Tim Ten Yen @ Borderline
Tim Ten Yen.
London Borderline. 02may09.
“When people look back on my career, this will be the song they will analyse the most” says Timothy Tennis Yennis (as tonight’s headliner Jim Bob, ex- of Carter USM, is later to call him). “It has layers of meaning upon layers of meaning. Upon more layers of meaning”, he continues before breaking into a song titled The Bear And The Fox, a song about a bear, and later a fox who lives in some mountains near the bear. The bear, incidentally, “doesn’t care”. I don’t mind telling you, I love it.
Skiffle democratised music, then punk did it again, then the increasing ease of access to relatively sophisticated technology did it once more. Tim Ten Yen has something in common with all of these eras but yet ‘belongs’ to none of them. This will now be addressed.
1) TTY has the ‘ooh-you-could-take-him-home-to-meet-your-mother’ element of skiffle
I’ll grant you, you’ll have to check any cynicism about your person into rehab before clapping eyes on TTY’s joyful caper. Take the constituent parts on paper and it doesn’t sound like a particularly convincing whole. Tim Ten Yen, on tonight’s evidence, is an unobtrusively bearded indie cabaret shambles in an ill-fitting, mismatched two piece suit and a shirt only half tucked in. Yet this is no dribbling, Tony Clifton, so-awful-it’s-good mock-pop; there is no irony or knowing subtext here (aside from the remark about the layers of meaning, of course), and ordinarily he is much more suavely attired. TTY is a smooth genuine-pop operator, and a little whimsical with it.
This is to be encouraged. So much so, I want to grab Tim Ten Yen by the collar of his suit jacket and dangle him in front of Simon Cowell’s frightened fizzog and shout “Oi high trousers, this is what a talented pop eccentric looks like, right. Proper pop too, not the slurry you act as a tributary river from, polluting the sea that is the world’s ears. Got it?”
2) TTY brazenly breaks conventions, which is punk, right?
The ‘convention’ I have in mind being what live gigs in proper venues should traditionally consist of. TTY’s show would sit just as well, if not better, as part of a radio station PA in a shopping centre, although it is hard to pinpoint which audience would be the more confused. Particularly when he offers up ‘The Sinister Cat’, his entirely synthetic feline companion, for petting by the front row, during its signature tune Something Sinister. Certainly, you wouldn’t get this kind of thing watching Cannibal Corpse at the Camden Underworld.
3) TTY utilises new technology as a matter of necessity
There is no backing band, and there are no instruments apart from the small well-worn keyboard that he prods at for the opening two numbers. Aside from that he is accompanied only by an iPodded backing track and fills the stage with his own moves: rusty robotics, school drama interpretative gesturing and athletic high-kicking which leaves him virtually breathless between songs. Yet for all the high energy and sweat lost into the lining of his suit, his leathery croon remains unaffected.
So, I can understand whilst more earnest types might not be able to stomach this kind of thing but I never feel un-entertained by Tim Ten Yen. I’ve seen him about five times now in the last two years and the set has remained stubbornly unchanged in that time. Yet, I would feel almost bereft if he failed to open his set with the wonderful Move With The Wild Palms, raising his left arm to silently beckon audiences to follow his lead which I’ve rarely seen an audience fail to do, even if they’ve never seen him before. I’d miss him running on the spot during Runaround Getaround or forgetting how to pronounce Sea Anemone when announcing its immediately forthcoming appearance. So let’s hope the new stuff when it comes, filters in gradually.
Tim Ten Yen then – one man travelling pop maverick. Have Bontempi, iPod and toy cat, will tour; to the delight and bafflement of ‘live music’ fans everywhere.
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