It’s a cold and rainy Sunday evening and Northwich town centre is even more deserted than usual.
But at the southern end of the pedestrianised High Street you’ll find the best choice of beer in town at The Salty Dog. The owners are desperately trying to breathe some life into this town with regular live music, DJs and comedy nights.
Coincidentally it was exactly 7 years ago today that I first encountered the phenomenon known to the world as Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip. For the uninitiated, they are a 3 piece playing in a 2-1 formation. The backline tonight consists of ever-present shiny-shoed guitar whizzkid Johnny Flockton and a Fruitbat-haired bassist who I think is called Carl. Up front and centre of attention we have the frontman every other band wishes they had, the indescribable Mik Artistik.
He’s a sexagenarian rock star.
He’s a philosopher, a poet, a visionary.
He’s an accordionist with accoutrements.
He’s a menace to society.
He’s a livestream of consciousness.
He’s a shouty bald man in a string vest.
As Kris Kristofferson puts it “he’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”
The current tour is billed as the “Sharp” tour, named after the recently released album which was recorded live in Mik’s hometown of Leeds in December 2021. They’ve released 10 albums now, 3 of them recorded live and often that’s the best way to hear the songs. The live versions can often end up double or triple the length of the original versions once Mik goes off on his tangential ad-libs.
At this gig they only played 5 of the 13 tracks from the “Sharp” album. To be honest I was delighted about that because I got to hear quite a few of my favourite songs that aren’t included on that album.
One of those was the breezy opener “I Don’t Need Heroin” in which our hero plays an accordion while vowing to stick to bitter, Baileys and Belgian chocolates instead. Good advice for all and certainly far funnier than Lou Reed’s song, apart from the line “it’s my wife and it’s my life” which for some reason I’ve always found hilarious.
That was followed by another of my favourites where Mik is worrying about guitarist Johnny leaving the group, with its increasingly panicked refrain “Johnny’s had an offer from another fucking band!”
Mik boasts of his new musical instrument in “Acoustic Synthesizer” and gives details some of the amazing sounds you get when you press its keys… bird song, a choir of angels, even the football scores! Leeds United 4 Man City 0 apparently, a scoreline which will delight my fellow wizard Kicker Of Elves.
If you’ve been wondering when someone was finally going to get round to writing a dub reggae anthem about people who don’t pick up their dogs’ shit, then “Clampdown” is the song you’ve been waiting for. The 2 boys at the back were playing a blinder on that one.
Another highlight was “Tribute Band” an extended spoken word piece so lengthy it was split into 2 halves either side of the interval. It tells the story of how an impressionable and youthful Mik become obsessed with a band called Theme and how his life was subsequently turned upside down by a chance meeting in the Dolomites. It’s 150% fictional but the detail and precision in the words and performance are so inspired that as you chuckle along, you just have to admire the writing.
The first half was brought to a close with “I’m Turnin’ Into Dad.” There are a lot of lines about getting old in his lyrics and the topic of becoming more like your parents as you get older is one that would be very easy to just play for laughs. But we’re not talking about a musician who takes the obvious path here. Mik’s song about his dad is genuinely moving. He’s been our guide through quite a dramatic change in mood and we’re all going with it. Ten minutes ago he was singing about dog shit in a silly Jamaican accent, now he’s singing about his childhood and many of the crowd simultaneously seem to have something in their eye.
The second half opened with “David Bowie (Was A Funny Man)” another touching song centred around Mik playing the “Golden Years” riff on his accordion. The song mentions that Bowie’s dad was from Doncaster which I just presumed was totally made up. But I just Googled it and it’s bloody true!
With its post-punk guitar riffing and unhinged vocals, possibly my all-time favourite Ego Trip song is “Plastic Fox.” The live version tonight was even more intense. The grandkids love it!
The hits just kept on coming as we neared the end of that second half. Not sure where Mik disappeared to while they played “Secret Cloak Of Invisibility” but both that song and the recent single “Glastonbury” went down very well.
Two older songs that I really love, but had completely forgotten about also made very welcome appearances in the set, “Bali” wherein Mik visits the tropical island in his dreams and the unquenchably funky “Condoleeza Rice.”
There were also some new songs along the way, I particularly enjoyed the one about being an old man in a flat cap seeing another old man in a flat cap in the street.
The final song was inevitably “Sweet Leaf Of The North,” named as the greatest song of the 2010s by no less a person than Iggy Fucking Pop! This was preceded by another exhilarating improvised flight of fancy from Mik, in which I especially enjoyed his impression of a Londoner. With the band still playing round the soulful keyboard riff as the song ended, Mik sang his thanks to us all for coming out on a Sunday night. Then we headed back out into the rain with our lives considerably enriched.
[…] My next live music fix was Leeds legend Mik Artistik and you can read my review of that one here. […]