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LIVE REPORT: Marianne Faithfull
Dele Fadele , February 5th, 2016 12:52

Dele Fadele reports from London's Roundhouse

Photo by Maria Mochnacz

With the recent triumvirate of deaths, aged 69 – David Bowie, Natalie Cole, Alan Rickman – one short of the threescore and ten promised in ancient scriptures, Marianne Faithfull, who was born in the same year, must stare at the grandfather clock on the wall in her Paris retreat and ponder how to escape death's clammy grasp. But then, she's lived several lifetimes already, and diced with death on so many occasions that her reports from the other side can weigh mortality on the scales of life and find it wanting.

At London's famous Roundhouse venue, which has swung since the Swinging 60s, Marianne tonight remembers she last graced this stage in the revolutionary year 1968, and has once again come to fend off the ghosts of Andy Warhol, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Truman Capote and more. 'Give My Love To London', the introductory single from her new album, and a song she co-wrote with Steve Earle, projects outwards and takes a dissolute tour of the world's greatest city and you know this is one grandmother who can relax in the knowledge that the blessed youth of today still have a long spiritual way to go to catch up with her.

Just hear her voice – a sandpaper nicotine croak with the right balance of sugar and spite – echo through the rafters, and you'll understand why the well-heeled audience are stunned into adorative silence, drinking in every syllable-stretch, pausing at every nuance, enraptured. 'Broken English' might be an old song, minted after she escaped the dreaded curse of addiction in Soho in 1979, but it resonates with prescience tonight, taking the temperature of 2016's fraught times, and blazing a torch at the horrible shroud of fascism that lurks in European shadows and forever threatens to return centre-stage. She speaks, swearing like a trouper, of "Hitler's Children", the vanquished terrorists of yesteryear named the Baader Meinhoff Gang, and the song's original electronic pulse is transformed by tonight's exquisite accompanying musicians into a sleek indie-rock beast, all sinew and muscle.

Marianne Faithfull has her accoutrements onstage; a regal chair to take breathers in, or sometimes emote from (she is supported by a cane), an electronic cigarette, her glasses, several cups of tea, and she continues the anti-fascist theme with 'In My Vagabond Ways' – a sideswipe at a sterilisation program in Sweden. And then, mists swirl, Rob Ellis, Rob McVeigh, Ed Harcourt and soundboard man, Head, relax into a chugging groove that twists and turns with menace and you hear the first single by the then-ingenue Marianne, written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. This is 'As Tears Go By', and, boy, does it tug at what's left of your heartstrings. Another ditty, ghost-written with that partnership, 'Sister Morphine' gets lovingly wheeled out and she explains how much she loathes the song, for being stretched out on its rack for so long, and how she didn't even know what morphine was when she wrote it, but now fully appreciates its intricate chemical make-up.

"Can't you see I'm fading fast?", she asks, "And that this tour will be my last", the sucker-punch gets delivered, iron-fist-in-velvet-glove-style. Once again, shadows swirl, and two recent tunes co-written with the leader of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, drop by, say "hi" and muse on the dystopian nature of addiction. Both 'Deep Water' and 'Late Victorian Holocaust' bear the stamp of the Australian defrocked blues preacher, as Marianne's lilting vision-quest of a voice does them errant and summary justice. She's in exemplary, life-defining form tonight, Marianne Faithfull, and it would be sadder than the sadness of dusk, if she were to retire at this momentous peak. Oh, old Grim Reaper, busy as he is, won't strike up her number yet, the ferry across the River Styx can wait, yet, yet, she should think thrice about calling it quits – the wellspring of life still brims over.