One of the cherished beliefs of youth which is steadily eroded by maturity is that Pete Townsend was making sense when he wrote: “Hope I die before I get old.” Another is that if a songwriter can’t say it in two minutes with three chords the song is not worth listening to.
I was just the right impressionable age to be bowled over when I heard ‘Anarchy in the UK’ at a friend’s house toward the end of 1976. It was snotty, crude and mindless and I couldn’t get enough of it. For the next three years I devoured every gob-inflected detail of punk, absorbing the pronouncements of Joe Strummer as if he was the most acute political commentator since George Orwell; following the Jam across the country during every tour (and even across the Channel to one memorable and violent gig in Paris); adopting every manner of frightful fashion item – although I stopped short of putting a safety-pin through my nose.
But the ear drums can only take so much. These days the things I still listen to from those desperate days are a few Elvis Costello songs and the odd mellow reggae moment.
So I was agreeably diverted one day, sitting in the lobby of a chic hotel, to realise that the bossa nova number wafting from the speakers was a cover version of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear US Apart’. The band was Nouvelle Vague and it turned out they had more up their sleeve – ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, ‘Teenage Kicks’ and ‘Guns of Brixton’ – all delivered in a sultry lounge bar style which reinvented and refreshed the originals.
Brightonians can catch her on Sunday at the Duke of Yorks. For those unable to make it, here she is duetting with Terry Hall on ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’.