Photography: Paul McCoy /
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  • Joni O'Shea
  • Paul Birtill
La Violette Societa @ Buyers Club 4/4/16

We’ll come to the worst kept secret in the Liverpool music scene in a bit. First, though, this: I turn to a mate as we’re listening to PAUL BIRTILL reading from his current volume of poetry (New And Selected Poems, it’s excellent, hunt it down immediately) and I say, “I’m not sure if we should be laughing at this.” Birtill’s quite possibly the Leonard Cohen of Walton; a deliciously dark heart with a wicked humour running through everything he does. There’s a real probability that he’s pouring out his most honest moments of utter despair in front of us and we’re laughing uproariously at them. This could be a man in real crisis on the stage but, let’s be honest, he’s bloody funny with it. Liverpool’s greatest living poet.

Birtill may be the key to what La Violette Societa actually is; an anything goes night that can see the famous, the unknown, the spoken word, the dramatic, the poetic and the musical co-exist with equal emphasis. No stars, no egos. It may come from the label which is home to Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band but it’s determinedly not about Mick.

Except for the bit that is. I’d heard a whisper, seen Twitter-based mutterings; lyrics had been ascribed to the mysterious ‘JONI O’SHEA’ which were clearly from the more obscure corners of Mr Head’s current repertoire. As the worst kept secret in town suddenly broke, tickets, much less mysteriously, disappeared. The perception became that ‘La Societa’ was a secret Michael Head gig. Except it wasn’t. Mick’s second on, solo, acoustic, dedicating a blistering 11-song set to Jérôme de Missolz, director of the legendary 1992 YNWA documentary, and Peter Whelan, brother of Pale Fountains’ drummer Jock, both tragically lost recently.

A beautiful Something Like You stands as testament to both. From there it’s the now traditional mix of Shack, Strands and REB material; a furious Streets Of Kenny, an ever-supportive As Long As I’ve Got You, the always powerful, always dedicated to his daughter The Prize, the stunning Newby Street and Cadiz, American Kid – genuinely as good as anything he’s ever written – and a stupendous Comedy – genuinely as good as anything anybody has ever written.

It’s another imperious set from a man currently in the form of a lifetime in whichever shape the Red Elastic Band takes, solo, trio, septet and the only possible negative to take is that people think the point of the evening has been made.

It hasn’t; the point of the evening is that everybody is equal, everybody is as important to the night. Those that leave miss the sheer might of THE BLUE SOUL. In contrast to Nick Ellis’ solo acoustic folk, The Blue Soul are a pounding thing. They’re a night at the Cavern in 1961 where the band have somehow heard the sound of 1968 and intend to use it. They’re proper R’n’B as it should be and they sound massive. They’re as traditional as you could want, a real four-piece, two guitars, drums and bass band, they have songs and they have power. They’re massive and people missed them. Missing them was a mistake.

That’s the lesson of La Violette Societa; you don’t miss a moment, you have no idea what that next moment might be. Next time out? Parr Street, May. Aviator, Marvin Powell, Dan Rhodes and a bloke called Roy. Those of us who were there think we know who that is but you can’t be sure, can you. Don’t miss a moment.

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