Friday, 3 December 2021

1,202 STEADY HABITS, Black Sheep Apprentice, Swindon The Tuppenny, Thursday 2nd December 2021

 



From strident gloomy post-punk Goth to mellow, understated alt-Country and Americana in the space of 4 days; who’s to say I don’t have diverse musical tastes then? This one was actually quite the late call; local promoter and gig impresario extraordinaire, Mr. Ed Dyer, posted on the Tuppenny Facebook feed positively slavering about tonight’s Thursday Night Music Club hosts, Oxford’s Steady Habits, so I clicked on the link and found some nice pedal steel and enticing harmonies, just about enough to entice me away from my sofa and “Professional Masterchef”, at least…!

 So, a quick drive up the hill and into the Tuppenny at 8, whence landlady Linda advised me things were running a little late, so I took a good viewing pew and watched the 5-piece Steady Habits soundcheck, chatting with support band main man Rich “Skiddy” Skidmore before his lot Black Sheep Apprentice followed suit. As their check finished just after 8.30, they just went straight into their set, with an ominous “High Noon” ringing bell heralding the barren neo-psych Tex-Mex flavoured strumalong of opener “Let It Go”, which could’ve easily walked off Side 1 of Love’s seminal “Forever Changes”. Skiddy, as ever resembling the Western B movie villain from Central Casting, all black-clad, wearing a Stetson hat and sinister beard, promised to keep chat to a minimum (“I don’t want to sound like Kermit the Frog!”), instead concentrating on firing off the likes of “Re-Awakened To Danger” (a perfect soundtrack for that moment in a Coen Brothers movie where the protagonist meets his untimely end, most likely over a woman) and “Solitary Man (a Neil Diamond cover, sounding entirely in place in this set) from his metaphorical low-slung holster. “Born To Walk Alone” (“despite my usual happy chirpiness this is quite a miserable song,” quipped Skiddy), was a parched paean to lost love, thematically typical of the BSA “lone rider” oeuvre, and whilst newie “A Reason To Smile” was a slightly upbeat yet disjointed (3 verses or 4?) work-in-progress, the cantering “Phoenix” was my highlight of another fine BSA set of set of dusty and desolate truckstop Americana. And Skiddy thinks they’re not “Americana”…? Hmmm…!

 I was joined by young Mr. Paul Carter at my table before Steady Habits took the stage, led on by their cherubic main man, vocalist Sean Duggan. “Good evening, we’re Steady Habits, all the way from Oxford… as you can tell I’m a born Oxonian,” deadpanned Connecticut native Duggan in his authentic US drawl, with an early “Half” setting the tone for their set, a beguiling pedal steel-powered West Coast US Summery driving number featuring excellent undulating guitar work from former Greasy Slicks axeman Jack Kendrew. “Hold In Your Breath” was a slower-paced and understated number with a tumbling harmonic chorus, before Duggan delivered a solo “Archer Street”, an evocative tribute to small town America, in his clear, yearning and plaintive voice.

 “Garden State” (“another road song!”) referenced Main Street and Chesapeake and featured an almost 70’s folky, Fleetwood Mac choral feel, whilst “Stay” was a chunkier effort, with duelling guitar and pedal steel riffery. All the while, Duggan was a charming, self-effacing yet charismatic frontman, inviting us all to the Jericho Tavern for their hometown gig next week (Ed replying, “we’re not allowed into Oxford – we’re all from Swindon!”) and constantly praising the audience for their attention. Set closer “Borrowed Time” was my favourite of the set; the most upbeat number on show tonight, a Gin Blossoms-esque slab of sturdy backbeat Countrified rock with a smooth choral melody, ending an understated yet intelligently crafted and meticulously delivered alt-Country set on a high note.

 That wasn’t it though, as Ed persuaded the band on for an encore, Duggan revisiting his former fraternal duo Loud Mountain’s catalogue for a more strident finale, then I swiped the sole list, caught up with a late-arriving Si Hall (playing here early next year – I’ll be back for that one!) and had a chat with a personably young Mr. Duggan about Boston and baseball (2 of my favourite subjects!). Home for 11 after another fine evening up the Tupp!

Thursday, 2 December 2021

1,201 WHISPERING SONS, Rose’s Diary, Southampton Joiner’s Arms, Monday 29th November 2021

 


After a run of more “retro” acts of late (I much prefer “retro” to the current favoured nomenclature of “heritage” or “nostalgia” – that makes them sound like they’re ruined old castles!), here’s a trip down to my favourite venue on the South Coast for a fairly new band… Brussels post-punk lot Whispering Sons had inveigled themselves into my consciousness with their sophomore effort, “Several Others”, earlier this year. However, whereas “post-punk” seems to currently define itself as a bloke shouting the odds over a fast-paced but monotonous one-note beat (see Fontaines DC and their ilk), da Sons offered something different; spooky, mysterious, bass-led build-ups to startling crescendos, very early Bauhaus/ Killing Joke art school pseudo Goth, and the voice… well, the overlaying vocals were the real distinguishing feature; so deep, angst-ridden, resonant and almost morbid, like Bela Lugosi reading an eulogy to the damned. So, an intriguing – if gloomy – one in prospect here, no doubt…

 A swift drive down in inky blackness parked me up a few feet from the door at 8 as usual (love the Joiners!!!). Only a dozen or so folk in early doors – poor turnout, I thought, which then became poorer as 4 of them took the stage! The support band Rose’s Diary (for so they were), kicked into some bright if slightly unrehearsed and raw 90’s indie and dreampop, recalling the likes of Belly and The Cardigans, in front of family and friends (including the blonde vocalist’s dad, recording it all. Aptly named too, as each song lyrically felt like a teen confessional diary excerpt, presumably from said vocalist (Rose?), whose voice, whilst also unpolished and lacking projection, had a fey nasal charm, recalling the excellent Basement Revolver’s Cristy Hurn at times. Also currently possessing a clear paucity of material (2 covers in a 7 song set, including a Strokes one, 2nd number in!), there was nonetheless definite promise there, and one good, more robust and uptempo number in set highlight “Cougars”. Early days for them, but not bad…

 They cleared out, and by 9 o’clock the place was still a crypt! OK, chilly Autumn Monday and all, but still… Southampton, where are you? So, 13 forlorn souls were present to greet Whispering Sons onstage, the boys kicking into the “Passion Of Lovers” beat of opener “Deadend”, the sound dominated by this big bold bass, full of tension and fear. Then the source of the “voice” joined us onstage – just a young, skinny, baggily dressed blond kid! Wow! Where do those mournful tones – like Ultravox-era John Foxx, or The Sisters’ Andrew Eldrich with a heavy cold – actually come from??? I really don’t understand!

 Be that as it may, it was there; the proclamations from the “other side”, from this slight figure with an agitated, at times almost frenzied stage presence, overlaying a dramatically, bleak, dark soundscape, played with strident power and purpose, all the more impressive given the tiny crowd. “Heat” was faster, itchier and more angular than the opener, like a vampiric Bloc Party; “Got A Light” all odd angles and time signatures, and stripped back to that sinister, creepy bass; and “Alone” was probably my set highlight, more conventional pseudo-Goth post punk but again with a bleak, insistent mood. Music for “B” Movie vampire flicks or 80’s black and white arthouse movies set in a decadent but decaying Europe, this, certainly not a soundtrack for walking home late at night through an unfamiliar part of town…

 After the slow burn of “Surface” built to a resonant climax, the subsequent “Tilt” was the set outlier, elegiac and almost pretty, the stormclouds clearing for a moment, before the strident and relentless punk rock fire alarm clatter of “Surgery” brought a taciturn but impressive hour’s performance to a close (in front of a crowd which by now had swelled to 20 – whoop whoop!). Grabbed a list and complimented the merch stand-bound bassist afterwards on an at-times outstanding set (him taking my comment about my having not heard such an impressively bass-dominated sound since early New Order as a compliment), before I asked, “is your vocalist coming out after the set?” and received the reply, “no, she doesn’t normally do that…”

 Hold on; she? SHE???? Now I’m even more confused about where that voice comes from!! After a quick drive home, getting me back to the ‘don at 11.30, I did some internet research, and sure enough, Whispering Sons vocalist is the clearly female Fenne Kuppens, who “sings in a dramatic and distinctive low register”. No fooling! Well, on reflection on tonight’s fine performance, maybe it’s more Patti Smith with a heavy cold…!


