Latitude 2009

Latitude: The Pretenders

Michael Bonner

“You’re a good-looking audience,” says Chrissie Hynde, before launching into “Back On The Chain Gang”. “Just what I’d expect. This is for your dad.”
It is perhaps interesting to note that a lot of Hynde’s between song banter this evening is predicated around mostly wry, self-deprecating references to her past. She dedicates “Kid”, for instance, to late band members Pete Farndon and Jimmy Honeyman-Scott, finishing with “Put the kettle on, we’re not far behind you.” It is, you might think, particularly apt then that The Pretenders choose to cover Dylan’s “Forever Young”.

I should apologise if this sounds like a faintly bizarre digression, but at one point, I’m reminded of a comment made by Pam St Clement, who plays Pat Butcher in EastEnders. When asked about Pat’s character’s fondness for oversized hooped earrings and blousy, low-cut dresses, she explained that she located the look for Pat in a time when her character believed herself to be at her peak. There is, certainly, some truth in the notion that people will try and lock themselves, in one way or another, in a specific era; whether it be musically or stylistically.

Indeed, Chrissie seems to be wearing pretty much the same clothes she’s worn for the last 20 years. A black and white striped waistcoat, blue jeans and cowboy boots, looking for all the world like Keith Richards younger sister. You might wonder, even, when she delivers lines like “The happiest days of my life” in “Chain Gang”, or “If I come and go like fashion” from “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, quite what’s going through her head. She is certainly conspicuously aware of her band’s legacy, and how that derives from a wealth of immaculate pop songs that, for the most part, are over 20 years old now.
“We were going to play a bunch of new songs,” she says, prior to “Stop Your Sobbing”. “But we just thought – fuck it.”

It’s rare, arguably, to find a performer like Hynde. By which I mean, an artist who has grown old with her grace and poise, but, crucially, also understands the very intense connection the audience have with specific elements of her impressive back catalogue. And, equally as important, is happy to indulge in it.
“You want something a bit cheesy, a bit cheap? Well you must me…” Then it’s into “Brass In Pocket”.
Without wishing to sound ghoulish, but I wonder how deeply Hynde is still affected by the deaths that have befallen The Pretenders – certainly, the doff of the cap to Farndon and Honeyman-Scott would suggest that they still figure, to a greater or lesser degree, in her thoughts. You might be tempted to assume that, having lost two friends so early in her career, that there’s something about those songs that have an even greater immediacy for her.

Anyway, let’s leave such pontificating for the theorists. Frankly, they were amazing. Even “Stand By Me” is reclaimed from being an 80s power ballad into a thrilling, communal event.

Right, off to try and see some of Jeremy Hardy's set, then it's Bat For Lashes. See you back here later.

Pic credit: Richard Johnson


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