Luke Wright should feel right at home in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter. Last year, he was on the road performing rollicking ballads from the gin-soaked and gout-riddled days of the Hanoverian kings. Tonight, however, he has more contemporary issues on his mind: culture wars, murderous swans and a serious case of old-man love.
Wright kicks off the evening with the gentle lament of Drawbridge followed by the louche, shirt-button-bursting Monster, the first single from his musical collaboration with electronic producer Cobbler. Tall, clad in black with dandyish flourishes, he cuts an energetic figure on the Philharmonic’s intimate Music Room stage – rattling out rapid-fire amid a glowing thicket of LED light poles. Then, as the smoke clears, he lowers the guard, slipping into charming, conversational mode, telling the real-life stories behind the dazzling words and a revealing passion for the craft.
A long-time warm-up man for John Cooper Clarke and the Libertines, there is a dash of rock star poet about Wright but behind the bravado there is tenderness. Amazed to be 40, he jokes that one day his “milk face” will be “pulled off and carried away by a pixie” to be replaced with that of W H Auden. A heart-warming story of his clockmaking introduces a tender meditation on family and time before the tempo is cranked up for And I Saw England – a riotous encounter with a malevolent swan whilst wild swimming.
There is a hilarious skit on gerontophilia – a meditation on his many close friendships with older artists and writers. A comic tale of performing at a gala for the centenary of his poetic hero John Betjeman contrasts with a launch into “middle-aged white man” rapping over beats in The Pretender.
For the second half of the show, we are treated a fascinating poetics lesson and a couple of impressive poems made with a nod to the OuLiPo school, who favoured creativity under severe restrictions. Ron’s Knock-Off Shop traces the journey of two hipsters (sloths) to Bolton using only the “o” vowel sound while the sleazy tale of Burt does a similar thing using just the “u”.
Wright’s enthusiasm for the mechanics of rhyming makes a virtue of nerdiness and the poems are smart and fun. He finishes with a flourish with the sweary Embrace the Wank, railing against modern evils and complex coffee culture in a tirade that brings to mind the early rants of Alexei Sayle.
It is a performance that blends light and shade, the comic with helpless rage and real tenderness. Wright is a dashing gunslinger of a poet, feuding with modernity. But beneath the quick-draw exterior, you sense there lurks a wise pastor, yearning to put his guns in the ground.
Reviewed on 16 February 2022 – Continues on UK Tour