Now a grey-bearded figure dressed in double denim, he appears, at 66, to be relishing live performance in a way that would have seemed unthinkable when the album Cupid & Psyche 85, which the band are performing tonight in its entirety, was first released in the 1980s. Back at Scritti’s commercial peak, stage fright prevented him from touring.
Audience members’ occasional questions about the origins of the band’s name (from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci) and his place of birth (Cardiff, although his childhood was spent moving around South Wales with his “unhappily married” parents) are answered with good humour, as is a request about whether he minds fans taking videos and photographs during the show (“No, I hate it...but thank you for asking”).
He is, he says, delighted to return to the city where Scritti formed after witnessing the Sex Pistols, The Damned and Johnny and the Heartbreakers play at Leeds Polytechnic. It was here too that they played their first gig supporting Leeds SOS. “We were post-punks,” Gartside explains as he introduces the oblique Skank Bloc Bologna, written in Leeds in 1976.
The song is part of the first half of the set that skips through Scritti history – from the magnificent The Sweetest Girl to a glistening Oh Patti, the hip-hop and Guinness-inspired Boom Boom Bap and a newie, Trentavious White, a tribute to the slain rapper also known as Bankroll Fresh, from Atlanta, Georgia.
Thankfully technological advances mean Cupid & Psyche, a studio record that was made at great expense with top-notch New York session musicians, can now be faithfully reproduced live by a band that today comprises Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, Dicky Moore on guitar and Rob Smoughton drums.
And what a joy it is to hear the skanking lovers’ rock of The Word Girl and the slick sophisti-pop of Absolute. The guitar in Small Talk is reminiscent of Chic (indeed the track was at one stage remixed by Nile Rodgers), while a busy rendering of Perfect Way seems to leave Gartside catching his breath.
Lover To Fall, he says, is a song that “reminds me most of the 80s in a good way – not Margaret Thatcher, the good stuff”. Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Frankin) brings the crowd to its feet and a powerful version of Hypnotize keeps them there.
A very welcome return to Scritti’s northern roots.