Jamie T: Leadmill, Sheffield, Saturday, January 20
Raise a glass to the man who can rekindle the Strummer spirit in a steely city
Backstage before his gig, and something is bothering a restless Jamie T, but it’s not nerves: “I need to fix myself a drink,” barks England’s ramshackle raga hero, panicking as he can’t find a glass in which to mix himself a JD and Coke. Overworked tour manager dispatched in search of a solution, the young Mr Treays loses patience and grabs a filthy-looking plastic bottle. Taking a generous swig of the potent-smelling brown mixture, he runs through the night’s itinerary: “Right, we’ve got beer… whiskey and sambuca. Sorted.” Nods of approval all round, disaster averted, the boy’s ready to go…
Onstage, and the inebriated street poet isn’t suffering any hiccups. As he delivers his lilting Lahndan flow, it becomes evident that the enthusiasm this crowd has for his tunes is as natural as the MC’s cheeky smile. They’ve been kicking around as bedroom demos for what seems like an age, but now these songs are beginning to sound truly important; a soundtrack for the real people, the ones you don’t read about in glossy lifestyle magazines. Tonight, with the likes of ‘Sheila’, Jamie is documenting an escapist culture weaned on booze and barbiturates, holding up a fuzzy macro lens to the windows of back-alley pubs and dens of iniquity across the country. He may be delivering them in his trademark Cockney patois, but Jamie’s observations are universal. That’s why the audience have gone to the trouble of learning every word and it’s why they’ve held this Thamesbeat troubadour so close to their hearts, long before his debut LP was released.
As members of support act The Maccabees flood out of their dressing room and into the crowd, they bounce forward into the moshpit. Noticing their rowdy presence, Jamie dedicates ‘Ike & Tina’ to Orlando Weeks et al. They go wild, Jamie goes wild, the room goes wild and for a moment the world stops turning. By the time it restarts the opening notes of his unlikely Top 10 hit ‘Calm Down Dearest’ are ringing out for the first time (a faster version is delivered as an encore) and the crowd have already taken their cue to sing it for him. Jamie stands there, mouth gaping, genuinely overawed. Already this man’s songs have a life of their own.
Early gigs saw him take the stage alone, armed only with his trusty acoustic bass guitar. Tonight, aside from a couple of solo numbers (including his Billy Bragg cover, ‘New England’, which he dedicates to a Bragg lookalike in the crowd), the songs are all given raucous, ramshackle rock’n’roll treatments. Like the Monkeys rocking out with Dizzee, Jamie’s scattershot delivery veers full circle, from grime MC to protest-punk while his band lay into their instruments at a frenetic pace. As they bawl through ‘Brand New Bass Guitar’, the gang sound like their beloved Clash – it’s proof positive that Strummer’s genre-straddling rebel spirit is still alive and well inside Jamie’s young heart and, in 2007, it’ll be this beat the nation dances to… We’ll drink to that, and you know Jamie will too.