Slouched hidden beside a fire-exit, Antony Hegarty looked neither courageous or a star, clutching his notebook and looking nervous as he waited for his driver to arrive. This was back in 2005, backstage at a festival in Italywhere Antony and the Johnsons were due to headline that night. He averted his gaze from all passers by – particularly those, like me, with press passes dangling. On this chance observation one word springs to mind to sum up this extraordinary singer – shy.
Shy, though, is the last word you’d use to describe this song – given that it confidently stakes out its territory using just Hegarty’s voice to start with. It’s a good minute before any other presence is allowed into this spacious sound, and even then it’s just a hint of feedback and menace from a suspense-laden guitar.
This is a real headturner. It’s got Hegarty’s lilting and lovely voice, but rather than those elegant and beautiful tunes that made up his Mercury Prize winning I am a bird now this is blues all the way.
There are plenty of taboos that have been broken and flaunted in rock – no-one would blink an eye if you sing fuck, shit, or bastard, but when someone sings
‘that pig took everything I had
that pig made me feel so bad
shake that pig out of the bush
now let’s give that pig a push’
You know you’re about to enter some dark, and shameful arena where the flesh battles with the spirit and the outcome is far from certain.
Accompanied by a vigilant bass, drums and a saxaphone, the song builds up around Hegarty’s voice. It’s a song you could imagine Tom Waits rasping through with abandon, but he’d never be able to match the effect that Hegarty’s quavering voice conjures up. It’s a voice that suggests fragility and innocence, and yet at the same time is rock solid.
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