Jim Bob and Isy Suttie at The Lamb Inn
Eastbourne, in the South of England, is not known for much other than being the place where blue-rinsed octogenarians tan their leathered skin on pebbled beaches. It has never been ‘on the circuit’, as it were, so Jo Neary, the organiser and compere of the relatively new That Comedy Thing, deserves the mother of all pats on the back for the volume of talented, well-known individuals that her night draws to the the town. With the likes of Robin Ince and Josie Long already having graced the stage of the ancient Lamb Inn, yesterday saw arguably the best line-up yet, with Jim Bob and Isy Suttie doing their thing.
The first time that this particular reviewer saw Jim Bob (above) was in 1993 when he was playing at the Brixton Academy, as one half of indie-pop-punk-electro duo Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. Nowadays, Jim Bob is a solo-artist and author and seems as happy playing intimate, sit-down gigs such as this as he is belting out the hits to the masses (he’ll be back at the Brixton Academy in November, Carter fans).
It must be a tough gig, being the musical entertainment on a comedy night. The audience, primarily, are there to laugh, so it is just as well that Jim’s wordplay was witty as hell and he offered a wry turn of phrase as he performed a half-hour acoustic set. After the opening cover of Mr Blue Sky, we were treated to a ditty about the Tesco riots – which he would go on to deconstruct in a Stewart Lee-esque manner, explaining the song’s three jokes and why they were funny. Other highlights were a song about a swearing food technology teacher and a cynical take on The Wheels On The Bus. He also occasionally dipped into his “emergency set-list”, much to the joy of the Carter fans in the room. Glam Rock Cops and The Only Living Boy In New Cross, rather than sounding as though they were being played out of obligation, were delivered – to steal a line from one of those songs – with utter comfort and joy. It was as though Jim was introducing two of his oldest and dearest mates to a largely uninitiated audience. The fact that, a couple of decades after they were written, they still had resonance and sounded exciting, bodes well for the Carter reunion gigs later in the year. Also, the inclusion of some new material left fans excited about the possibility of a new release somewhere in the not-too-distant future.
After an interval in which Jim chatted with fans at the bar, it was time for the headliner. Isy Suttie (above) used her 45-minutes in Eastbourne as a warm-up and sounding board before she takes her show to the Edinburgh Festival. Combining stand-up and song, Isy’s performance was themed around a strange love story between two characters called Pearl and Dave (which Isy alluded to when she chatted to us recently).
Being a work in progress, there were plenty of rough edges to Suttie’s set. Indeed, much of it existed in the form of scribbled notes, yet there was something rather appealing about seeing her vision in the process of coming together. It was almost as though, through the feedback that bounced off the audience, the show was being formed before our eyes – as though we were part of something tangible, something fluid. Despite its embryonic nature, the set was still great. The best thing about Isy Suttie is that she doesn’t rattle off jokes, but rather weaves genuinely funny truths into her songs and stand-up. Like Jim Bob before her, she is quite the wordsmith, and, as she dealt with the differences between dating pre and post internet, her observations were perfectly judged.
Perhaps the biggest compliment to pay Isy Suttie would be to say that her songs are as emotive as they are funny. She isn’t just a stand-up who can sing a bit, but rather a genuinely talented songwriter, and, in fact, her best song of the evening worked because of its sentiment rather than because of the gags within. “Make sure you’re sure the one you love is the last one that you’ll ever love before you listen to Tom Waits with them,” she sang in resignation, while everybody in the room who ever had a song or artist tainted by the memory of a former lover nodded in agreement. In a night of chuckles and guffaws, it was a wonderful moment of genuine depth and touching sincerity. And, besides, anyone who references Tom Waits in a song is okay by us.
At the end of her turn, Suttie offered her gratitude to the audience for their patience during what was a useful run-through for her. Her humility was hardly necessary. Sure, the show may have been a work in progress, but it was still nuanced, honest and funny with a solid and interesting narrative. Anyone who sees this show once she has crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s is surely in for a treat. As for the future beyond Edinburgh, we would simply love to hear Isy Suttie pen an album. After all, she proved tonight beyond any doubt that she has the musical ability and lyrical nouse to produce something really rather special.
Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend