Saturday, 18 June 2011

822 SIMPLE MINDS, James Walsh, Westonbirt Arboretum, Friday 17 June 2011

Seeing Ex-Simple Minds last year, whilst being a thrilling nostalgia jaunt through the innovative, cutting edge early material of one of my favourite post-punk bands, also whetted my appetite for seeing the “real thing”, as it were, potential stadium rock excess and all. So when a Simple Minds date was announced as part of nearby Westonbirt Arboretum’s run of open-air Summer shows, I snapped up a ticket pretty much immediately, ultimately persuading a couple of work colleagues into coming along too.

So it was that I drove down with my former boss Bob, who could count the gigs he’d been to on the fingers of one hand, but one of which, impressively, had been The Beatles and Tyrannosaurus Rex! I’d also done my research; firstly, I’d checked out recent set-lists from the Minds’ forest jaunt thus far, and whilst lightning hadn’t struck twice, Adam Ant-wise, there was a small smattering of pre-hit material to really pique my interest, along with a Glittering Prize of a “New Gold Dream”-centric set climax to look forward to. Also, I’d checked the weather for this open-air affair, and the only disagreement between weather websites was when the heavy rain was going to hit, not if! So, fully prepared, we arrived easily at 7 after a quick cross country run, finding a nice compact venue site skirted by trees, and thankfully only drizzly rather than persistent, as we hit the beer tent!

Took a wander forward for support James Walsh, whom I’m convinced is a Rain God, given that the only time I’d seen his previous charges Starsailor, at Fleadh 2001, it had pissed down too! He took the stage to increasing drizzle, having an invidious task in warming up the slightly sodden early arrivals. However he set to it with gusto, with pumping beatbox, chiming acoustic guitar and occasional keyboard colour, and a plaintive, keening voice. “Follow the man possessed by a storm,” was a prophetic early lyric, as Walsh alternated between more morose but recognisable Starsailor oldies entirely appropriate for the slate grey conditions, and more chipper newies. “Four To The Floor” and an almost jolly “Good Souls” were highlights of a quietly impressive support set.

Ran into one of my brother’s bandmates for a chat, then colleague Mairi and hubby by the beer tent, before the Minds early entrance music wrong-footed us and saw us striding purposefully to the front for their early arrival, just before 9, with a bombastic “Moscow Underground”, which segued into a fist-pumping, anthemic “Waterfront”. The early set took the expected route, mainly drawing on material from their mid-80’s “Stadium Rock” albums, “Sparkle In The Rain” and “Once Upon A Time”, when they moved away from their dazzling, synth driven cutting edge groove, and into more expansive, radio friendly material. However the Krautrock-influenced “Sons And Fascination” got me moving, and I gleefully anticipated the clattering industrial robotic dance of “Celebrate”, next up. Unfortunately, this was disappointingly thin-sounding in the open air, and I feared for my interest level, thinking this was as good as it was going to get.

However the unmistakable synth pulse of a totally unexpected “Love Song” started up, and I was utterly sold. This was brilliant, easily the set highlight, and they had me after that. “You’re not too cold, not too wet, we’re not too old, are we?” asked Jim Kerr before a fine “Hunter And The Hunted”, and true enough, he gave an energetic performance of his expansive dance style which belied his years. Despite the false start, the slow-burn “Someone Somewhere In Summertime” was as sparkling as ever, heralding a “New Gold Dream”-heavy denouement, taking in a heavy but sharply short shower during “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” – “rain keeps falling down”, indeed! - and climaxing in the title track of that breakthrough album.

A final encore “Ghostdancing”, which I’d forgotten appropriated the first line of the sadly absent “I Travel”, segued into a singalong cover medley of “Gloria” and Talking Heads’ “Take Me To The River”, capping an entirely worthwhile actually near-2 hour set (a frankly dull “Mandela Day” notwithstanding!). “We’ll be back again,” announced an achingly sincere Jim Kerr at the end. And, d’you know what, I might be as well!

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