How many strings are there to Katie Puckrik's professional bow? How many fingers does she have in artistic pies, and irons in media fires? I have frankly lost count, but she certainly pops up in more cultural guises than you can shake Clem Burke's drumstick at, of which more anon. I knew her "on the telly" as a presenter on The Word back in the '90s, and since then she has become a focal figure on our perfume scene, with her own blog and seminal YouTube channel "Katie Puckrik Smells", which is when I got to know her in person. And along the way I also clocked her incarnations as a DJ on Radio 6 Music, book reviewer on Radio 4, journalist for the broadsheets, published author, TV presenter on Channel 5, podcaster, talk show host on Times Radio...ooh, the far from exhaustive list goes on.
Thus it was no surprise to me to learn that Katie's next project was to form an Iggy Pop tribute band to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the release of his album, Lust for Life, with Katie as lead singer and demurely maniacal Iggy Pop stand-in. Her band comprises an all-star line up of session musicians including three who have previously played with Iggy: Glen Matlock on bass (Sex Pistols/IP), Clem Burke on drums (Blondie/IP) and Kevin Armstrong on guitar (Bowie/IP), plus a second guitarist, Luis Correia (Earl Slick), and a classical keyboard player, Florence Sabeva (Heaven 17).
On hearing her announce the tour, I remembered that Katie had also been a dancer with the Pet Shop Boys and sung in a Sparks opera, so she is basically the Renaissance woman of the performing arts, and there is literally nothing she couldn't give a whirl. As she puts it herself: "I'm a show pony from way back." A many trick show pony, you could say.
|My somewhat worse for wear flyer
A quick glance at Katie's tour itinerary identified the nearest gig I could attend, namely The Cavern Club in Liverpool, famous for its association with The Beatles. I was interested to note how many of the venues they were playing were ones on The Monochrome Set's circuit, from Hebden Bridge to Colchester, and Edinburgh to both the venues in London.
In the run up to the day of the gig I was quite nervous, as this was my first trip away since October due to my trapped nerve pain, which has recently been making a comeback unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post. Then on the train up to Liverpool I was expecting the highlight to be the usual "blink and it's over" glimpse of the famous Runcorn Bridge, with its distinctive pale green girders, but in the event this gracious semi-circular triumph of Victorian engineering was eclipsed by the sight of a man sporting a shock of tousled black hair wrangling his suitcase out from the rack under mine as the train pulled into Lime Street station. Even from the top of his head I recognised the drummer in the band, Clem Burke, but was too starstruck to quip: "Have you got your drum kit in there?" or: "Lust for Luggage?", or even the faintly cryptic: "See you later". I may have mustered an inscrutable smile at best, before legging it off the train in case I bumped into the rest of the band and inadvertently appeared to be stalking them, in transport terms, at least.
|Leaf ~ Source: Designmynight.com
After checking into my bargain £34 hotel right round the block from The Cavern Club - well, apart from the incredibly hard mattress and lumpy pillows, as I was to discover later - I headed out to Bold Street to meet up with Mike O'Shaughnessy for a cup of tea and a catch up on the prison perfume workshops. He told me a few more "inside" stories, and we also discussed the possibility of my supplying him with another vintage scent for the next phase of his project. He was wearing ELDO's Fat Electrician, which I had never smelt before, and which was not at all as I would have imagined, although I would definitely describe it as "fat", in a satisfyingly gourmand and not unduly sweaty workmanlike way.
The Cavern Club - confusingly cavernous
The showtime was 9.45pm, so after downing a tepid burrito in a fast food place, and instantly regretting the extra topping of guacamole (raw onion in green slurry), I turned up at a fashionably not too earlyish 9.30pm to be sure of wiggling my way insistently to the front. Katie had kindly put me on the guest list, and when I spoke to the security man at the entrance he said something like: "Go down the stairs to the bar and see the....about the...." I asked him to repeat himself but heard no more the next time, so decided to follow my nose instead. (Bad move.) I duly found the bar, and in the distance was a stage with a band already playing - Katie's support, I assumed. I saw no one who seemed in charge of anything resembling a door, as the downstairs was all open plan, so I bought myself a drink, made my way to the front, and started watching what turned out to be a Beatles tribute band. After about six numbers, they showed no signs of stopping, and I started to get a bit anxious. Had the main act been delayed? Eventually they did finish their set, only to announce a second one after a 15 minute break. At this point I knew I had made a mistake; I was definitely in the Cavern Club, but possibly not the right part of it, although it didn't look like the sort of place that might have multiple stages within its cavernous confines, Odeon Multiplex-style. It was now 10pm, so I backtracked to the bar and suddenly spied a man in a greatcoat standing by a red telephone kiosk, brandishing a piece of A4 paper that looked reassuringly like a list. I asked him where the Lust for Life gig was, and he gestured towards another room beyond the phone box. "So you caught some of the Beatles lot, did you? Well, that's all right, as they're good, you know, and only young lads." And they were, to be fair, and though it seemed I would now accidentally have a two-tribute band night, I was still rattled by my error.
