The Soft Boys
“Have a Heart, Betty (I’m Not Fireproof)”
Live at the Portland Arms, 1983
I’m loathe to repeat artists, and I’ve already covered some solo Robyn Hitchcock, but it’s my birthday and I love The Soft Boys and that’s that. The Live at the Portland Arms cassette, mailed out as a bonus to folks who bought the first pressings of the odds-and-sods collection Invisible Hits, is an absolute treasure. An acoustic set of mostly covers, this is the true oddball in their rather eclectic career. Where else will you get their take on “I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones”) or “The Book of Love”? Actually, those two are on the also out-of-print anthology 1976-81, but nothing else has been reissued since that came out in 1993. So no Andrews Sisters-esque “In The Mood” or faux folk ballad “The Duke of Squeeze” for people to relish; no crooning Elvis Hitchcock on “All Shook Up”; nor The Soft Boys surprisingly good take on Sigmund Spaeth’s barbershop classic “My Evaline”.
But instead of any of those, I chose one of my favorite tunes Hitchcock ever wrote for The Soft Boys. The lyrics are a pile of odd, disjointed images, as is the case with many of Robyn’s songs, but the cumulative effect is touching. It’s a sweet song, and on this performance Hitchcock’s pleading, impassioned vocal really works for me. Less effective is “Mungo Carstairs” comical saxophone solo (I suspect “Mungo” may be long-time Hitchcock friend and collaborator James Fletcher in disguise). But this slapdash, ramshackle affair fits perfectly within the show, and also with the earnest goofiness of the song itself. It’s silly, but obviously all involved are having a blast.
That relaxed sense of fun is why I return to the Portland Arms recordings time and again. As serious as I take my appreciation of music (and I do, to an unhealthy extent), it comes out of this place of fun, of joyous release; mine, the musicians, or both. I turned six a few weeks after this show was recorded, and 35 years later it has me me smiling and singing along. Happy birthday to me.