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An evening with Momus - click opera
February 2010
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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:52 am
An evening with Momus

Getting ready for next week's shows in Berlin, Newcastle and Glasgow, I've been programming some new backing tracks for old songs. Some of them I've never performed before live. The retro format started when Craig Wilson, who's organised the Newcastle show, asked me to make quite a long, intimate, cabaret-ish show, something like "An Evening with Momus". So I decided to do a song from each of my eighteen (soon to be nineteen) studio albums. The Berlin warm-up will feature the same set, but will be "An Auction with Momus and Michael Portnoy", with Michael haggling my prices down between the songs, dressed as a fish auctioneer. The Glasgow show will concentrate on the future, featuring a live collaboration with Joe Howe, who's working with me on "Mr Proctor" or "Cig Jam" or "Joemus" or whatever we end up calling the new one.

Here's the Berlin / Newcastle set-list -- with a glimpse of me, slightly drunk, singing a scratch version of The Cheque's in the Post.

1. King Solomon's Song and Mine
(from the 1986 album Circus Maximus)
A new version of a song I now realize was very influenced by The Passage. The "Alison" in the lyric is Ali Smith, with whom I was hopelessly smitten at university, and who's now one of Britain's most famous novelists. Ali was one of the first people I sent a copy of Circus Maximus when it came out. Having never much liked my poetry in the Creative Writing Group, she was surprised by how well it turned out!

2. Violets
(from the 1987 album The Poison Boyfriend)
I've often been rather passive-aggressive about songs people like, preferring to make them listen to the songs of mine I like instead. Violets was the song on The Poison Boyfriend people who didn't really like my other stuff liked. And actually, now it's had the rather cheesy session accordion licks removed, I really like it too! Especially the end, where I go all Paolo Conte.

3. The Angels are Voyeurs
(from the 1988 album Tender Pervert)
Done as a piano song, this is from the height of my Mishima Period (when I was so abject I could only afford sperm- and blood-coloured paint). Something about the arrangement of this one (very cabaret) makes me dream of a West End musical arranged around my songs. It would be a hell of a lot more spunky than Mamma Mia!

4. The Hairstyle of the Devil
(from the 1989 album Don't Stop the Night)
My big hit! And I've played it surprisingly little. Passive aggression again, perhaps, but I don't really think the tune is strong enough. Good lyric, though. It's a Brazilian soap opera, really.

5. What will Death Be Like?
(from the 1990 album Monsters of Love)
There are various new versions of this song floating around -- an acapella version will be released at some point on a record associated with the Great Pyramid project in Germany. This is the backing track from my performance at the Pyramid Gala at HAU1 in Kreuzberg a couple of months ago, dominated by a fuzzy distorted bass.

6. Marquis of Sadness
(from the 1991 album Hippopotamomus)
I actually picked this because it's the favourite song ever of Phespirit, who runs the excellent Momus lyrics website (which has been a great resource as I re-learned these old songs). "The Marquis of Sadness remains the greatest of all Momus's character creations; Phespirit's ideal fantasy lifestyle," the man says.

7. Summer Holiday 1999
(from the 1992 album Voyager)
This is a spooky mid-noughties remake of my contribution to the 1990 Fab Gear compilation (the founding record, some say, of Shibuya-kei), and my love song to my very first Japanese girlfriend, Junko Shoji. I'm particularly fond of the central Asian bagpipes on this one, a weirdly-tuned sample I made in Tokyo while recording Oskar Tennis Champion.

8. The Cheque's in the Post
(from the 1992 album The Ultraconformist)
A new backing track for one of the more personal songs on the neo-cabaret record I made in 1992 for Mike Alway's Richmond label (in defiance of my Creation contract, which is why we had to pretend it was a live record). I remember (with half a tingle, half a cringe) each episode, each sin, each girlfriend detailed in this song.

9. Platinum
(from the 1993 album Timelord)
This backing track is actually the original demo, rediscovered on an old cassette tape, of the song. It's got all sorts of key changes which didn't make it through to the album version, and will probably trip me up when I do it live.

10. Red Pyjamas
(from the 1995 album The Philosophy of Momus)
This song is a hidden gem, and this version of it packs more punch than the one on the record, though it comes from the same session. The sounds are mostly from a Nintendo GameBoy; after my first two trips to Japan I wanted to make a computer game-sounding record, and this comes from a 1993 session in my flat on Cleveland Street. The mix between sentimental themes and this tiny robotic music is one I still find poignant.

11. London 1888
(from the 1996 album 20 Vodka Jellies)
Time Travel and Japan feature big here: I'm rediscovering London from a Japanese point of view. More specifically, a gay Japanese point of view (the Marquis Matsugae is a gay socialite who comes to London to meet Oscar Wilde and, he hopes, Sherlock Holmes).

