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Kevin Hewick is very nearly a legend. Very nearly but not quite. Tonight, the "worst selling artist in the history of Factory Records" (his own words) is found cursing his luck in The Criterion Pub, Leicester, "one of the few places that'll still book him in this town". He's in a playful mood, showing an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things rock n' roll, as he entertains punters present with an epic two hour set that barely scratches the surface of his back catalogue.
You sense that Hewick has seen many a false dawn but the signs in the early part of 2014 are that things could be looking up for this fifty-something elder statesman. The new album, 'The Heat Of Molten Diamonds', was released at the latter end of 2013 and it's gathered positive reviews from a flurry of blogs, websites and print publications. I testify that it's a fiver well spent. Tonight, songs from the six track album are interspersed within the set. 'Americanta' is a cowboy movie, the place you want to escape from but cannot leave. It's played early on in the set and sits well with older Hewick tunes such as 'Islington Street'. Desolate city landscapes seen through a dusty window. Much later in the set, Hewick plays 'Another Jerusalem'. It's a brave move and the first time he's ever played it live in its entirety. Clocking in at twelve minutes in length, this is Hewick putting the world to rights, deploring the system and greed that exist today and calling on the spirit of William Blake to deliver us a new vision. The audience are transfixed.
But then by this point, Hewick has worked a kind of ghostly magic on us all. There's no more than thirty people in this front bar of the Criterion but it's a small space and any more than this might feel cramped. First and foremost, the Criterion is a real ale pub, a CAMRA favourite, with a neat line in home-made stone baked pizzas and grumpy landlords. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, this front room plays host to all manner of free, acoustic based gigs. I'm sure other cities have venues just like this. They're invaluable and should be supported.
The venue doesn't lend itself to complicated band configurations so it's just as well that for Hewick tonight it's just man and guitar. Some have commented that his vocals are ripening with age. It's certainly true that there's beauty in that voice tonight. He's an intricate guitar player, unorthodox perhaps. At times, it's purely chord-based but at other times he breaks out into fuzz-laden solos. "There's no such thing as a completely in-tune guitar", states Hewick as his punk DIY spirit comes to the fore.
Part of the joy of this show is Hewick's ongoing banter with Malc, his soundman. Hewick is playfully rude towards Malc but Malc gives as good as he gets. Ultimately, you know that there is teamwork on display here. Malc's surname is Randall which leads Hewick into one of his many flights of fancy during the set. We're like Randall and Hewick Deceased", notes Hewick and many here get the reference. He then proceeds to inform all that it feels wrong that the actor playing Randall has passed away whilst Hopkirk still lives. You suspect that Hewick would be a good man to have on your pub quiz team, such is the knowledge that fills his head. "Here's a couple that I did on Factory Records", announces Hewick as he observes that "Malcolm peers into semi-darkness looking for the flange button."
The ghost of Factory records plays a key part in this show. One of my favourite Hewick songs is 'FAC 501', a tribute and recollection of his time spent with Tony Wilson in Manchester. Appearing on "Peter Hook's largely unknown and unsuccessful digital only label Hacienda", this song catalogues those distant times when the man from Granada studios purchased one Armani suit to wear all week. "You could have got a dozen suits from BHS for that price," Hewick tells Wilson and one begins to work out why Hewick's time on Factory Records was short-lived. 'FAC 501' is the number engraved upon Wilson's coffin. All was numbered.
Elegies to people within the music business that have touched Hewick's path come thick and fast. From the new album, 'Elegy to Jackie Leven' provides a moving, heartfelt moment in this show. You're left in no doubt that Hewick felt a close bond to the ex Doll By Doll man. Stories about Leven's hanger-on mate, Scotch John and his brief liaisons with Suzanne Vega lighten the mood. Elsewhere in the set we're treated to tales of Rock N'Roll lore about Marley, Lennon, Curtis, Vera Lynn and Adrian Borland from seminal band, The Sound. Hewick would make a great chat show guest when in this sort of mood.
It's certainly a spirited Hewick that we get tonight. There's an underlying current of misery and angst that run through many of the songs. This is a man who, by his own admission, has written more than his fair share of songs about graveyards. Depression and loss is never far from the surface in his lyrics but it's mixed in with a gentle dose of black humour and optimism. Never is the contrast more striking than when he launches into 'A Young Man's Dream Of Revolution'. This is about ideals, lost dreams and values that never die. He proudly and yet awkwardly tells us that he's shooting a video for this track the following Sunday at 6.30AM. It's a modern world and his dreams are still alive.
"Well, that's 2 hours of your life that you'll never get back", laments Hewick as the set draws to the end. But Mr Hewick, you need not worry. This was a fine way to spend a Thursday evening. I leave the Criterion genuinely hoping that 2014 is the year that very nearly but not quite begins to change.