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Andy Cairns, live in London

Live Review

Venue: The Borderline

An acoustic evening with Therapy?'s frontman

As part of his second acoustic tour of the UK, Andy Cairns has been leading congregations that need no encouragement to sing along. Here's five things we learned at his London Borderline date.

CAIRNS PASSES THE CLASSIC SONGWRITING TEST WITH FLYING COLOURS

It’s sometimes said that the true test of a rock song is how good it sounds on acoustic guitar. Given that Therapy?’s high-impact earliest material grew from their love of brutish noise-rock, it’s an unexpected and entirely welcome surprise to hear Meat Abstract, their very first self-released single, as a surprisingly nimble and touching song when performed without the band. Cairns says that of the fourteen albums they’ve released so far, he remains fondest of Babyteeth, their first. Hearing the bare-bones version of such an early tune shows that Cairns’ compositions not only pass the test, but still resonate more than 25 years down the line.

**HAPPY PEOPLE DO HAVE STORIES AFTER ALL **

One of Cairns' best-known choruses, sung with gusto tonight, says that 'happy people have no stories.' Part of the intimate charm of these dates is hearing the tales behind the tunes, and a week before tonight, in Reading, Cairns explained how the song Loose (‘Let me try on your dress – it turns me on when we’re a mess’) was inspired by a bored night in Belfast when the boys, having taken handfuls of Ecstasy and convinced the girls to let them try on their dresses, ended up having to explain themselves to the British Army. Tonight we hear how the classic Die Laughing stems from time spent trying to emulate Fugazi, and that the furious Shitkicker takes its opening lines from shocking words once found daubed onto a mirror: 'This is warning number one – next time we're back we'll bring the gun.' Probably the only instance, Cairns explains, that the direct threat of political violence has featured as lyrics in one of his songs.

GRANT HART DESERVES WAY MORE CREDIT THAN HE CURRENTLY GETS

In their time Therapy? have recorded excellent covers from artists and inspirations as varied as Joy Division, DJ Shadow, and on the Gimme Gimme Gimme single, Atari  Teenage Riot and Abba. None became more successful than Hüsker Dü’s murder-ballad Diane, a massive European hit for Therapy in 1995. It’s saddening to hear that Grant Hart, who originally wrote the song, was ignored and went unacknowledged by the Brixton Academy crowd when he joined Therapy?'s bill later that year. Some people in the audience tonight remember the very show – there was a riot in Brixton that night – and we can only hope that Cairns' repeated reminders of Hart's skill and achievement go some way to making amends.

TONY WRIGHT IS QUICKLY BECOMING A FORCE OF NATURE

Cairns is joined on this tour by Tony Wright – not the former Terrorvision singer, but a former post-rock guitarist now performing as VerseChorusVerse. Wright’s songwriting talents are showcased on the first VerseChorusVerse album, and tonight Big Red Van and his cover of the working man's classic Sixteen Tonnes confirm his intensity as a performer. But it's when he joins Cairns for Therapy?’s Lunacy Booth he truly shows his versatility. Lesley Rankine's backing vocals on the Troublegum original are maniacal and beautiful, but Wright's accompaniment adds a whole new side to a well-loved track.

THE NEW THERAPY? ALBUM PROMISES TO BE VERY GOOD INDEED

This tour is a chance to hear older songs presented in a different way, but it’s also a chance for Cairns, and by extension Therapy?, to take on new challenges in the run-up to their new album in 2015. It's great to hear Screamager performed at the top of the night, with support from guitarist Steve Firth and Chris McCormack of Three Colours Red, but most exciting is new track Tides, apparently inspired by a late-night epiphany at the pier in Dún Laoghaire. Already recorded in full with producer Tom Dalgety (fresh from his number 1 success with Royal Blood), the song has the kind of melody you simply don’t hear in the earliest material, and we’re left in the tantalising position of wondering what the beefed-up version will sound like. Suffice to say it passes the acoustic test, and suggests that the new album will be smart as a new suit and heavy as a box of rocks.

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