Sunday, 21 November 2021

1,200 THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG, Gerard Starkie, Bristol Thunderbolt, Friday 19th November 2021

 


Another key landmark reached in my gigging days; the big 1,200, and prospective fine hosts in long-time “live” favourites, folk-punk veterans The Men They Couldn’t Hang, only this time a potential triumph laced with sadness… The Men, like so many bands, had had tour plans disrupted by Covid 19, but more tragically, founder member, co-vocalist and chief “live” rabble rouser Stefan Cush sadly passed away in February this year of a heart attack, aged only 60. Heartfelt consideration was understandably given as to whether these pre-Covid dates would be honoured when possible; indeed, whether The Men They Couldn’t Hang could or should continue as a going concern without Cush’s towering presence in the band. Thankfully, the answers to both questions were ultimately decided in the affirmative, although this might prove a somewhat different “live” experience to that originally anticipated. Hopefully one which honours the life and contribution of a true working class rebel and spokesman, with dignity and humour…

 

I’d of course been playing TMTCH songs to the kids in the car from the get-go, and had been able to expose Logan to their unique brand of folk-punk tomfoolery at Wickham Festival in 2019, so my 14 year old gig buddy was well up for a rousing singalong in a small Bristol pub, particularly if there was a kebab on offer at the end of it…! My first time at The Thunderbolt, then, and on arrival, after being expertly navigated in by Logan, I was gratified to see it was just as advertised – a dingy, run-down small pub venue, capable of holding about 150 souls, and understandably sold out tonight. We took a spot near the front of the stage for opener Gerard Starkie, on at 8. He played some dark, baroque and typically English sounding folky stuff initially recalling the 70’s likes of Cat Stevens and even pre-Glam David Bowie; then “Closing Up”, a song from his old band Witness sounded a proper old school Britpoppy anthem and was the best of his set by miles; then he followed that up with a number he used to play when he was a member of Blue Aeroplanes – he lives in Bristol, he owns a guitar, of course he used to be a member of Blue Aeroplanes!

 

His lilting, melancholy and alright-actually set rounded off at 8.45, after which things got a bit crowded on the postage stamp dancefloor, but we held our spots, front and centre, as Phil “Swill” Odgers led the 6-piece band onstage, understandably looking quite cramped up there! A jolly “Raising Hell” opened the show, after which the elephant in the room was quickly and elegantly dispensed with, Swill eloquently paying tribute to Cush, advising us that the band intended to continue for this tour at least, and quip, “this feels like the first soundcheck Cush has turned up to [in spirit] – he’s having a mojito across the road!”

 

Thus informed, band and audience visibly relaxed and proceeded to go about the business of having a bloody good time, celebrating life, music and Cush’s memory the right way. “Going Back To Coventry” (“part of [songwriter Paul Simmonds’] folk rock trilogy? Or even quadrilogy?”) was powerfully rousing and rocking, Swill subsequently commenting on the song’s fast pace with a story of how, early in their career, an A&R man thought all their songs were that fast, and ended up playing “Ghosts Of Cable Street” at the wrong speed! Then, an emotive, heart-cracking “Green Fields Of France” was next up, Swill doing “Cush’s song – and his dad’s song” stark, beautiful justice and respect, vocalising off-mic to lead the crowd in a genuinely emotional and affecting singalong. Just lovely stuff.

 


A rollicking “Smugglers” singalong served as an upbeat mood changer, before the acoustic interlude saw Logan (front and centre, remember…) hold up the lyric sheet to “Pieces Of Paradise” for Swill to sing! Thus followed more road stories about Cush (including one where he interrogated Swill about breaking a tour taboo – no shitting on the tour bus!), a couple of unexpected gems (including the languid Spanish Stroll of “Salutations” and “Gold Rush”, a personal favourite), and raucous, rousing singalongs to the fist-pumping, blue-collar class struggle likes of “Cable Street” and set highlight “The Colours”. A frantic “Ironmasters” closed out a celebratory set, before encores including “Walking, Talking” saw Swill ask the by-now raucously dancing crowd to, “step back, 75% of you probably have knee problems already!”

 


A merch stand visit, a quick chat and pic with Swill, and home via the kebab kiosk around the corner from home as promised for two happy boys. This was done beautifully well, The Men They Couldn’t Hang delivering a superbly fun evening’s entertainment and honouring their fallen comrade in exactly the right way. I can just picture Cush raising a glass to them, in thanks and salutations…

1,199 THE 2021 “SHIIINE ON” WEEKENDER, Various Venues at Butlins Resort, Minehead, Friday 12th – Sunday 14th November 2021

 


After a 2 year Covid-induced absence… it’s once more time to “Shiiine”! This, now a regular fixture in the Rose social – let alone “gig” – calendar, was another sad pandemic casualty in 2020, so when announcements arrived for the 2021 bill, featuring some intriguing new – and more recent – acts to this predominantly late 80’s/ early 90’s UK indie rock/ dance crossover flavoured festival, we were all over it! Our “Core Four” this year were initially expanded to 6, last year’s debutant Ady enjoying it so much that he was well up for a repeat, and old friend James, who booked solo last year but joined us for “the hang”, also came in on our 6 berth booking. Unfortunately, last minute withdrawals put paid to James’ attendance and, more significantly, Rich’s. Bugger! Still, at least that meant Matt and Ady would each have their own room in the 6-berther…!

 

So, on an unseasonably bright and warm November morning, Rach and I picked Ady up at 9.45 for a swift drive down to Minehead, parking up at Tesco for the usual breakfast fixings and snacks shop, before being joined in short order by Matt, hot-footing over from Wookey as usual. The usual catching up (damn, been too long) ensued over shopping and the traditional seafront fish and chip lunch, then a slightly different booking in process as we were all ushered to a new hall at the back of the resort complex to get Covid-checked and individual wristbands handed out. All very efficient, actually, so we were in our first floor 6 berth apartment and settling in by early afternoon! Then out to the main “Skyline Arena” (the big open space under the iconic Butlins tents) for the first music of the weekend from THE CLAUSE at 3.45. A new name on me, this young lot had one good song, soaring second number “Time Of Our Lives”, a few other decent touches amongst their usual sneery 90’s Manc/ 60’s Stones blues mix, and one later number, “Forever Young”, which owed a lot to U2 (the intro riff very reminiscent of the intricate opening to “Where The Streets Have No Name”!). Decent start… Looking to avoid Welsh baggy rap act Goldie Lookin’ Chain (that very description makes me shudder!), next up, we wandered over to the already-late-running Inn On The Green for DIRTY LACES, another young band with similar influences to The Clause, but playing it slower, looser and baggier, with some chap in a lab coat (!) occasionally offering some Doors-ish keyboard licks amongst his usual guitar work. Their fast and furious rawk wig-out at the end of their final number was the most noteworthy element of an okay, if slightly ham-fisted set. Still, waaay better than GLC…! Stayed put for CROSS WIRES, next up, who were more like it; a bit all over the place stylistically, with 60’s West Coast psych rock and Tex Mex inflections thrown randomly into a dark, almost Gothy shouty post-punk Fontaines DC-like noise, with an intense and energetic vocalist who was often scaling the front barrier, wide-eyed and bristling with conviction, giving it loads, despite looking like the kind of bloke who’d change your front lights at Halfords! I’m not sure I liked the shouty, almost hectoring vocal delivery, but he meant it, maaaan, and Cross Wires were easily the best of this initial crop of new bands, with set closer “Twisted Up In Time”, eerie and haunting and their best number.

