, take his song ‘Wee-Wee Into Wine’ for example:
“Down the broken escalator, to the overcrowded train,
Stuck in the hot dark tunnel with the clinically insane.
The alcohol is going to my bladder and my brain,
I’m waiting for a miracle; I think I wait in vain.
Things would work out for me, all would be just fine.
All would be hunky-dory, if I could turn my wee-wee into wine.”
On this occasion though, the band was in no need to worry about having to turn wee-wee into anything thanks to toilets in the pub. However, there might have been a problem reaching said toilets in time, what’s with being stuck on the makeshift stage and being handed complimentary pints of beer!
While Nigel and Richard exhausted banjolele and bass, Dylan fiddled away as if possessed, twisting and turning and at one point kneeling down and keeling over the stage’s edge. “What are you doing down there, are you being sick? Get up!” remarked Nigel in a deadpan manner, prompting laughter from the audience.
Other songs belted out were ‘Ballad Of The Bogey-Man’ and of course, the band threw in an encore too, titled ‘Me And all The Other Vegetables’ – with Burch singing, “Me and all the other vegetables, growing old, going mouldy and mad.”
To quote one of Nigel’s heroes, Charles Bukowski: “Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must lead”. Well then, consider yourself invited to come along to any of the band’s gigs to revel in musical frolics and merry drink. After all, you have nothing to lose but your livers and your sanity.
The band’s highly recommended CD Bottle Sucker is available from gigs and on request. Simply drop Nigel a line on his Facebook: