Monday, 13 June 2011

820 THE WILD SWANS, Bristol Thekla, Thursday 9 June 2011

The retro June continues, and here’s another welcome reunion resulting in another eagerly anticipated gig. The Wild Swans, who as support act of my second ever gig made an indelible impression on my 16 year old mind with a stunning set of sweeping power, followed it up with easily the best single for the following year in “Revolutionary Spirit” – hell, still one of the best singles EVER – and, following an early 80’s hiatus, established themselves as a mid-80’s “live” favourite with an all-too-brief reprise, during which time I became a familiar face at their shows for vocalist and visionary Paul Simpson, who was nevertheless friendly and open each time I met him. The true “lost” band from that storied and mythical Liverpool Bunnymen/ Teardrops 80’s scene, the band with the vision, scale and talent to have assumed stadium level popularity, who were instead consigned to hushed, dusty half whispered legend. Until…

Scarcely-believable rumours of a Wild Swans reunion show at the back end of 2008 nearly saw me consider hot-footing it up to Liverpool, but t’was not to be. Nevertheless, they followed up these (very) low-key live shows with a couple of single releases, then, this year, a full length CD and a mini tour, choosing the Thekla, increasingly one of my favourite venues given that this “dirty boat” literally oozes the distilled essence of rock’n’roll, as a near-perfect venue for their scattergun vision of a run-down yet heroic England, where giants and mythical beasts still bestride these emerald Elysian fields. I booked tickets immediately and persuaded Rachel to forego Sunday’s gig to join me (Cheap Trick? Seen them before!!).

The best laid plans were however put into absolute panic when we couldn’t find Baa, our little daughter's favourite cuddly toy, to give to her before bedtime. A frantic last-minute turning the house upside down couldn’t reveal her whereabouts, so we set off late, flustered and worried about our daughter settling down with Grandma. Nevertheless, there’s a gig to go to, and we arrived at the “dirty boat” at 8, parking outside and wandering into the sparsely populated hold just as the support were rounding off their innocuous girly set.

Saw a familiar rakish figure snaking through the venue, dressed incredibly dapper in a dark cut suit, but before I wandered over to talk to Paul Simpson (for t’was he), I ran into old friend Craig, over from Cardiff for the show! Caught up thereafter with Simmo, who after a little prompting, apparently remembered me from my 80’s pursuits of The Wild Swans, and gave me a hug which was unexpected but welcome. A quick chat revealed his enthusiasm for the 2011 incarnation of his band, so we took a walk down the front for their early arrival at 8.30.

The Wild Swans took the stage to a still-sparse but loyal crowd, easing into their set with opener “Falling To Bits”, the melodic and evocative opener to their new album “The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years”. The sound seemed a little off from the outset, particularly feeding back through the rhythm guitarist throughout, but this seemed not to rattle their onstage insouciance. Rather they took heart, with an understated, restrained yet supremely melodic show of craftsmanship. Simmo had made reference earlier on to suffering throat problems, sipping honey and lemon from a pint glass onstage, but his deep baritone was nevertheless rich and resonant, albeit also restrained and controlled. A heroic “Archangels” was brilliantly evocative, an early set highlight, and newie “Bluebell Wood” saw Craig bantering with an affable Simmo about a Waitrose token (!). After a lovely “Now And Forever”, the set built to a glittering climax with a wonderfully discordant “God Forbid” (introduced by Simmo as, “a new one”; hah!), Simmo understandably keeping his voice one octave lower than the usual vocal line for protection. “No Bleeding” followed, as heartcrackingly emotive as ever, Simmo finally freeing his vocals to truly soar authoritatively, and the wonderful keyboard outro made this a true highlight of the night.

Then finally “Revolutionary Spirit”, possibly the greatest single of all time, a soaring plangent thing of melodic beauty, the band doing its’ extraordinary widescreen breadth and sweeping expanse full justice, and if Simmo over-egged the final chorus with an extra line, we can excuse him that for being so wrapped up in the moment. Brilliant stuff.

They stayed on then for an “encore” of “Tangerine Temple” before an actual encore of the uncharacteristic baggy dance anthem “Melting Blue Delicious”, Simmo abandoning the stage and joining us on the floor to deservedly applaud his own band after a remarkable resurrection.

Time to chat quickly afterwards, including a few words with bassist and former long-time Bunnyman Les Pattinson, and some words of gratitude with Simmo himself. We parted with his words, “don't leave it so long next time - well, I guess that’s up to me, isn't it?” That’s right, Simmo! A chat with Craig before setting off capped a brilliant night off wonderfully well too.

And after another exhaustive search when we got home, we managed to find Baa, so everything ended perfectly!

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