To the 12 Bar Club for a wonderful concert: John Howard and Pete Aves playing a joint gig. Mr Howard is promoting his new album As I Was Saying, which I reviewed in Plan B declaring it my favourite album of 2005. I didn’t realise it wasn’t released until early 2006, but I suppose that makes me like all those proper UK film critics who nominated Brokeback Mountain in their end-of-year best-of lists, even though the movie was only released to real people last week. Those best-of-year polls are highly suspect, anyway. Non-blockbuster movies often do the festival rounds a full year before proper release, in order to garner the best possible ‘opening weekend’, poster quotes and national distribution.

My favourites of 2005, by the way, are:

1. Mysterious Skin
2. Tarnation
3. Palindromes

1. John Howard – As I Was Saying
2. Final Fantasy – Has A Good Home
3. Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – Mysterious Skin: Original Soundtrack
4. Gentleman Reg – Darby & Joan

1. Alan Bennett – Writing Home
2. Guillaume Lecasble – Lobster
3. Nina Antonia – Prettiest Star

I genuinely can’t think of anything else I really, really enjoyed as opposed to quite liked. That’s a pretty poor showing. Clearly I need to read, watch and listen to more new releases. Thing is, it’s just been obscure Victorian novels and Nico solo albums round these parts lately. Oh, and the new Best Of El Records compilation. ‘I Bloodbrother Be’ is still one of the most remarkable songs ever recorded. Having that next to classics by the Monochrome Set, Would-Be-Goods and Vic Godard’s sublime Nice On The Ice makes this CD essential to any discerning soul:

Back to John Howard. ‘As I Was Saying’ is his first new album in thirty years. In the productivity stakes, this makes Ms Kate Bush look like Terry Pratchett. Not entirely Mr Howard’s fault: he recorded albums, but either the labels involved declined to put them out or some other obstacles reared their unkind heads, and he understandably turned his energies to other pursuits. Mr Howard’s last proper solo release was his 1975 debut, Kid In A Big World, a treasure of early Elton John and Bowiesque cinematic melodies with arguably the greatest album sleeve ever forged:

Although commercially unsuccessful, the album became cited as a Lost Classic by those who write books about such things, and its CD release on RPM a couple of years ago generated new interest, not least aided by reviews in magazines like Uncut (proving their worth for once – there IS life beyond writing about Mr Springsteen every single month). So Mr Howard finally returned to the studio knowing that there were people out there who cared after all. The sleeve of As I Was Saying is particularly poignant: the fiftysomething Howard clutching a vinyl copy of Kid In A Big World:

At the 12 Bar, he performs most of the new LP beautifully, along with debut single Goodbye Suzie from the first album, and ends the night on a fantastic rendering of Mr Bowie’s Bewley Brothers – arguably superior to the original. It’s clear that this one Bowie song in particular has informed much of Mr Howard’s style, mixed in with vaudeville, Sondheim and Randy Newman. I can’t recommend the new album highly enough.

For this gig, he’s backed by fellow Cherry Red singer-songwriter Pete Aves, and they perform two sets comprising songs by both artists. Mr A’s pregnant-with-twins partner Sarah accompanies the two gentlemen on bass, guitar and keyboards, somehow managing to fit all these instruments plus amps plus her enhanced physical form into a corner of the 12 Bar’s famously tiny stage.

Mr Aves: You realise we’ve given a pregnant woman the most work to do onstage?
Mr Howard: It’s because we’re misogynist bastards, darling…

The last small gig I attended (aside from my own) was Sing-Sing at the Water Rats, where singer Lisa was equally encumbered with child. As these things usually come in threes, I suppose this means there’ll be a pregnant person onstage at my next scheduled gig. Which is Martin White at Short Fuse. Now, I know Mr White is multi-talented and artistically prolific, but I sincerely hope he draws the line at physically giving birth.