As the man better remembered in our collective consciousness as the front man of The Blow Monkeys, Robert Howard a.k.a Dr Robert today also manages to get his guitar to sing. With a back catalogue of songs with which any writer working today worth their hind teeth would do well to acquaint themselves, Dr Robert found himself perched comfortably on a stool on a bare north London stage, readied for the type of gig that makes ordinary purveyors of pop break out in the coldest of dread sweats. It was also the type of gig that demonstrates just what skills are needed if you want to make it in music.
It was, therefore, Dr Robert in fearless, primal mode, although perhaps he wouldn’t see it that way. To him, it’s what he does. With two guitars, zero effects and nothing but his own voice, he stripped it all back, performing tracks from his new album ‘Out There’ and making it evident that he has created a clean, new creative space for himself where, free of the trappings and pressures of the business, he is able to sing and play from the heart. With nimble, eye-catching fret work, he and his trusty Takamine ranged through bluesy power chords to folk and back, no doubt this newer, more intimate Dr Robert the product of time spent in Andalucia (his home) where to rub shoulders with gitanos in bars and tavernas is to play in a rarefied musical big league.
And there was a groove to everything. On songs like ‘The Mirrored Lake’ (a what-if tale about Elvis), ‘Lost In Rasa’ and ‘A Bottomless Pit’, the good doctor delved into the devotional side of things, taking the audience with him into a spiritual area that appears to have done wonders for his soul. He looked fresh, unencumbered and happy which, for a man who has ridden the treacherous wave of fame since the early 1980s, is nothing short of miraculous. The only downside to the gig was that the songs ended too soon when he could have grooved on for as long as he liked, such was his composure.
But an evening like this can’t end without a dose of the bitter-sweet as he wrapped things up with a bluesy rendition of The Blow Monkeys classic ‘Digging Your Scene’, the evening serving as a reminder of the type of songwriting that ruled not so long ago. No one, therefore, need ever cry out “Physician, heal thyself!” at a Dr Robert gig. Because he has.