|Beatles Complete ~ Source: The Cavern Club
Having found the correct venue, I now I had to repeat my insistent wiggling trick and managed to get to the far corner of the stage in one seamless manoeuvre, albeit with an extremely tall man blocking most of my view. After about half an hour of staring at his back I tapped him on the shoulder and he kindly let me scoot in front of him so I was now at the very front next to his much shorter wife. I reckon I missed about five numbers from the Lust for Life album itself, including Passenger, sadly, though I definitely made it in time for Success, my favourite song of the night. The band performed the album in its entirety, followed by a medley of songs, featuring more from Iggy Pop, plus tracks from each of the band member's past careers with Blondie, Bowie, The Sex Pistols etc, including the tumultuous Pretty Vacant(!).
Katie described the set - a generous 105 minutes in all, or 90 for me, haha, due to my bonus Beatles band bother - as a "meaty beaty crashy thrashy project", and that is a very good summary of the night. I was standing so near the stage (and, I suspect, a speaker) that the sound was deafening, and was starting to wonder if I should have brought ear plugs like another man in the centre of the front row. For me though, the music, and whether I knew or liked all of it (I wouldn't have minded the odd ballad in the mix, but I appreciate it wasn't that kind of set) was roundly trumped by Katie's truly remarkable rendition of Iggy himself. For starters she is lithe and sinuous like him, with a long dark blonde mane, and is a lot easier on the eye. Her costumes also deserve special mention: there was a pink dress in the first half that I think may strictly speaking have been a petticoat, but which looked just the part under a spangly silver jacket, while in the second half she donned a slinky silver frock and lost the jacket, for that would of course have been a case of 'silvering the lily'.
Most importantly, Katie was constantly in motion, making it nigh on impossible to take a photo of her in focus on my phone, as I was jostled in the mosh pit by the enthusiastic crowd. Her dancing was a riveting mix of the ladylike, the raunchy, and the downright weird (in a Thriller-esque zombie way), and I can think of no better poster person for putting yourself out there and strutting your stuff whatever your age. (FYI, Katie is 60, and steadily aging backwards). I really don't have the words to convey her energy and the electrifying atmosphere she created on stage - except possibly "great balls of fire". This was consummate choreography, stagecraft on steroids...Katie out-Iggied Iggy for me, and I think he should be very afraid. ;)
Eventually, even the band's generous encore was over, and they were gone, but not before Clem Burke had lobbed a drumstick and a planter of plastic flowers into the crowd. I am sure there was a story behind one or both of these items, but I sense I missed that too.
Oh, I have a Twilight Zone-y, wiggly, Iggy-related titbit to relate...firstly, Katie's band is covering Iggy Pop, who in turn has covered the song "He's Frank" by The Monochrome Set (with The Brighton Port Authority). Katie has also been to a Monochrome Set gig herself, in Washington DC in 1980, the autumn of the year I first saw them in London. And The Monochrome Set's drummer (in another of his musical guises) is supporting Katie on the last two dates of her tour next weekend at The Lexington in London, which is where I last saw the band in September. Which is all by way of saying that the music biz is perhaps smaller and closer knit than we know...
I have yet to find out whether Katie is wearing a "perfume of the tour", or a different scent each night, but that is a final detail that would be of interest.
And I know I said that she out-Iggied Iggy...well, I stand by that, though Iggy probably clocks up more running and jumping, not forgetting hopping like a frog, "lurches, stage dives, and craning torso arches". I think that would have been a stretch in a dress and ankle boots, mind. There wasn't really room for such extreme forms of gymnastics anyway without Katie crashing into her bandmates, and she more than made up for it with her general shimmying, jerking, flailing, and imperiously pointing arms. So, I'd say she was plenty athletic enough, and I honestly don't know where she gets her stamina from! Plus, there were gravity-defying moves like this...
PS I would link to the remaining dates of the tour, but apart from Dublin on 8th March, it is a sell out!
Did you catch any of Katie's gigs so far, or do you plan to?