12. His Majesty the Baby
(from the 1997 album Ping Pong)
Perennially popular with people who hate -- and, oddly enough, people who love -- babies. I recently met the man who shouts out "Nick, you're a legend!" on the record, on the street in Berlin. He's called John Quin and he writes for Map, the Scottish art magazine, now.

13. Born to be Adored
(from the 1998 album The Little Red Songbook)
I should probably have chosen a never-performed song from TLRS, maybe "A White Oriental Flower". If I have time I'll program a backing for that.

14. Stefano Zarelli
(from the 1999 album Stars Forever)
microworlds will be happy to see this one, but I chose it because it's one of the better pop songs on Stars Forever, and there's something really exhilarating about singing it. Maybe it's all the falsetto!

15. Going for a Walk with a Line
(from the 2001 album Folktronic)
One of my own favourite of my songs ever, the lyrics in this one are based on Paul Klee's diaries and painting titles. "Robert the devil" was the name of his favourite paintbrush, and "An Elderly Phoenix" is a typically-brilliant Klee canvas title.

16. A Lapdog
(from the 2003 album Oskar Tennis Champion)
I still find Oskar an intriguingly odd album, sort of Eislerian, filled with Tokyo postmodernism. This song was written after I had dinner with a very beautiful woman who fawned over a lapdog rather than me, so I suppose it's a sort of song-cousin to His Majesty the Baby, fuelled by a similar "pathetic jealousy".

17. Lady Fancy Knickers
(from the 2004 album Otto Spooky)
This is a pop song heightened to lurid garishness in the mind of a madman. Actually, it comes out of the Tokyo Oskar sessions, not the Berlin Otto sessions. The lyrics were gathered from descriptions of art in a copy of Frieze (little did I know I'd be writing them one day!). I really love singing lines like "spooky foxgloves at the pink pine igloo" and "the etiquette of public information display".

(Additional pop fact: The "lady fancy knickers" of the title is Geraldine Ferraro, the American politician who made waves recently by saying Obama owed everything to being black. She owned the Lafayette Street building housing secondhand clothes shop Smylonylon in New York, and when her rent increases forced English eccentric Chris Brick out, he scrawled "Lady Fancy Knickers, gee up, ya ya!" in the shop window as an insult to Ferraro.)

18. Nervous Heartbeat
(from the 2006 album Ocky Milk)
This has become a live favourite, accompanied by a Marcel Marceau-like mime in which I turn saluting and wiping away tears into the same slow gesture. I don't think I've ever got the lyrics right, which shows that if you want to learn Japanese, writing mneumonic songs probably isn't going to help.

19. The Mouth Organ
(from the forthcoming album)
This song originally appeared on the 2003 Milky album Travels with a Donkey. For the Joemus album I've made a completely new version, very wonky and lurchy, and it's one of my favourites from the new sessions. It's an anti-car song, and I ended it onstage at the Faraday Festival saying "One day we'll live in a post-car world". The sentiment got a surprisingly big cheer.


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)

I'm happy to hear that!

Hairstyle was the first record I really produced myself, before that I'd always had session players, producers, and so on. Well, the first record since my very first EP, The Beast with 3 Backs, anyway. My first proper pop production, and probably what made Pulp write to me and ask me to produce their next album! (The letter, famously, went unanswered, but I did become quite a successful producer in the 90s in Japan.)

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H. Duck
Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:07 am (UTC)

Hmm... despite my earlier scabrousness, I wish I could be there for this...

I would love to hear the new version of SummerHoliday1999, which is probably my favorite Momus song. (And Red Pyjamas, and London 1888, and Born to be Adored, the one that all my ex-girlfriends who didn't like you liked, and Lady Fancy Knickers...)

Any chance of a (perhaps mp3-only) Slender Sherbet-style anthology of these re-imaginings?


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC)
duet with me

nick like you am a legend youve done so much and me so little so lets perform togehether an improvised dance of delight on the stinkin ashes of thatchers oh such a blooooddy blighty that disaststerously ohh so bloody mighty mighty albion.......any chance? ....id prefer newcastle?

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H. Duck
Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC)

And yes, A White Oriental Flower. That song turns up in the weirdest places

Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)

Ah, that mp3 contains my 1967 "child prodigy" hit! Schweet!

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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:33 am (UTC)
Re: <3

can you play Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan for me some day?

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this is not your sawtooth wave
Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:47 am (UTC)

I wish I could make it to one of your gigs, if only for Platinum (it's one of the most profoundly moving songs I have heard recently) and London 1888 (which holds special meaning to an outsider in London; the English wear a poker face indeed).

Do you plan to put up MP3s of the new versions of any of these songs at any time, as you did with Voyager 2006 (IMHO, superior to the original one)?

Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 12:52 am (UTC)

I might well, Andrew! I wonder if people would prefer them as vocals-free karaoke tracks, or with me singing? Ideally I'd do a vidcast, just dancing about in my living room banging on pots and pans and singing into a hair dryer. With lots of guest vocals from visiting Japanese people.

