Roddy Frame seems to have been going through something of an upgrade over the past few years. After a number of years away, he admitted to getting his love of performing back after helping out long time friend Edwyn Collins following his return from serious illness. After that Frame went back on the road in small patches, playing at the intimate Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush in 2011 as part of a short tour. Then last year he put on an anniversary tour of his debut album, stopping off in London at The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, such a strange venue it almost seemed impolite to cheer too loudly, and made more surreal by all fact the theatre is used for Charlie & The Chocolate Factory the rest of the week and the posters and hoardings all advertised that. And then this time he has taken on the Barbican, probably the most stunning venue I have seen a gig at in my life. When the seating is so spacious you don’t need to get up to let people pass by you, you know the place wasn’t designed for the regular gig-goer like myself.
From Bush Hall to The Barbican
In such a spacious venue, there is always the worry that the performer is going to struggle to engage the audience, that the wide open space is simply going to eat up any atmosphere they may manage to make. But when you have been doing this for 30 years and probably 90% of your audience has grown up and grown old with you, you can do some strange things.
Roddy Frame takes a very casual approach to the evening. After following his band onstage, he breaks into chat with the audience while sorting out his guitar, admitting he had skipped the sound check, preferring to remain at his West London home a little longer before heading all the way across town for the evening. And that sets the tone for the whole evening, it’s an evening out for Roddy Frame to relax with friends, it just so happens that these friends are a near two thousand (comfortably seated) audience, lapping up every word the man utters.
When he is finally ready to begin, he opens up with the distinctive jangly guitar riff of Oblivious (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtewQ6V3WY8), a song that 30 years on from its release still sounds as fresh as ever. To open the set with one of your most famous songs could be risky, but given the back catalogue he can choose from, it makes no difference as he moves from song to chat to next song at his own gentle pace.
He intersperses the set with old and new, easily covering most points of his 30 year career. While the audience cheer loudly at the opening of the older, and generally more distinctive, songs from his early days as a pop star in Aztec Camera, there is equal love for songs from his latest release, Seven Dials. In fact it is one of his more solo efforts, “Rainy Season” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JS7wZsYPiJg) that is possibly my highlight of the evening. He begins by explaining it was a homage to Ryuichi Sakamoto, someone he has collaborated with in the past. Sakamoto may not be a name that trips of the tongue but it’s likely most people would have heard some of his work without realising it (“Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” anyone? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgSeZpcMOBE). The opening sweep of piano gives a far east feel, and suddenly the influence of the song is obvious, then the sweet vocal, and finally the twin violins of the two stunning backing singers made this a moment of pure beauty that brought the song a whole new lease of life in my eyes.
The one thing that you do expect from Roddy Frame is regular guitar solos, this is a man who loves his guitars and knows how to play them. Most songs tonight contain a moment or two where Frame can indulge himself, stepping to the front of the stage for a quick solo, the smile on his face as he does so clear to everyone watching every small movement of his hands. When he goes into one extended solo, the single spot light shines his shadow onto the plain white backdrop, giving a large image of the man as his body moves as one with the guitar, and makes for compelling viewing.
Roddy Frame is so clearly at home, it does seem he is playing for his own enjoyment nowadays, not a bad thing when his enthusiasm for this sweeps across everyone in the room. Frame stops at one point to explain his love of the Barbican and why he wanted to play this hall, telling how he had seen a hero of his acting on the same stage and so he wanted to tread the same boards. He asks the audience to indulge him for a moment as he stands and re-enacts a scene in his head of this actor’s most famous roll, painting the picture for the audience before repeating a phrase in Spanish from this actor’s most famous film. The indulgence is granted and Frame looks like a boy fulfilling a life’s ambition, almost as if that moment is more important that his musical career to date.
And this is the joy of seeing Roddy Frame nowadays. This isn’t just a chore he endures to pay the bills, this is a man possibly at his peak as a performer, having now come to love what he does and has learnt how to share that love with an audience that wants to be his friend. And you sometimes feel he wants to be our friend too as he chats so casually to the audience as if there were just a couple of people there sharing a cup of tea; a cup of tea he had asked for midway through the evening, and which his guitar technician helpfully runs off to find, only for Frame to comment that it showed the priorities of the evening, tea before guitars.
So, where next for Roddy Frame; I’m not sure what an upgrade from the Barbican could be, maybe he will need to hire out some rooms in Buckingham Palace for next year or it could be a downward spiral from here. Either way I will be there wherever he plays, because every time I have seen the man perform, it has been a new experience and just gets better and better.