All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 127 – Kula Shaker, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, Wilton’s Music Hall

A decade on from my last Kula Shaker gig, and it was time to find out just what the band were up to in the 2010s. It turned out that, as ever, it was being bloody brilliant.

Here I was at the last of the three gigs I went to in May 2016. For the first time in a decade I’d made a concerted effort to reconnect with my love for live music, and it had been a resounding success – first with a joyous night from Lush and then an incredibly emotional gig from the Manics. Kula Shaker, who I’d last seen in 2006, rounded off this trio of gigs in spectacular style.

So off I strode on this drizzly May evening to locate a venue I’d never been to before, Wilton’s Music Hall. From my diary:

‘The venue was about ten minutes’ walk from Tower Hill, tucked away in a hidden street. A proper old Victorian music hall. Got my ticket ripped and my wrist stamped, then ventured into the picturesque but poky hall. The floor was very uneven in a true 19th century style, I wondered how it had ever managed to pass heath + safety regulations.’

So far, so rock’n’roll. However, it was not all glee from the start. Support came from a singer called Willow Robinson, and I was not particularly impressed.

‘The support came on, Willow Robinson, one of the many interminably dull blokey singer songwriters blotting the music scene at the moment. I decided it was a good time to venture out for a bottle of water bottle of water, and returned to catch the very end of the no doubt very deep and meaningful guitar noodlings of the support bloke.’

Sorry Willow. At least I recall that the rest of the crowd seemed to appreciate his tunes, even if I didn’t. But happily I didn’t have too long to wait until the main event, and once again, as with my Suede experience in March, I reverted to the true nature of Scruffy as soon as I beheld the delightful Crispian once again.

‘I positioned myself about four rows back in the throng, tried to tolerate the wafting aroma of incense, and listened to the warmup tape of 60s classics. It was not quite 9 when it all went dark, some vaguely mystical, vaguely Indian noises emanated from the speakers, and the band were on! Okay, first point: Crispian – portrait in the attic or what? Still so skinny! Still that perfect blonde fringe which sways perfectly in time to their rawkin’ groove! Only the merest suggestion of a line or two upon his pretty pretty face!’

So far, so Scruffy. Unfortunately, I also had a bit of a whinge about the crowd to get off my chest.

‘Second point: What was with the crowd? No end of boring couples boringly snogging every five seconds in front of me, the young ones I can forgive but the massive middle-aged dude directly in front of me pissed me off utterly, continually blocking my view when he leaned across to snog his lady companion or whisper something in her ear. When did Kula Shaker become a couple’s band? How very odd.

And as if unexpectedly finding myself in Lover’s Corner wasn’t bad enough, my Rubbish Crowd rant didn’t end there.

Also on the crowd: yes we’re all middle aged now, and it’s nice that you can get close without being crushed in the mosh, but seriously, is no one going to dance to “Sound of Drums”? I mean, it’s their opening song and it’s “Sound of Drums”!!! I mean, it was fab, of course, but the atmosphere took a while to ignite, and for a time I felt the keyboard and the backing vocals were a bit low in the mix, and they’re pretty crucial elements to the Kula experience.’

Despite all these distractions, I still had a pretty incredible time.

‘But! What a band, what a bloody amazing live band they are. They may only do one thing – 60s rawk infused with Indian mysticism – but they are bloody perfect at it. Crispian is the very essence of the English rock gent, even more so now he’s a bit older. Of course the 90s tunes were the ones I was most eager to hear, and they didn’t disappoint, I think “Into the Deep” was the only one of my faves they missed out. But the newer songs were surprisingly great as well. I was particularly taken by their new single “Let Love Be With You” – “if you are trying to kick the habit, if you are trying to survive, let love be with you”.

Despite being a big fan of the band over the years, I’d never really fully connected with their spiritual side, the lyrics that delve into metaphysical and mystic topics. This night, I began to wonder if I was going about things the wrong way. A little bit of the Kula spirit was piercing my cynical soul.

You know, for a moment, I wondered what life would be like, if I could take the hippie platitudes that make up some of their lyrics to heart. In the encore, after a storming “Hey Dude”, they fired up “Great Hosannah”, possibly the song I’d most been looking forward to. And yeah, I decided to Give In, to Believe in the madness that calls Now, and oh god it was epic, hollering along with Crisp: “will we arise! in our time! at the dawn of another meaning! will we awake! at the break! of a GREAT HOSANNAH!”, and just for a second, I believed it, yes we will! even tho’ I don’t really known what a great hosannah is. It all ended with a sing and sway along to “Govinda”, and the boys told us that the gig had been filmed, is there to be a live DVD? Will I be able to watch myself dancing in a vaguely mystical way? Oh dear.’

There is footage of this gig up on YouTube, but it all focusses on Crispian (as well it might) and not the crowd, so there’s no video evidence of me and my naff dancing, I’m happy to say.

So I went home, with a head full of Kula Shaker’s sounds, and words of arising into new dawns and the like. These thoughts were still with me the following day when I found myself musing upon the definition of Hosannah.

‘Hosannah, it turns out, is a word evoking celebration, like hooray or hallelujah. Thing is, when they wrote that song, in the late 90s, there was that all-pervasive intangible aura of hope in the air, that the 21st century was coming, and what wonders might it hold? Then the 21st century happened, and it brought us religious massacre and war, and a new world of suspicion and fear, hope utterly extinguished. ‘

I may have written those words in 2016, but how even more apt they feel in 2021.

And yet, for the length of a relentlessly, confidently upbeat Kula Shaker song, I find I want to hope again, to believe in this madness of awakening and dawning. It may be trite and shallow and oh god what could be more ridiculous than a gang of posh boys singing to us about spiritual enlightenment, and yet it grabs at something in the heart of me, now as it did in ‘99.’

And it still does to this day. I had one more Kula Shaker gig to go to in 2016, but since then we’ve heard little from the boys. However, all that looks soon to change – Crispian has in the past few days posted on Instagram about the completion of the new Kula Shaker album, so I hope that the time will come very soon when I can experience the joy of Kula Shaker live again. Because if ever there was an era in which we needed hope and new awakenings, it’s now.

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