Sunday, November 01, 2009


All the best wakes are proper parties. And so it was with the final gig by The Broken Family Band. How to organise your own send-off: book the local pub in Cambridge (the one where you played your first gig), invite family and friends for one last hoorah and ask them all to wear fancy dress (it being Halloween). And then throw in a little extra: a mid-afternoon acoustic performance in the pub's lounge bar. Despite the distance from Manchester, Mr P and I felt compelled to make the journey to be there.

The Portland Arms is a cosy, oak-panelled, traditional boozer in which the trappings of the modern pub - Sky Sports, chalkboards full of offers and deals, quiz machine - are slowly invading. But this afternoon the quiz machine was switched off and cosiness prevailed as Cambridge's finest - Steven Adams - guitar/vocals, Jay Williams - guitar, Gavin Johnson - bass, and Mickey Roman - drums - gave their next to last performance. It was a performance with "no set list and no volume" claimed a nervous singer ("for the record this is terrifying"). But they did have a set-list (see below) and if no volume they certainly added plenty of emotion and passion to their playing.

With a row of costumed kids cross-legged in front of a packed bar, this hour-long set had the feel of a Halloween kids party meets a family get-together.

Old songs predominated and despite passing police sirens, a crying baby and the odd joke ("it was never about being in tune"), there was a real poignancy to the first half of the set - especially 'Poor Little Thing'. Mr P has to brush a way a tear or two at times.

They picked up the pace and the mood towards the end and even played ("as requested by Waldorf and Statler here") 'Walking Back To Jesus Part Two' - probably the one song I wanted to hear most today. It was the song that first got me hooked on The Broken Family Band.

The 4pm Acoutic Set List
Kissing in the Rain
Queen of the Sea
Poor Little Thing
Devil in the Details
Cocktail Lounge
Give and Take
Twelve Eyes of Evil
(I Don't Have The Time To) Mess Around
Living in Sin
The Mardi Gras Rescue Mission
Don't Leave That Woman Unattended
John Belushi
Walking Back To Jesus Part Two
Song Against Robots

So a leisurely pub meal followed and then back to the hotel for a quick change into fancy dress before returning to The Portland Arms. The evening performance was in The Gig Room. This is your classic pub-back-room venue: a small, dimly-lit square room with a low riser stage against a back wall covered in randomly affixed sound-proofing tiles. Apparently it holds 100 but Mr P and I couldn't think of a smaller room that we had seen a professional gig in. Cosy.

The room was decked in 'sorry you're leaving' banners and helium-filled balloons. The audience were a motley mix of ghouls, skeletons and witches plus a bumble bee, Wonder Woman, the Pope and the Grim Reaper. When the band came just after 9pm they were greeted with warm, supportive cheers and applause.

The first five songs were a rip-roaring ride - clearly not a band going out quietly - with the audience egging them on. In closing moments of 'It's All Over' when guitarist Jay let out a howl, the audience howled back in delight. In 'The Perfect Gentleman', the line about "dressing up in women's underwear / under these clothes" brought out a chorus of wolf whistles. This genial, good-humoured atmosphere with wedding-party banter and name-checks took an abrupt turn with 'Cocktail Lounge': its bleak, alcohol-laced despair turning elation to sombre reflection. Such mood swings have always been part of the music of The Broken Family Band - sometimes even in the same song.

It was becoming a hot, sweaty room - made hotter for most by wearing fancy dress. But it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits as the party rolled on. "Here's another song we swore we would never play again. But these are sentimental times" led into 'Don't Leave That Woman Unattended' with Timothy Victor singing backing vocals in comedy moustache and eyebrows. It had become that kind of evening.

The room was full of girlfriends, siblings, close friends and family - Mr P and I felt very privileged to be part of this. And lucky. Begging is never dignified but this time it worked. However we also brought something to the party, namely a BFB-themed cake baked by Ms N. We handed it over to Steven pre-gig and then the cake sat proudly on top of one of the speaker cabinets before being 'presented' to the audience just before 'Song Against Robots': "the opening line is "There's no food here I can eat" but there is".

So after twenty three songs, a final four encores - although the band never actually left the stage - finishing with 'John Belushi' and a goodbye: "Thank you. We were The Broken Family Band". The four band members gave each other hug and stepped off the stage. And that was it. BFB broken up. Earlier Steven has said "after tonight we will only exist on the internet". "And in our hearts" was the lightning quick response from the crowd. How true. Thank you Broken Family Band for throwing such a good send-off party and for inviting us. And thanks too for all the good times over the years since I first heard 'Walking Back To Jesus Part Two'. Sadly, happy days will not be here again.

The Set List
It's All Over
The Booze and the Drugs
Living in Sin
The Perfect Gentleman
Cocktail Lounge
Hey Captain
Give and Take
Dancing On The Fourth Floor
A Place You Deserve
At The Back Of The Chapel
You're Like A Woman
Where The Hell Is My Baby?
Walking Back To Jesus Part Two
Song Against Robots
Queen Of The Sea
Kissing In The Rain
(I Don't Have The Time To) Mess Around
Don't Leave That Woman Unattended
The Mardi Gras Rescue Mission
Borrowed Time
Don't Change Your Mind
Happy Days Are Here Again
Please Yourself
Devil In The Details
John Belushi

The Broken Family Band
Jesus Songs [BUY or BUY]

The Broken Family Band
Welcome Home Loser [BUY or BUY]


Anonymous said...

Wow; it's only now, having read this, and with the taste of whiskey finally gone from the back of my throat, that it has actually sunk in. We will never see the Broken Family Band again. And it hurts. Like hell.

People we spoke to after the gig could barely believe that we had travelled all the way from Manchester to Cambridge to witness their final gig. But despite the absurdity of having to catch four different trains to get back to Manchester today, it didn't seem like much of an effort at all. I am pretty sure that if they'd decided to play their last ever gig in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we'd have found a way of being there.

This band have been an integral part of my life for about 6 years now (since Jesus Songs in 2003) and have almost become part of the family. And now they've broken up.

I'll still listen to the albums of course - how could I not do? The first time I listen to Jesus Songs (in particular) again after today I'm sure they'll be a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. But without being able to look forward to the absolute joyous pleasure of seeing them live again, my life will be just that little bit poorer.

Thank you Broken Family Band for many great hours in your company. I don't care how many records you sold (or rather didn't sell!), you are in my top 3 bands of the 21st century.

Jesus, if this gets any longer I'm going to have to start a blog of my own! So that's it.

Mr P.

The Archivist said...

Without wishing to start you blubbing all over again, video of the last ever song of the last ever gig: