It’s been 23 years since I last saw Tyla play. Back then, it was at a Dogs d’Amour gig; Tyla was the lead singer of this English rock n’roll band, with blues, alt-country and metal-trash-glam punk overtones. The band had cult success in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when they released a stream of albums, with A Graveyard of Empty Bottles making it to no.16 in the UK album charts. Dressed in waistcoats, silk scarves, eyeliner and vagabond pirate garb they even graced our TV screens, performing (drunkenly) their single Satellite Kid on Top of the Pops, which reached no. 26 in the charts. Since then, the band has split up and reformed several times with different line-ups, Tyla remaining the one constant. He has released around 20 solo albums to date and still tours as Tyla and the Dogs d’Amour, but tonight, he was in Cambridge for a solo gig, under the name Tyla J. Pallas.
I was looking forward to seeing Tyla perform again after all this time; he was now at the ripe old age of 50. This was to be an acoustic, stripped-down gig as opposed to one of their manic rock shows I saw in the ‘80s. He looks like a cross between a debauched rogue gypsy pirate, not too dissimilar to Captain Jack Sparrow, and an English gentleman. He writes disenchanted lyrics in a Bukowsky-esque style about heartbreak and the bottom of a bottle, he designs all the elaborate, imaginative artwork for his album covers, and he writes poetry books. He is a self-proclaimed ballad monger.
Before the gig, we spotted Tyla playing pool in the courtyard of the Portland Arms, wearing a pin-striped suit with his long, black wavy hair sticking out under a grey brimmed hat, and a neat black moustache and triangular beard. He drank Guinness as we chatted to him and Gary Pennick, the Dogs d’Amour guitarist, about re-recording two old Dogs albums, his life in LA and Barcelona and what the original Dogs are now up to – he tells a good ol' story. The sound engineer came to find him - it was 9 pm and time for him to get on stage; Tyla said he would be there in 2 minutes, and continued to chat while he finished the glass of red wine. ‘Come on, then, let’s go’ he said eventually, and we all dutifully followed him inside.
Tyla’s artwork had been set up on the stage; paintings of long-haired guitarists with skeletal hands surrounded by swirling wisps of smoke. He and Gary sat on stools, a small table in between them where they placed their bottle of red wine and two glasses. Armed with black acoustic guitars, they launched into old Dogs favourites such as Billy Two Rivers, I Think it’s Love Again, and slow, bitter-sweet ballads like Angel, with Tyla singing in rasping, gravelly tones and Gary singing backing vocals. The tiny room was full; the crowd listened quietly (apart from a few of us at the front) but soon started to sing along. There seemed to be a lot of old Dogs fans there, not looking quite as ‘rocky’ as in the 80s (myself included) but everyone was a lot older now – Tyla was one of the few who was keeping the image alive, and looking good for it.
The guys managed to create a big wall of sound with just two acoustic guitars. Gary swapped his guitar for a twelve-string at one point, and Tyla played soulful slide guitar. He removed his pin-striped jacket, revealing a Victorian-style flouncy white shirt with flapping sleeves, tattoos and lots of jewellery, and took off his silk scarf and wrapped it around the mike stand. He lifted his guitar up at an angle and played it with a flamenco stance, almost stepping off his stool, with one foot balancing on his monitor. When each song ended, the pair would take a big sip of red wine.
Tyla introduced the crowd to his merch man, who he said had lots of sweets to give away – Parma Violets and Love Hearts.
After playing most of the songs from Graveyard, Tyla played a few of his solo songs. Just An English Outlaw went down well, with its smooth Americana, alt-country tones and crooning lyrics that seemed to sum up Tyla nicely. Supreme Creator, with a Stones-y / T-Rex feel, filled the room with powerful sound – I didn’t expect to hear this anthemic, sing-along ‘band’ song to be played at an acoustic gig so I was pleasantly surprised. He then launched into How Come it Never Rains, one of my favourite Dogs tracks, a poignant heart-breaking song which was beautifully performed and much appreciated by the crowd, and then Bess, a heartfelt ballad. And then the end was nigh; Tyla launched into old classic, the swashbuckling Errol Flynn, and you could hardy hear him sing through the sound of the crowd singing (or shouting) along to the chorus: ‘Whoa Whoa Whoa!’
Actually, the end wasn’t quite nigh. Tyla got off the stage, stood in the middle of the crowd and proceeded to tell a few jokes, making everyone double over with laughter. He was on good form. He then got back on stage and sang a few more solo songs -More Unchartered Heights of Disgrace, Archie Leach and then Untouchable – but then his battery on his guitar decided to pack up; he had been playing for almost 2 hours. ‘I guess that means that’s the end of the night then!’ he laughed, and took a bow. The crowd applauded crazily, Tyla stepped off stage, and everyone rushed up to get their Tyla artwork and CDs signed by the man himself.
This was one of those gigs that I hoped would be great and felt afterwards that expectations were surpassed. After not seeing the Tyla perform for all these years I left pleased that the bulletproof poet was still going strong; stronger than ever in fact. I somehow think that Tyla will keep on rocking for many years to come – and if he rocks up anywhere near you check him out; I’m pretty sure won’t see anyone else quite like him.