I put a seashell to my ear and it all comes back to me. It’s three years, almost to the day, since I first saw Chris T-T. It was in his hometown of Brighton, playing in support of the mighty Brakes and was one of the best shows I’d seen in ages. A few weeks previous to that I had been fortunate enough to receive Chris’ excellent 9 Red Songs set; a record that quickly established itself in my list of that year’s finest and that still sounds pretty sublime when played today.
A lot has happened in the last three years. I’ve seen Chris twice since, both times in gloriously intimate solo sets in the wonderful Bridge Inn in Topsham. Or three times, if you count the day that Chris spent in my school with our Year 10 Rock School students. In conversation with one of those students a few weeks later, Chris was referred to as ‘a legend’. And although that may not yet be quite true, it’s certainly true around my Geek Lair. And judging by the response to last night’s show at the Exeter Phoenix in support to Frank Turner, it may not be long before it’s a more widely recognised fact.
Of course we are coming again to the time of year when some of us of a certain disposition start to draw together lists of our favourite records of the year. It’s always so easy to forget the records that were released at the start of the year, but for sure this year Chris’ Capital set is one that is right up there in leading contention for my top spot. It’s a record I’ve returned to a lot over the past ten months, for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because as the year has unfolded, the general spirit of the times has drifted towards the dystopian vision of many of the songs; a case of the times and the songs spinning off each other with remarkable synchronicity. A line like “If you’re scared things are gonna get worse, you’re right, they’re gonna get worse”, which in January (when I first heard the album) seemed archly dramatic now sounds profoundly prescient. No wonder the track, ‘The Kings Of England’, with it’s ‘Tommy Gun’ drum retorts, has just been released as a storming single. As an album opener and a single it sounds terrific, but live it is literally amplified a thousand fold. The almost Krautrock motorik rhythm is extended, teased, pulled and pummelled with guitars tangling and voices mingling in the fogs of noise. I don’t want it to end.
Similarly, the anthemic ‘Box To Hide In’, which immediately grabbed me when it came drifting through my headphones on the District Line to Olympia back in January. Though lacking the soaring horns that make the recorded version sound like a close relation to something by the much missed Animals That Swim, the band nevertheless wring every last drop of emotional depth from the song, driving it upwards and onwards, kissing the stars on the skyscrapers and the dew on the Quantock hillsides. Beauty seldom sounds this quietly righteous or full of such carefully guarded rage. I swear to God I fight back a lump in my throat.
Elsewhere, the propulsive ‘4am (The Day The Earth Stood Still pt 2)’ and the opener ‘Old Men’ show off Chris’ flexibility and charm as a songwriter. ‘Old Men’ is full of self-deprecating humour, a wry acknowledgement of how life goes on as time goes on; typically sharply observed and the perfect set opener. ‘4am’ meanwhile throws the switch into overdrive, like Dylan coming on with the Hawks in 1966, blowing away the cobwebs and literally electrifying the air with sweet indignation. “The heart is gone, the soul is gone, the only thing left is the money” intones Chris atop a squalling noise, like Wolfhounds circa Blown Away or Gravenhurst pummelling their ‘Hollow Men’. And again, like Dylan going electric with The Hawks, Chris and his group seem like they know somewhere inside that they sound special; know that as the world digs itself into holes of recession and as notions of the death of capitalism reverberate through the media, that this is a noise that connects deeply and lastingly.
So Chris T-T may not be a legend yet. But on the strength of this show it surely will not be long.