 

We got drinks in then – all on water by 6 p.m. on Friday evening! Actually, I lied, we weren’t all on water, Ady was chugging away as usual…! Then into the Skyline Arena for THE PIGEON DETECTIVES, an intriguing post-millennial addition to the Shiiine On roster of acts. I’d liked them fine a few years back, would have seen them “live” at the Oasis back in 2007 were it not for a Hold Steady gig being rescheduled for that day, but lost interest in their later, more “landfill indie” releases. However, they were a pretty apposite band for a burgeoning festival, lead singer Matt Bowman a tousle-haired, mic-juggling and energetic stage presence (albeit modelling his post-lockdown home baking body, as most of us are actually!), rabble rousing and energising the crowd into laddish singalongs of their repetitively catchy, knockabout, almost cockernee-sounding (despite hailing from Leeds!) indie pop. The “Teenage Kicks”-like riff and terrace chant hook of “Going Out” was the first proper roof-raising singalong of the Shiiine On weekend, with a rollicking, high-jumping “Take Her Back” and the rather excellent actually “I’m Not Sorry” a fine double whammy to end a better than expected set, during which I was admittedly slightly distracted by a bloke wearing an inflatable pig costume (!), and another guy asking to take a photo of my white creeper shoes (“they’re proper mint, mate!”) !!

 

THE CORAL, next up, were more Shiiine On debutants, with early numbers “When It’s Gone” and “In The Morning” breezy and whimsically folksy numbers. However I’m not a fan, and their somewhat gossamer music seemed a little lightweight after the Pigeon Detectives’ more robust fayre, plus my knees were aching, so I sought refuge in Hotshots bar, finding a seat next to a nice bloke called Mike and chatting about England’s footy game against Alabnia (as the Butlins’ poster called the National Team’s opponents tonight!). T’was 5-0 at half time with a scorching Kane scissor kick the best of the bunch, plus my knee recovered, so we headed back in for headliners FEEDER. Another band I liked fine and saw a bunch of times around 20 years ago without really getting heavily into them… they’ve always operated in similar territory to bands I’ve liked more (hooky heavy post-grunge but not as good as Foo Fighters, chunky guitar singalongs but not as good as Weezer, spritely energetic riff-heavy indie but not as good as Ash, you get the idea…), so I was intrigued rather than enthused by their headliner status here, hoping they’d deliver a Shed Seven-type of revelation. Taking the stage to the Spaghetti Western theme to “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”, their slow-burn opener “Feeling A Moment” nonetheless got the crowd going with some anthemic “who-hoo”s, although their second number was abandoned due to bass problems, vocalist Grant Nicholas looking visibly agitated as he admitted to us, “we’re trying to sort out a couple of things…” Fears about a set-long Lightning Seeds-like issue were soon allayed, with a subsequent “California” a proper banger, and “Fear Of Flying” an excellent companion piece to Ash’s “A Life Less Ordinary” and a personal set highlight, heralding a sorting of the sound. After a jumpabout “Buck Rogers”, however, the set for me descended into a swathe of alright-ness – good honest indie rock, no doubt, but unremarkable and a bit samey. A strong finish was called for, and actually the boys delivered; old school proto grunger “Insomnia” and a proper first-album delve for the languid singalong of “High” was then followed by an anthemic “Seven Days In the Sun” and set finale, the messy but utterly banging amphetamine rush of “Just A Day”. Finishing 20 minutes over time (!), Feeder, whilst hardly being that Shed Seven-style reinvention (the earnest, serious Grant Nicholas lacking Rick Witter’s overt swagger), delivered a good set that ended splendidly and yeah, were pretty much worthy headliners, even to my cynical ears. Well done boys.

