An impromptu and last-minute double-header for arty 80’s post-punk Bowie referencers turned latter-day US FM Radio favourites and “Bratpack” movie soundtrackers The Psychedelic Furs, this; as soon as a UK tour showcasing their extensive singles output was announced, I’d immediately booked tix for the Bristol show. Happily I also persuaded (this time!) fellow Furs devotees “Mad” Doug and The Big Man to join me for the Bristol show (and later, Beef, who sorted his own ticket), for an evening of prime 80’s “colossal” live rock, thereby also re-enacting a journey to see this same band with those same 2 gentlemen, at The Colston Hall, just round the corner from the O2, over 30 years ago! And I’d have been happy with just that, but a text from Stuart the day before the Birmingham gig, inviting me to take advantage of one of the 2 free tickets that had fallen into his lap thanks to a disorganised colleague (!), suddenly turned this into a 2-night double-header. Free tix? That’s my favourite ticket price, and free tix for The Furs? You bet!
So, Birmingham first, and Stuart picked me up early at 6 for a swift drive into B’rum city centre, but then an utterly farcical parking situation; we tried to park in 2 open-air car parks and not having sufficient coinage between us, tried in vain to use credit card (which didn’t process properly in one, and was unavailable in the other), then the automated phone paying system (said system refusing both car parks’ location numbers!). Exasperated, we eventually dumped Stu’s motor in a poorly-lit, dodgy-looking and rubbish-strewn trading estate road not far from the venue, an ornate old theatre hall which reminded me of a smaller Shepherd’s Bush Empire! The parking delay meant we missed half of support Lene Lovich’s set, which turned out to be no bad thing as she was utterly dire. Black/ red clad and much wider than in her 70’s pomp, she caterwauled like one of Macbeth’s witches over some horribly clichéd doomy pantomime pseudo goth; clearly trying to channel her inner Siouxsie, she instead ended up giving the impression of Meg from “Meg And Mog”, and it all felt quite embarrassing for all concerned. Give it up, dear!
Still, from the ridiculous to the sublime, and in no uncertain terms! We squeezed into a spot near the front, stage right, then the lights plunged at 9.15 and the bleak, eerie synth refrain from Bowie’s “Warszawa” washed over the expectant audience. The band took the stage one by one, the velvet great-coated bass monolith Tim Butler cupping his hand to his ear to elicit a cheer; then, as the angular rhythm and backwards backbeat of “Dumb Waiters” kicked off, vocalist Richard Butler took the stage last – blessed touch of theatre! – bowing low with a flourish, before the sleazy nasal tones of his halting, London-Bowie-esque voice heralded the start of his evening’s work.
A chugging “We Love You” next up saw Butler prowl the stage, haughty and imperious of demeanour, fulsome and expansive of gesture. A tremendous, hard rocking thrill-ride “Mr. Jones” led into the quintessential Furs number (hell, probably the quintessential 80’s rock song!) “Pretty In Pink”, the vocalist by now having divested himself of his own coat to reveal a black spotted pyjama top (!). Great stuff, although there were some bumps in the road; the mix was a little poor, seemingly not accounting for diminutive Kevin Millar-lookalike Mars Williams’ decadent late-night glam-sleaze virtuoso saxophone being the lead instrument for much of the Furs material, and with Rich Goode’s more textural guitar work higher in the mix than necessary, it occasionally sounded cluttered and busy, particularly during a messy “Danger” or the later “Until She Comes”. Nonetheless, the familiarity and quality of their material shone like a beacon through the mix fog; “Run And Run” was great, the brilliant line of “I’ve been waiting all night for someone like you… but you’ll have to do” being delivered by Butler with playful dismissiveness, and “Heartbeat” finally saw Williams’ sax really to the fore, for this pulsating, funky classic.
All too soon, a brilliant soaring “Heaven”, the best sounding song of the night with the mix finally spot-on for its’ soaring chorus and descending hook, closed out a thoroughly entertaining set. Sure, I’d have taken out a couple of the later singles in favour of a “President Gas”, “Forever Now” or “Into You Like A Train”, but this was a Singles tour, right? I knew that when I bought the ticket, so was totally prepared for it…
And for the encore, where drummer Phil Calvert took the stage first, pounding out the unmistakeable drumbeat to the sprawling classic “Sister Europe”, Tim Butler’s bass then adding the brooding menace, before the song stretched moodily and languidly into life. Excellent, but topped with a lengthy, all-action “India”, the energetic yet taciturn Butler blowing kisses to the crowd as he departed after a mix-affected yet stellar performance.
Home for 12.30 after an easy egress from B’rum with Stu, all in the knowledge that I was to do it all again the following evening! So, for Bristol, Beef wandered over and we then collected The Big Man and Doug from their opposite sides of Swindon for an entertaining drive down and an easy park on a quiet Trenchard Level 8 for 8pm. The O2 however was already busy, much more so than the Institute, and this time Lene Lovich had only just started her set, I noted with due dread and concern. The initial part of her set was however an eye-opener in comparison to the previous night; still not great, but some more palatable poppier, herky-jerky new wavey rhythm and toy organ-fuelled stuff being a definite improvement. However, after a messy “Say When” and a bouncy version of The Hit, “Lucky Number” (both of which we missed last night), it was back to the dirge-like panto goth nonsense to end a ropey – and at 45 minutes, overlong – support set.
We wandered down onto a busy dancefloor, Doug (as is his wont) striking up conversations with all and sundry as we went, and found a small space near our usual stage left slot. A late running Lisa, who with admirable dedication had driven from London for this one (!), turned up too, deciding on a watching brief outside of the squeeze. Again “Warszawa” struck up, heralding The Furs’ entrance at 9.15. Same set as before, in the same order; however familiarity certainly didn’t breed contempt for me! “Mr. Jones” was again a potent, powerful early highlight, “Love My Way” a delicious exercise in blissful melancholy, and “Angels Don’t Cry”, never a favourite of mine, was tender and touching, sounding clear as a bell, the mix considerably better in Bristol than Birmingham.
Vocalist Richard Butler was again The Star; same spotted pyjama top, same extravagant gestures, same occasionally slightly laboured but entirely appropriate sleazy nasal hazy vocals. And initially, same taciturn manner, each song once again going unannounced, with the occasional, “thank you!” being the only non-lyrical communication from the vocalist. However, unlike last night, Butler took it upon himself to introduce the band midway through, introducing brother Tim last as, “the guy who got this whole fucking thing started!” before remarking, “and then there’s you lot! Thank you!”
“Heartbeat” was again a thing of tantalising pulsating menace; “House” was widescreen and expansive, a real mid-80’s anthemic flag-waver, but once again “Heaven” stole the show, soaring and resplendent, Tim Butler striding the stage like a colossus while his brother spun, arms outstretched, behind him. Great stuff, and another moody, menacing and magnificent “India” saw the evening to a close.
No set-lists either night, however, despite my exhortations (and Doug bringing his best powers of persuasion to bear on my behalf in Bristol!); the official line was that they were keeping and re-using them! I call double-bullshit, me…! Nonetheless, we caught our breath then walked Lisa back to the car park before bidding our farewells and hitting the road for an equally chatty and swift ride home.
Reflections on this double header? Well, I was bloody knackered Thursday at work, so I wouldn’t want to do it too often (!) but glad I did it for the Furs. Like The Skids earlier this year, here’s a band of similar vintage still showing the young ‘uns the way, and growing older disgracefully in the process. And long may that continue!