The Jesus and Mary Chain are back - Royal Festival Hall, London

Just Like Honey was started again three times - a friend who was there thought William was deliberately playing it in the wrong key to stitch Jim up, but this can't be confirmed. I wouldn't put it past him…

The Jesus and Mary Chain are back - Royal Festival Hall, London



By rights this should start with the literary equivalent of a guitar feeding back.  But after a long time looking at a blank screen, it was decided this couldn't be done without resorting to comic book onomatopoeia. Besides has anyone ever read a description of feedback that doesn't use the words "a wall of" or "hazy"?  OK, maybe squealing but that's about it.


It's all academic anyway, as there wasn't much feedback to be had. Plenty of tender tunes and the trademark dirty, low-down rock n roll reaching the crowd through a dark fog of dry ice, but certainly no layers of feedback. 


When it was announced Jarvis had got the brothers Reid back together to play at his Meltdown festival, it seemed impossible. Frankly the Jesus and Mary Chain were consigned to my personal history drawer, never to be seen again. It had after all been 10 years and the stories of filial animosity at the time had suggested it was all well and truly over. It all came home to me a month or so before when a friend, who knows about such things, told me the word from the rehearsal studio was that they sounded first rate.


If you will indulge me, let me start with a story from my youth. I was playing You Trip Me Up in my bedroom (on vinyl too - yes, pop pickers it was back in the days of 12 inches). Suddenly my mother burst into my room convinced that the noise she could hear could only have been made by a hairdryer bursting into flames.  She also told me that the Jesus & Mary Chain only chose that name to get attention as their music was no good. Needless to say it cemented their place in my heart quicker than you could say bickering brothers.  


Psychocandy was so essential that it was bought on the day of release and played until it jumped in more than one place. But like all teenage obsessions, it burned brightly to start but soon faded to be replaced by other things. Two albums and a strong of excellent singles arrived before Automatic, which was a pup by anyone's standards and my teenage interest waned, only to be occasionally resurrected by hearing the odd single on the radio. Playing those early-mid 1990s albums now, I was probably a little hasty but there we are.


Whilst I was excited, there were mixed feelings not helped by the fact that the Royal Festival Hall is a funny old venue - intimate with great sound but the seats make it seem formal and stiff in some way.  It always seems as if I'm going there on some sort of pilgrimage. Previous artists seen there include Morrissey, Patti Smith, David Axelrod, Brian Wilson, Lee Hazlewood, Arthur Lee, MC5 and Sun Ra Arkestra. Funnily enough most of this list reads like a roll call of the Reid's influences.  Now JAMC and support act the Pastels can be added to the tally - two immediate blasts from my youth which made me feel old. 


So how did they look after all this time - Jim the same but with less hair. Still skinny and frankly a little mean looking.  Another review used the word feral, that may be a bit harsh but you get the picture. William looked the same but much bigger - in fact he looked as if he would come third in a Scottish Robert Smith look-a-like contest.  But his guitar playing was excellent - despite Jim obviously going over several times and telling him it wasn't. The rest of the band sounded great too but truth be told I didn't really notice them too much – through the flashing back lighting it was as if you couldn't take your eyes off the brothers. 


And how was it?  Before the gig one friend told me they would be shit, another reckoned we would need to riot after 15 minutes and wreck the newly refurbed RFH just to get our money's worth. Both were well wide of the mark. The start of Never Understand twisted my head 20 years ago. After so long out, they sounded as if they'd never been away. It is a talent to write pop songs so simple and catchy, even if they are hidden under a layer of noise and darkness. Strip that away and you are left with twisted rock n roll love songs of a sort. Almost like listening to the Beach Boys or the Byrds whilst a neighbour carries out some noisy DIY. 


The 70 minute set was most of what you wanted to hear, sticking pretty faithfully to the track listing of 21 Singles except for April Skies and Darklands amongst other notable exceptions. There was at least one new song and a blistering encore of Vegetable Man, You Trip Me Up and Reverence (which was the best track of the evening – so powerful sounding) finished the night with some style.  A quick thanks to Jarvis and they were off into the gloom. 


It wasn't all plain sailing. There were moments to be sure - Jim fluffed his lines - guess they are short of match practice after a decade out.  Just Like Honey was started again three times - a friend who was there thought William was deliberately playing it in the wrong key to stitch Jim up, but this can't be confirmed. I wouldn't put it past him... Life in the Jesus and Mary Chain is never going to be a rose garden and there was a definite tension in the air at times.


The crowd was older as you might expect. Apart from anything else all of the young team were aquaplaning at Glastonbury.  Bobby Gillespie was there, complete with his new short hair cut. He was with someone who looked like an older Douglas Hart, so guess it is a good chance it was him. No sign of Alan McGhee - I know someone, who knows someone, who knows Alan McGhee quite well and she told me Alan was somewhere else that night.


All in all the night was an unexpected triumph. Given their obvious obsession with America and its music (early rock n roll, the Stooges, Beach Boys, Velvet Underground, Suicide et al), it would seem appropriate that the JAMC next move is a tour of every major US city before a final implosion at the Winterland Ballroom. The truth is slightly more prosaic - they've announced a UK tour before Christmas with the promise of a new album in the near future.


Words: John Cottrill