 

So as festivities ended in the Main Arena, we joined the queue for Centre Stage, hitting this large ballroom venue midway through THE SHAKES. They for me sounded an unrehearsed and messy early 90’s Manc nasal noise, and clearly nowhere near as good as they thought they were, definitely misplaced arrogance in my book. Going down well with this buoyant, slightly drunken crowd, so hey, what do I know, but for me? No great Shakes! This bumped us up to 11, Rach surprisingly turning in at this point, but Matt and myself (having also lost Ady at this point) sticking around for Stone Roses tribute band THE CLONE ROSES. I was never a massive Roses fan, so this quickly turned into a bit of a trial for me, the Clones covers veering between passable and often disappointingly insipid and understated. “Waterfall”’s plangent guitar work was OK and “This Is The One” the best sounding of the set for me, but “Fools Gold” was flat and dull and “She Bangs The Drums” disappointingly thin. And then we got a drum solo! A fucking drum solo! The drummer must own the van, methinks. After that bloated self-indulgence, I was done for the day, heading back to the apartment at this overlong set’s conclusion at 12.30, with “Just A Day” ringing in my ears!

 

What turned out to be a landmark Day 2 started with a fried breakfast, this time mainly provided by my dear lady wife! Then off with Rach and Matt to Splash Waterworld for the pool party, which initially started OK with some vintage 60’s stuff (Doors, Them, Motown deep cuts etc.), but then got all 90’s Technotronic! So I did some lengths before cutting it short, heading back to the apartment for a rest, then meeting Ady at the Inn On The Green (quiet early doors, pretty much everyone being up in Centre Stage for Stones And Roses, whom by all accounts were a band I’d have utterly loathed!) and running into Dave, Gareth and the rest of the Abstraction Engine lads, also here for the weekend. UTOPIATES, who were a baggy bag of ol’ shite, and THE ROOM, who were doomy and a bit dull, formed a distant backdrop for our chatting, but I was 1000% all in for the next act…

 

The lads from MIDWAY STILL had turned up earlier to load in, and happily drummer Dec Kelly recognised me from their recent (I say recent, I mean back in 2005 and 2010!) Swindon reunion gigs. They then took a bench out on the Green and after a suitable interval (and prompted by Ady!), I popped over to join them, enjoying a convivial conversation with the fine gentlemen of The Still, centring around my brother’s recent illness and the fucked-up post-Covid world we’re all still trying to get accustomed to. I’d also mentioned that my next set-list would be my 900th , at which point they mentioned they didn’t have one for their set (!), then vocalist Paul Thomson duly wrote an impromptu one up on the back of a receipt, giving it to bassist Russell Lee for safe keeping onstage, as he had the best eyesight!

 


Thus buoyed, I grabbed a bit of barrier for The Still’s late entrance at 4.30, in front of a respectable crowd which, with my crew, the AE boys plus old mate Steve and his wife Caz, included 10 Swindonians (!). The self-effacing Thomson warned us to, “brace yourselves,” before kicking into galloping opener “Counting Days”, which was driven at a supersonic, Ramones-like pace by Kelly’s forceful, propulsive drums. “Sound OK?” inquired Thomson, to which some wag down the front (OK, me…) shouted, “more guitar!”, which was duly delivered during a looser yet tougher sounding “I Won’t Try” (their debut; “Single Of The Week in the NME, and it’s been downhill since then!” quipped Thomson, ironically). However, the subsequent “Daynight” took a couple of attempts to start, sounding thin and understated throughout, Thomson ultimately calling a halt and abandoning it midway through with an, “it’s not working…”. Uh oh…

 


