Buy Peter Blegvad's Just Woke Up

Peter Blegvad and friends

Union Chapel, 2 Feb 96

Set list—pieces I remember, in no particular order...
The Song (from The Lodge's Smell of a Friend and John Greaves' Songs)
Special Delivery (from Just Woke Up and Knights Like This)
Bee Song (from Just Woke Up)
Children (PB read unaccompanied from his book, "Headcheese"; also from Blegvad & Greaves' Unearthed)
Meet the Rain (from Just Woke Up and Knights Like This)
Bee Dream (from Just Woke Up)
Just Woke Up (from Just Woke Up)
[The] Incinerator (from Just Woke Up and Knights Like This)
Powers in the Air (from The Naked Shakespeare)
King Strut (from King Strut)

Peter Blegvad: vocals, electric guitars, voice
John Greaves: bass
Kristoffer Blegvad: electric guitar, vocals
Phil Shaw: harmonica

Advertised as just Peter Blegvad, when the gig started, I was very happily surprised by the appearance of more of the Just Woke Up line-up: longtime collaborator John Greaves on bass (from Paris), Peter's brother, Kristoffer, on second guitar and vocals (from Rome) and Phil Shaw on harmonica. (Sadly, Chris Cutler—drums on Just Woke Up—was unavailable.) Blegvad played a few pieces solo before Kristoffer entered; a few more songs and Greaves and Shaw—to considerable applause—emerged too. Greaves continued to play on nearly all the songs, with Kristoffer and Shaw on the majority. Their presence produced a very different sound to Blegvad's last solo performance some months previously at the Purcell Room, Royal Festival Hall, despite a very similar set list (different order, however, with Peter opening solo with "Gold"—an encore at RFH). Yet their combined sound was different again from Just Woke Up, an album apart from Blegvad's earlier solo releases with a somewhat Dylanesque sound.

The material came mainly from P. Blegvad's various solo albums, particularly concentrating on the new Just Woke Up. RFH also saw Peter "I won't attempt to mimic Dagmar's original vocals" Blegvad play at least one Slapp Happy tune, but none were played this night. Sadly, no Kew.Rhone either; but, to plug Greaves' new album Songs (which I am happy to plug as well), on which Peter and Kristoffer both appear, they did play "The Song", the original version being on The Lodge's Smell of a Friend. Sung by Robert Wyatt on Songs, Peter and Kristoffer's vocals at least equalled Wyatt's version and Peter also provided some pleasant guitar noodling as an intro and outro to bracket the emotion of the piece. While quite laidback with piano on Songs, this version was very powerful, projecting this image of a life-changing event in 'the song'—the highlight of the evening for me.

All my prog heroes seem to be bass players (Chris Squire, Trevor Horn {OK, so Horn moved to producing, but his production and arrangement of, say, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Welcome to the Pleasuredome reveals he retained a bass player's perspective} etc.). John Greaves is another: his work is tremendous, be it with National Health, Henry Cow, Blegvad or solo and tonight he showed no trouble with live work either. "Meet the Rain" doesn't work for me on Knights Like This but here it was beautiful and again very powerful. Greaves' bass line was somehow detached from the two Blegvads, each note seeming to presage the approaching storm of the lyrics.

It wasn't just Greaves who improved the songs over Peter's somewhat lacklustre albums like Knights Like This or The Naked Shakespeare. Peter has complained that he feels both of those albums were overproduced; a problem also suffered by Slapp Happy's Casablanca Moon as comparison with Acnalbasac Noom, the original version, demonstrates. At RFH, it was clear that the songs worked better live and here they continued to work well with the addition of a band. "Special Delivery" was another example were the trio gave so much power to a song. I've used 'power(ful)' three times to describe the performances: this wasn't a rock power trio, but the instrumentation just brought emotion to the music, something slightly lacking from the album Just Woke Up, which is still an improvement over Peter's earlier albums.

Peter was far more relaxed than the slightly nervous figure at the RFH. Here he happily stood out front, not sitting hiding behind a music stand. His humour—remember he does a cartoon strip (of sorts...) for a Sunday paper in the UK—came across well both times. A guitar lead causing problems and a tad of feedback were dealt with happily with Greaves looking on, with facial distortions to match Didier Malherbe's in Gong. After one song, Peter turned to Greaves to suggest, "Think how much better we would have been if we'd rehearsed"!

I was last at the Union Chapel for the last of Steve Howe's Pulling Strings tour. That had been next door in the actual chapel, but we were in a large church hall now. Large and very draughty: but the cold snap that hit the UK was perhaps more than the organisers could have expected. The audience was comparable to the RFH gig at less than 100. I would concur with a comment overheard beforehand that this time there seemed to be a 50:50 sex ratio compared to a male dominance at RFH. The audience were very Islington, if you know what I mean. (If not, we're talking thirtysomething champagne socialists/armchair radicals.) A few brought small children and there was a scattering of students. They seemed to know who Kristoffer and Greaves were, although not of Blegvad's work in Henry Cow and Slapp Happy.

It is sad that Blegvad can only pull a small crowd like this, but at least the atmosphere is far better than at, say, Wembley Arena. The performers hung round afterwards and happily chatted to fans, allowing me the opportunity to thank Greaves for all his music. (Yes, one of those embarrassing fan/hero moments—but don't we all feel better for them?)

Henry Potts, 15 Feb 96; revised 22 Oct 2005

Originally posted to