Jonathan Richman, Bush Hall W12 (29 Feb 2012)

There’s Something About Jonathan

Jonathan’s playing at Bush Hall tonight.
Jonathan’s making a party at Bush Hall tonight.
Jonathan’s bought along Tommy.
Tommy’s bought his funky drums.
Tommy’ll drum up this party at Bush Hall tonight.
Jonathan’s bought his funky guitar.
So let’s party at Bush Hall tonight.

Jonathan Richman is an artist. Like many great artists Jonathan manages to divide opinion. Some would say he creates impossible songs with improbable rhymes about the most mundane and surreal subjects. Whilst some say his music belongs in the playground. I’d say the genius of Jonathan lies in the fact that both of these statements are true.

Tonight at Bush Hall, one of my favourite venues, we see a sparse set of timeless numbers from a performer who seems to have been in my consciousness for ever. Quite a few of the songs seem to be new, and Jonathan gives the impression that most of them are made up on the spot. The great thing about watching him and listening to him play is that the new stuff seems to sound pretty much (in a good way)like the old stuff. New sparkling, carefully crafted rhymes set to familiar rhythms. Helping to create those rhythms and compliment Jonathan’s guitar is Tommy Larkins on drums.

The opening number was an old(ish) track ‘No One Was Like Vermeer’, which contains the brilliant lines ‘Vermeer was eerie/Vermeer was strange/He had his very own colour range’. And this set the tone for the evening. In an early exchange with the crowd he apologised if it was ‘a little hot’ in the hall, and went on to explain that he’d asked for the air conditioning units to be turned off as they made a humming sound.

Stand-out tracks were ‘London‘ a song in which he explained how his view and love of London have transformed over the years. A sing-a-long version of ‘Bohemia’, which tells the tale of how as a ‘bratty kid’ he managed to find the door to his future, and a typically humourous song about what the sea would say about pollution. I lost count, but he managed to sing in at least four, possibly five, different languages and showed some pretty groovy dance moves.

Jonathan turned 60 last year, and it seems incredible to think that this guy has been making music for 40 years. His brilliantly surreal humour and quirky rhythms should ensure that he’s making parties for years to come. And, to anyone who thinks themselves too sane to like his music, in the words of Jonathan himself ‘If you want to leave our party just go’.

Anyone wanting an introduction into the genius of Jonathan need look no further than this splendid collection of his early stuff: Roadrunner, Roadrunner – The Beserkley Collection.

Rob White

The Substantive is a platform for new, independent writing on popular culture. You can buy the e-book and/or t-shirt. Details below with links to pictures and reviews.


The Substantive ‘The Boss’ t-shirt, with an original print by the artist Lilly Allen, is 100% ultracotton and made by an ethical and environmental partner. Pictures, more details and a link to order here.

Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

New, independent writing, ‘Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley’ documents the journey that captures the culture of travelling to Europe watching football while examining a sport where money is valued alongside glory. It is available to preview for free and download in full for less than a pint of beer at the Brixton Academy from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.