Finally on the big tour he’s been waiting for, the Rev puts the music where his mouth is. It’s well known that anyone who goes round saying they’re ‘well zany’ is actually a crashing bore, and most people who bang on about revolution are eventually unmasked as Trustafarian Tories. So perhaps it’s no wonder The Reverend and his relentless revolutionary bluster has been met with suspicion around cynical circles.
For two years he’s been more myth than man, a shadowy figure in the Arctic Monkeys’ backstory, painted in legend as a svengali string-puller. In fact, he turned out to be nothing more sinister than Alex Turner’s best friend and housemate, and the originator of the community-music style Judan Suki project – a Desert Sessions for south Yorkshire.
He’s been quietly orchestrating his own takeover from behind the scenes for a while now, for fear of allegations of coat-tail riding, and the strategy has just paid off – in the shape of disco-tronic debut ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The World’, which is hanging around the Top 10 for its third week as he returns to London a genuine pop star. Backstage at the indie Pied Piper’s gig, and the entourage is as eclectic as his wardrobe – techno warhorse Jagz Kooner rubs shoulders with soulstress Remi Nicole – and McClure is clearly loving the attention.
Onstage, he’s far removed from his famous friends. Where Alex hides his inner-disco within abrasive guitar, his mate shoves the ’80s basslines upfront, embracing Duran Duran wholeheartedly, instead of just making sly references to them. Where Alex would be happy to enjoy superstardom without anyone ever seeing his face, the Rev’s on a mission to be a messiah, owning the stage with wirey flourishes and calls to arms.
A kaleidoscope of sound shines across the Scala, from the ebullient samba-pop of ‘What The Milkman Saw’ (with provocative chorus “she’s got a white one, she’s got a black one, she’s got a brown one”) to new-wave trance lines all over ‘18-30’ and the woozy prog of ‘Armchair Realist’. He peppers the set with beat poems like his hero John Cooper Clarke, and whips up his own brand of controversy. While supposed left-wingers have started borrowing Tory language like “the Nanny State” because they’re not allowed to smoke at gigs anymore, McClure takes a more provocative approach to his addiction: defiantly sparking up mid-show, to support a diatribe (paraphrased from his fag-happy brother and Monkeys cover star Chris, in NME last year) about how he’s not having Gordon Brown telling him he can’t smoke indoors while he’s still paying for the smoke over Baghdad. That’s going to be a lot of £50 fines charged back to Wall Of Sound, but you’ve got to admire his chutzpah in saying these things out loud. And as ‘Heavyweight Champion Of The World’ and Haribo-addictive nursery-rhyming anthem ‘He Said He Loved Me’ prove as things career to a close, The Reverend’s sermon is more about the songs than anything else. Like a proper punk, he doesn’t play an encore.
Clunky as it sometimes is, McClure’s routine has momentum, and it feels like something genuine’s happening. In a refreshing change from a toff patronising the working classes (hello, Albarn), this is a true blue-collar band of the people, and McClure isn’t going to start shedding disciples any time soon. Dan Martin