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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

the Astoria, London, November 7th 2006

For a while I was seriously concerned that I might have been the oldest person in the Astoria, so I was relieved to see some genuine greyhairs pushing their way through the crush of mainly late-teenage girls. Some were clearly chaperoning daughters, whose discomfiture at the presence of their Dads (“Come on Shaz, just follow me, I’ll find you a good spot”) was even greater than mine. All around was a sea of little Lilies, almost (but not exclusively) white, and all bearing the slightly dangerous demeanour of their heroine Lily Allen. So it’s booze, fags, and f-words. And mobile ‘phones, many of which are constantly in use, despite the fact that it turns out to be quite a loud set.

Some of them look as though they don’t get out too much (it’s all that social networking on Myspace I suppose) but they’re all making the most of tonight. It’s partly a matter of pride you see – this morning Lily posted her regular blog, complaining that last night’s Astoria gig ‘sucked’ and that the audience “just weren’t feeling it”. “I hope tonight’s better”. The gauntlet has been thrown, and well and truly picked up by this bunch.
Now you do know who Lily Allen is don’t you? Well she’s London’s summer pop sensation, according to some a spontaneous hit, like the Arctic Monkeys and Sandy Thom, thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s Myspace. “Lily” said Sunday highbrow rag the Observer in May “is a genuine, no PR, punters-love-it success” – yes, that was just at the time when “no PR” Lily was to be found bursting out of the pages of both the broadsheet and tabloid British press on a daily basis. She was already signed to Parlophone (her second label), who announced their biggest ever digital marketing campaign to promote her first single ‘Smile’ (which rushed to number one) and album Alright, Still.
This is what they said: “With this campaign we have ensured that Lily remains true to her online roots and her success through MySpace. We have created a website that reflects Lily's personality and vibrancy as well as maintaining the successful features of social networking sites like MySpace with her blog, personalised feature, music player and homepage information feeds. Lily's outspoken nature and sense of humour are really captured in her blog, which is the perfect medium to communicate Lily's personality to her fans and ensure a loyal following that we can motivate upon release. With nearly 40,000 friends, MySpace is one of the most important, direct and targeted promotion platforms we have. This is why we are premiering the album exclusively with MySpace the week before release”. Hmmm.
Oh yes – it’s also obligatory to mention the fact that she’s got a famous dad, actor and comedian Keith Allen, also famed for his novelty musical collaborations with Damien Hirst and Blur's Alex James (Fat Les’s ‘Vindaloo’). And just to be clear – she has bags of fuck-off attitude – she’s gobby, as they say in these parts, and doesn’t care who she picks a fight with, either in the press or in the flesh. This is what she said about Paris Hilton: "Paris is hideously untalented. I poured my heart into my album. She just got someone else to do it for her. If she's rude to me I'll punch her." She is the living and breathing incarnation of the binge drinking laddettes who are such a central feature of urban Friday nights (see her song of the same name) – and if you don’t believe me then ask Peaches Geldof. Or in fact the crowd up in the balcony – having got everyone moving downstairs Lily then looked up: “and what about you fuckers up there? What the fuck are you playing at? And most of you have got fucking free fucking tickets. Just dance you fuckers…” See what I mean?
Now Lily is normally nicely turned out in pretty summer frocks (a nice and knowing counterpoint to her character), but tonight she’s in a grey track suit and looks as though she’s just come from a fruit and veg stall on Hackney’s Ridley Road market. She apologises – “A’ve been vom-it-in all arfternun” (I’m sure she’s not allowed to speak like that at home). Well illness may have accounted for a slightly subdued Lily – apart from the balcony moment we were spared the expected torrent of foul-mouthed abuse for which she is famed – but it did nothing to detract from her performance. So let’s be clear, she is a hugely talented performer, who at only 21 can hold a pretty feisty audience in the palm of her hand. For someone with such a relatively diminutive stature she has prodigious presence. Her band are tight and pump out the cockney calypso ska fuelled rhythms that form the backdrop for most of her songs – it’s sort of Chas and Dave meets Desmond Dekker, with a little bit of British B-film themes from the early 1970s thrown in for good measure.. And the material is lively enough – in the course of the gig I think we get all of it: ‘LDN’, ‘Shame for you’, ‘Knock 'em out’, ‘Nan you're a window shopper’, ‘Cheryl Tweedy’ , the Kooks’ ‘Naïve’, ‘Littlest things’, ‘Not big’ ‘Friday night’, ‘Everything's just wonderful’, ‘Friend of mine’, ‘Alfie’, ‘Absolutely nothing’ and, of course, ‘Smile’. The songs, as Lily tells us, are mainly about being “fucked over” one way or another. Mostly of course by boys or blokes. And they’re also about the pleasure of revenge – “Let's see how you feel in a couple of weeks, when I work my way through your mates”. It’s all pretty juvenile stuff really, but despite a lot of the hype (“gritty urban reality”) it’s anodyne and inoffensive – I could certainly think of a lot worse. But it hardly seems like a secure basis for a long term career.
No, on the assumption that Ms Allen doesn’t burn herself out (which some of the more lurid tales of her nightlife suggest she could) she’ll need to move quite quickly from novelty rude girl to something a bit more grown up. She’s got the voice for it, even though she chooses not to really use it a great deal. And she’s quite obviously got ‘the people’ , musicians, producers (hip New York DJ Mark Ronson and keyboard player to the stars and arranger Greg Kurstin both worked on her album), and of course label-owners EMI, for whom little Lily’s future success is no doubt already ‘share-price sensitive’. So let’s hope that her chirpy summer songs go into hibernation over the winter and turn out in the spring as something far more substantial and long-lasting.
- Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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