The Roundhouse is both Camden’s newest and oldest music venue. Recently re-opened, it is a strange mix of traditional concert house and ultra-modern entertainment facility. I like it. Its grand and uncluttered interior seemed like an appealing place to watch music from the moment I walked inside.

By the time I arrived, the support act were already on stage. Having braved a crowded tube and then the first seriously cold day since February, I was in the mood for music. But sadly Duke Special didn’t really satisfy. As a one man band with hired hands, eschewing meaty guitars in favour of pianos, trumpets and strings, they are remarkably similar to tonight’s star attraction, which probably explains why they seemed to go down so well with many sections of the crowd, many of whom seemed well acquainted with the songs. With a mad drummer and bizarre and unpleasant haircuts, they are certainly eye catching. But my ears were less interested, as - like all too many groups - Duke Special lacked that crucial quality, good songs. After a couple of tracks passed by indistinguishably, all I could feel was mild boredom. The bar beckoned me, telepathically.

Despite having made a string of lovely albums, many dismiss Neil Hannon’s music as novelty, implying that he simply cashed in on the back of Britpop. Not so! His music is always catchy, often funny, sometimes sad and always intelligent. He has been one of the most consistently inventive lyricists of the past decade, writes great pop melodies and has a stunning voice. Judging by the age of tonight’s audience, however, it seems that it is only his loyal fanbase that have taken to his most recent album, 'Victory of the Comic Muse'. They are here in force, full of anecdotes about their hero’s appearances on 'The Ozone' and 'TFI Friday'. The goose-legged jeans brigade, however, are taking their sharp breaths elsewhere. More fool them. (Though there aren’t many people who actually want to be in the same room as a Razorlight fan, so perhaps it’s a blessing).

An air of real excitement fills the room as the band prepare to take the stage. Neil strikes a pose and basks in the attention, as well he might, before strapping on an acoustic guitar and breaking into the charming little ditty 'Mother Dear'. Two women decide that this is the moment to shove their way into what had been my eyeline, so I take a moment to survey the crowd. Just to the right of me stand two ruddy faced men, one of whom will soon take the first of many bar breaks. In front of them is Dry Stick, a very tall man with a reasonably short girlfriend, who is staring rather intently ahead with a comically blank expression. “Is he reviewing the gig too?” I can but wonder. Then there is the ‘intently in love’ couple, already enacting a scene from a Richard Curtis movie. As the first audience member trips over my carefully positioned bag, Neil breaks into 'Becoming More Like Alfie', a favourite of mine, and it seems, most of the audience.

Another hit, 'Generation Sex', soon follows. It is often mistaken as a novelty party song, but actually is a witty examination of Britain’s tabloid culture tied alluding to the death of Lady Di. Of course, this is lost in the live arena, and it becomes that party anthem. But a good one. Even Dry Stick seems to be enjoying himself. Is he really bouncing? One of the ruddy faced blokes seems to be at the bar, but the other may just have begun to dance. Is it 1998 again, he is possibly wondering to himself, but having watched his moves, I am in no doubt. 'Your Daddies Car' is greeted with knowing cheers as Neil enquires how many of the audience own his 1993 debut (and cult classic) 'Liberation'. Not that it matters now if you don’t, for this song is one of the better tracks on the band’s 'Greatest Hits'. Thus the song is enjoyed by all and, since over the years Hannon’s voice has got deeper and richer, it sounds better today than it did then.

Though much of the gig seemed to be about an audience celebrating being with a band it has loved for more than a decade, many of the highlights come from the newest album, the centrepiece of which is the quietly devastating 'Lady of A Certain Age'. It is hard to imagine anyone other than Neil Hannon writing a song like this, and it is clearly already a favourite with his fans. (Since it is the new single, why don’t you buy it?!) Yet 'The Light of Day' is even better. As Neil sings this sumptuously tuneful and heartening song, ‘Intently In Love’ slowdance. This is the first time they have noticeably responded to anything happening on stage at all. Beside them, Dry Stick is swaying, and he may even be crying. Tactically, I move my bag just out of range.

There were many of my favourite songs which stayed in Neil’s locker tonight - no ‘Come Home Billy Bird’, ‘Perfect Lovesong’, ‘The Summerhouse’, or ‘Everybody Knows Except You’. And yet, as each song began, I found myself thinking, “Ooh, I like this one”. As the generic lager worked its way into my brain, I may even have said it out loud. But, on top of the songs, Neil Hannon made this into something else. I can’t think of a less clichéd description than "proper pop star", so that will have to do. He sung sublimely, he cracked jokes, he struck poses and he made you want to watch him. He also showed he isn’t afraid to make a fool of himself, taking requests and then relying on the front row to mouth him the words. Sadly, this brought our ruddy faced friends to the party. Till then they had been getting quietly pissed, but now they decided to just be loudly drunk, screaming out for ‘Sweden’ (fair enough, actually) and then for ‘My Little Pony’, which had one of their fellow audience members ready to throttle them.

As the concert, drew to a conclusion, the standard got even higher, and Dry Stick could barely contain himself. Ruddy faces were still calling out for ‘My Little Pony’. ‘Our Mutual Friend’ was seemingly unsurpassable, but then the band broke into the thrilling ‘Tonight We Fly’. As the night closed with a Doors cover (in tribute both to Hannon’s wife, who is a fan, and to the venue, which is the only one in the UK to have hosted the LA combo back in the 1960's) and then ‘Sunrise’, perhaps Hannon’s most daringly brilliant song, written in a wave of post Good Friday Agreement emotion, and a rare occasion where he acknowledges his Northern-Irish nationality, I realised that this was one of the best gigs I had ever seen. As we made our way to the trains, I’m sure all the strange characters I spent my night with felt much the same, even as they struggled not to be sick on their shoes.













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