Sunday, 8 October 2017

1,056 THE ICICLE WORKS, Bristol Fleece, Friday 6th October 2017

A particularly fraught day left me in serious need of the healing salve a great gig can provide, and for that, I turned tonight to The Icicle Works, another 80’s post-punk “rockist” band and Scouse contemporaries of the likes of The Bunnymen, whom, similar to The Chameleons earlier this year, I’d overlooked back in the day but had recently revisited following my redundancy last year. Truth to tell, I wasn’t actually completely oblivious of this lot back then; I thoroughly enjoyed a smattering of their singles, particularly the racily melodic and hook-laden opening double singles salvo of “Birds Fly” and “Love Is A Wonderful Colour”, and the hard rocking, later “Understanding Jane”, and briefly owned 3 separate copies of their first album… only to take them all back as my stylus jumped in the same place! Their dramatic Mersey widescreen sweep and pseudo-proggy psych-pop therefore remained on the periphery of my musical vision until last year, when I bought and enjoyed their 5 CD box set, then quickly booked tix for what promised to be a “deep dive” into their back catalogue, with vocalist, mainstay and (similar to the Chameleons again!) sole original member Ian McNabb threatening a 2 ½ hour retrospective set of band and solo material!

This also promised to be an early start at 7.40, which proved problematic when, earlier in the day, my 10 year old son was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes… hence the fraught-ness! A few quick family rearrangements allowed me to attend this gig, albeit leaving slightly later than planned, picking up the Big Man and hammering down the M4, then getting stuck around the centre of Bristol before parking up at 10 to 8. We therefore hit the venue just as The Icicle Works were starting their 3rd number, a startlingly tough-sounding “Evangeline”, the soaring chorus being filled in by the knowledgeable audience. We hung back and spotted Matt in the doorway; he’d gone to The Thekla instead! A sinewy, sweeping and equally singalong “Seven Horses” was next up, with McNabb already the focal point, a gregarious and entertaining frontman constantly interacting with the crowd both between and mid-song. “Rock and roll made me a lot of things, but one of them ain’t funny!” he, somewhat inaccurately, quipped early doors…

The first set consisted primarily of vintage Icicle Works material, interspersed with the engaging McNabb’s deadpan comments; a soulful, Motown-lite “Blind” was preceded by a well-observed “Whispering” Bob Harris impression, and an acerbic, sprawling and hauntingly discordant “Up Here In The North Of England” was introduced with the pointed barb of, “I wrote this in the 80’s about an oppressive Tory Government – not much has changed…”. The sweepingly widescreen, Wild Swans-esque “Who Do You Want For Your Love” received the pithy introduction of, “another of our songs that got to No. 53!”, whilst a touchingly melodic, 60’s-tinged “Starry Blue Eyed Wonder” became a hushed singalong. “The Cauldron Of Love” closed out set one, McNabb leading his charges off at 9, “to go and take some ibuprofen – we’re all getting old!”

Chatted with Matt and Rich in the intermission, and unloaded about my day to a couple of sets of sympathetic ears, before McNabb returned to the stage 15 minutes later for set two with the comment of, “nice to see so many ladies here – it’s normally swinging dicks all the way to the back [at our gigs]!” Set two delved into McNabb’s post-IW solo material, drawing from an extensive (and unfamiliar to these ears) back catalogue. “Fire Inside My Soul” recalled the anthemic heroics of Springsteen’s “Dancing In The Dark”, and “What She Did To My Mind” was a rootsier, Neil Young-esque riff-heavy workout. In fact most of the second set felt more trad, almost heartland rock, well constructed and melodic with fine, reverential organ playing underpinning the sound, but I have to confess it drifted pleasantly but unobtrusively along for me, and I felt I was counting down to a return to the Icicle Works material at the end of the set.

We finally got what we wanted, though; McNabb offered thanks to the crowd for coming along and supporting “live” music, gave a shout-out for Tom Petty (lost to us at 66, earlier this week), then the intricate guitar intro to classic “Hollow Horse”, the choral hook again sung back by the audience, closed out the second set at 10.15. A lengthy encore of “Clarabella” preceded a lovely, slowed-up “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” before the band took a bow at 10.30 and left the stage again, then…

That was that! To our great consternation, potential highlights “Birds Fly” and “Understanding Jane” were both cut from the encore! We caught up with Ian McNabb at the merch stand for pix and set-list signings (I grabbed the list for set 2 only), and he explained that they were necessarily sacrificed due to the venue curfew. Bugger! Overall therefore, a great, tough sounding first set, a fine but patchy second set capped by a couple of great numbers, but we left discussing what was omitted. Hopefully a condensed Icicle Works singles-centric set at November’s forthcoming “Shiine On” Festival will prove that less is more, and might just be a potential festival highlight. We’ll see, but nevertheless, The Icicle Works and Ian McNabb still brightened up my fraught day!

No comments:

Post a Comment