It looks like Bernard Butler wanted me to write about him as I was lucky enough to attend recently two gigs where he was playing. For those not familiar with the name, Bernard Butler was Brett Anderson’s alter ago in Suede mark I. For many, the band had never been better than in this first incarnation and Anderson/Butler musical heights were not far from Morrissey/Marr’s best moments. However, a bit like Johnny Marr in The Smiths, Bernard Butler left the band quite early in their career and only played on the first two albums. Suede went on having a very solid career with an excellent new guitarist but things were never to be the same. A bit samey for Bernard Butler who has been since then more interested in collaborations than in leading his own band. Quite a remarkable choice if I may as many musicians struggle with fame and everything that is around it and prefer to follow their musical path.
A bit frustrating though as Bernard Butler is such a magnificent and original guitarist that it was a pity not to be able to follow him on a more regular basis. It looks though that things changed in the last months as he helped two fantastic musicians to put back their career on track through the excellent production work he provided to them.
The first very good surprise occurred a few years ago when Ben Watt (Everything But The Girl) announced his being back in the rock world after many years curing his very rare disease and then regularly DJing on the dance circuit. I am still hoping for him and his spouse Tracey Thorn to reform their common band but getting him back was already excellent news… and even better when the news were that Bernard Butler was very much involved in his band.
I saw the two great men on stage at the Field Day Festival in June 2016 and there is no other word than magic to describe the mood and the quality of the gig that day. I was personally facing a quite difficult phase and watching these guys on stage playing and singing their beautiful songs gave me back my confidence. The only slight frustration is that the show was a bit short due to festival constraints but apart from this that was probably one of the highlights of the year for me in 2016… just behind Iggy Pop at the Royal Albert Hall!
Back to the future for a few months with Bernard Butler now producing Mark Eitzel’s latest LP and playing with him live. Mark Eitzel is also the leader of the band American Music Club but honestly there is no major differences between his two aliases. Originally from San Francisco, California, he relocated to London to record his latest LP “Hey Mr. Ferryman” and one must admit this is probably one of his best.
After a warm-up a few weeks earlier at the Rough Trade East store for a short set, I went to see Mark Eitzel and his band at the Bush Hall theatre…which is literally 400 metres from home! I remember having attended an American Music Club gig in 1994 in France for the Inrocks Festival and being amazed by the intensity of the guy. He was singing as if his life depended on it. Did he change so much 23 years later? Well, not so much except that like all of us he has aged a bit and takes things probably with a cooler and more detached attitude. It has been a long time as well that I did not attend a concert when the singer was talking so much between songs. I guess it comes as much from the place which looks a bit like a big living room as from the man whose song very often require long and funny explanations, especially when they involve ménage a trois!
Bernard Butler was there also with his great balance of presence without taking too much all the spotlights from his partners. His playing remains exceptional not only in terms of pure technique but also on the way he arranges songs and creates beautiful weird songs. Looking forward to seeing you Bernard with another great singer!