Actually, this proved an utter, if unexpected masterstroke, as the subsequent “What You Said” was magnificent, bristling, venomous and visceral, setting a ridiculously high bar which the rest of the set nonetheless lived up to in spades. Their Husker Du/ early Lemonheads/ Buffalo Tom/ Dinosaur Jr. US proto grungy popcore noise (which would have been right at home in seminal 80’s Boston venue The Rat!) always took on another dimension “live” back in the day, and on the evidence of this afternoon, time thankfully hasn’t dimmed The Still’s fire. “Jamie And Gigi” was as superb as I’d ever heard it, Thomson’s languid vocal inflections almost recalling a young Dando, and “Better Than Before”, one of my favourite tracks ever to dance to at Levs in the 90’s, was fulsome, powerful and infectiously catchy. Some bloke (not me this time) shouted out, “Fucking mint! End of!” at its conclusion, a buoyed Thomson replying, “that is correct!”, and I think we all felt that way. But the best was saved for last… a savage, snarling cover of MBV’s seminal “You Made Me Realise” was punctuated during the mid-song feedback-fest by The Still segueing in the whole of a rampaging, undulating and utterly incendiary “Come Down”. Just awesome; this afternoon the 3 reprobates of The Still delivered what I term an “American Hi-Fi” moment – not note-perfect in any way, but as raw, ragged, exciting and essential as rock’n’roll gets, reducing me to a sweaty, aching, gabbling mess along the way – and in the process not only easily swept the Band Of The Weekend honours (yeah, already!) but may have delivered my favourite Shiiine On set ever. Yes, ever!

 

After that, I was glad for a break in the proceedings – with no interest in the Skyline shenanigans over the next few hours (never been a fan of The Farm, despite “All Together Now” being an anthem for Shiiine On, particularly this year, and as for Black Grape, well, I know from experience that anything involving the Salford Village Idiot is going to be utter carnage and not worth my time…), I headed back to the apartment, gratefully logging into Sky Go to watch the Brazilian GP Sprint Race! A much-needed rest and some eats later, I was back out for 8ish, aiming to go deep tonight and catching up with the crew for CAST’s Skyline Arena headliner set. Never my cup of jangle back in the day, I’ve seen Cast both deliver dull and relatively Alright (pardon the pun) sets here in the last few years; unfortunately this one veered to the former, with a dreadfully plodding opener, a subsequent “Sandstorm” and almost jolly “Fine Time” double better, but the subsequent set descending into a sluggish and stodgy acoustic strumalong plod. I was thinking, less like their evident heroes The Beatles, more like the turgid likes of 70’s folk rock staples Fairport Convention! Yikes! So after half an hour, I took the advice of “Walk Away”, and escaped to Hotshots for a sit down!

 


Cast were done at 10, at which point my crew headed to Reds for Neds (Acoustic this time), but not being a fan, I was off to the Inn On The Green, and a revelation… CANDY OPERA, a Liverpool 80’s band who totally passed me by back in the day, eased into their set with a languid “See It Through Your Eyes”, which positively oozed well-constructed blue-eyed soulful 80’s songwriting, variously recalling Lloyd Cole, Prefab Sprout and the much overlooked The Big Dish! Subsequent numbers evoked a 60’s, almost Motown feel aligned with some Lou Reed-like laconic cool (a point I made to vocalist Paul Malone afterwards, his reply being, “Lou Reed and Motown? That’s us!”), some more upbeat, hooky pop stuff (viz. “Crash” and a rockabilly-inflected, almost Woodentops-like “#Text Delete”), and one bona fide powerpop anthem in “These Days Are Ours” (Malone commenting, “this was played at Anfield, which was a bit of a problem for me [as an Evertonian]!”). A fine, intelligently crafted set, and kudos to the band for handing out free t-shirts at its’ conclusion!

 


A quick trip back to the apartment to dump my free tee and £5 CD, enjoying a conversation with Malone about Liverpool rock on the walk back (“You saw Pete Wylie recently? Isn’t he fat!!”), then a chat with Steve and Caz at the back of the Inn on my return, subsequently missing all but the last, tambourine-led number from THE WALTONES, but I was joined by my crew for THE CHESTERFIELDS, on at ¼ to midnight. A “live” staple of mine back in the mid-80’s (usually whilst drunk, with Rich, and in London), I’d also seen this new, ersatz line-up a couple of years back (Sept 2019, gig 1,153), feeling that at that time they’d done full justice to their history and the legacy of sadly departed main vocalist Davey Goldsworthy. Tonight, unfortunately, was a little different; whether down to the sound, the mix, the understated, almost polite delivery, whatever, not sure, but these spritely jangle-pop songs of my youth initially sounded limp, tired and disappointingly flat, with Helen’s vocal’s, which worked well at The Louisiana a couple of years ago, sounding somewhat jarring. A chugging, swayalong “Goodbye Goodbye” threatened to improve matters, but ironically, it was a slow newie that turned things around; “Songbird”, written in homage to Davey and featuring a list of their 80’s contemporaries and influences (glad to hear the excellent Bodines getting a namecheck!) was plaintive and heartfelt, and “Ask Johnny Dee” was excellent, easily the best sounding of the set. “Completely And Utterly”, racier and pacier, was also a fine-sounding end to a curate’s egg of a set, but one which at least ended well. I’m not giving up on them yet…