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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)

A Smash Hits-type question: do you find it easy to remember 20 years' worth of words when you're singing live?

Also: things to do with your hands when singing --- I usually find playing with a good pair of scissors is quite satisfying.

Good luck!


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 08:01 am (UTC)

Some songs are etched crystalline on my sclerotic ganglia, others require print-outs. I tend to know the lines, but not the order (eg What Will Death Be Like requires a prompt sheet with one word from each line: night-times, Spanish, Mexican, brownstone...). If I forget a verse, I generally try to improvise a new one on the fly.

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violet mendonca
Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 08:08 am (UTC)

ummm, jus cause i have not told you in such a long while.

i love you.


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 08:19 am (UTC)
An evening without Momus?

Hi Nick Now that is the sort of set list that I would have picked myself! I am so sad that you will not be performing some of these tracks in London, could you not quickly nip down the motorway? It was really interesting and informative chatting to you after Ross's Idle Tigers show the other week. It is always surprising the perspective that artists have on their own work isn't it? I guess I will have to wait a while to hear 'Hairstyle' again then, oh well. Keith http://theprotagonist.addingtonmedia.com/ MySpace.com - The Protagonist! - London, UK - Electronica / Experimental / Soundtracks / Film music - www.myspace.com/iamthep.

Rhodri Marsden
Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 08:28 am (UTC)

A great setlist, this.

My own Momus song preferences seem to be heavily skewed towards their place in an alphabetical list; about 10 years ago a friend of mine did me a 3CD compilation, which was the first time I'd really sat down and listened. I've just realised, looking at them, that he put all the songs in alphabetical order. So I particularly adore 2pm, A Card From Islington, A Monkey For Sallie. Just cos they're first.

Oh, man, but then there's Cape & Stick Gang, Enlightenment, Hotel Marquis De Sade, Islington John, London 1888, Radiant Night... and I'm a lot fonder of Closer To You than I probably should be.

I'm trying to say that you've written too many good songs. It's not normal.

Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC)

> I'm trying to say that you've written too many good songs. It's not normal.
I concur.

> I'm a lot fonder of Closer To You than I probably should be
I think it's absolutely awful, but I have an inexplicable fondness for it - similar to the way I feel about Godley & Creme.

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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 09:00 am (UTC)

What, nothing from The Man On Your Street?

Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 09:09 am (UTC)

When Nick Currie from The Happy Family is -- inevitably, but perhaps after a couple thousand years -- asked to curate his very own Meltdown Festival, we'll see numbers from that catalogue brushed off and accompanied by live sets from The Passage, Anna Domino, and Howard Devoto, a one-off from a re-formed Josef K, and Mark E. Smith solo with an acoustic guitar and a kazoo.

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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 01:10 pm (UTC)

Nice setlist.

I recently did a colleague a compilation CD featuring one track from each album. Only 3 of my choices match up with yours, which is interesting, but my colleague says "MC Escher" is now one of her favourite songs. So, a success.


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)

Momus, can I make a request for your upcoming show?

I love it when you do an extended organ solo in the "Battlefield" section of "Tarkus". Also, do you plan on retaining the drum patterns that Palmer came up with on the original, or varying them a bit?


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 06:06 pm (UTC)

That's actually "Mary Queen of Scots", a number Wakeman and I didn't think fitted our concept for "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", for all its musical majesty.

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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
big cheer

Thanks for the reminder of all the ideas about getting songs into a musical theatrical setting.

Momus, picture an Iberian coastal town where a traveling musical group meets a small circus on hard times and decide to join. Exploited by a promoter whom has financial ties/favours to a politician whom is running a conservative ticket and wants to use the show to disparage the unusual and eccentric as an attempt to win votes.I'm having some difficulty finding the time/political era slot,50s, 60s, etc..

The unusual nature of the relationships outline many of the songs from your album.

Circus came to town.
Spooki Kabuki.
Last Communist.
Don't Leave.
Pierre Lumiere.
Mother in-Law.
Man in the Moon.
Florence Manlik.
Nicky My Friend.
Shawn Kreuger.
Smooth Folksinger.
Nervous Heartbeat.

Full of schemes,love/loss,with buckets of angst.

Come on Nic it will be great!

Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 06:07 pm (UTC)
Re: big cheer

You think big, boss!

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Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
newcatle show

sounds great, how do I get to Newcastle. I am penniless caretaker


Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)

have you ever performed 2PM? this is easily one of the most moving, beautiful songs I've ever heard. i imagine though that in the wrong setting it might lose all its intimacy. perhaps it is best kept on record.

Thu, Jul. 17th, 2008 05:56 pm (UTC)

I've never performed 2pm, it's a devil to remember, and -- as you say -- a bit of a mumbler, not really suited to live performance.

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