 


Into the expanded Reds for the first time this weekend for me, for the last number by the popular DEJA VEGA, pulling the second of their double shift by covering for the late-withdrawing Bentley Rhythm Ace. Unfortunately said number was one-note, monotone, one dimensional and interminably long, and a real trial by ordeal, my knees and sides properly aching by now. But I was determined to get to 1 a.m. and tonight’s denouement, THOUSAND YARD STARE… vocalist Stephen addressed us as, “the final stragglers – more power to you, and we’re your prize!” on his arrival onstage, then kicked into chugging newie “When It Sparks”, before the ebullient, jet-propelled funky drummer bounce of oldie “Buttermouth” and a harder-edged newie “Upping Sticks”. No apples this time (!), but once again Stephen was a curiously captivating frontman, pacing the stage like an expectant father, all nervous energy and off-mic rambling and chanting, the band racing through TYS’ trademark energetic indie jangle behind him. A slower burn, almost plaintive “Seasonstream” was a mid-set highlight, before the inevitable frantic “0-0 After Extra Time” (“after all these years – no one has scored!”) and oldie “Wonderment” concluded another very fine TYS Shiiine set, well worth staying up for!

 

The gang were however determined to make it to the end of Steve Lamacq’s Indie Disco, however; I stuck it until 2.30, by which time everything South of my non-existent belly-button was so sore, it was all I could do to hobble back slowly and painfully to the apartment, thankful both for my bed and for the post-Still rest earlier this afternoon. The gang made it to 4 a.m. though – kudos to them!

 


A fitful and achey night however still saw me feeling better for Day 3, which started slowly, then saw us wandering into town on a positively balmy sun-kissed November Sunday for a tasty Carvery roast lunch at The Hairy Dog! So the entertainment started late for us, with Centre Stage hosts REPUBLICA at 3. Like most people here, I only know a couple of Republica numbers, neither of which I was inclined to sit through swathes of buoyant but samey electronic pop to get to, despite vocalist Saffron’s enthusiastic and ebullient performance, easily the best thing about this band. 3 numbers in, I was done and into the Skyline Arena for DODGY, who were not as knockabout or trite as I’d feared, instead impressing with some chunky 60’s influenced sweeping pop, with an early “So Let Me Go Far” a decent hooky choon, and “Staying Out For The Summer” a breezy and unexpectedly harmonic delight. Late replacements for The Bluetones, they joked about this state of affairs (“who you gonna call? Dodgy!”) whilst entertaining more than Mark Morris’ plodding and anodyne mob would’ve done… Unfortunately, a schedule clash saw me abandon them midway through, instead repairing to The Inn On The Green, putting up with some late-running chap with an acoustic guitar leading the crowd through some singalong Britpop staples, before former Inspiral Carpets vocalist TOM HINGLEY, erm, did the same actually! However, his were all Carpets songs, initially delivered with lots of bawdy, self-effacing humour (“I’ve had a couple of ciders so this is going to be shit!” and “I’m going to play songs by Metallica – in Polish…” were 2 early Hingley remarks…) and no little heart (a rousing singalong “This Is How It Feels” dedicated to those lost in recent times). Thereafter it all started to get a bit silly, however, Hingley downing a pint in one before a throwaway version of my favourite Inspirals number “Move”, and I was happy to wander back to catch the final numbers of Dodgy’s set before my anticipated Highlight Of The Day!

 


Rach and I had run into the impressive monolith that is Mark Burgess on our way to the Inn On The Green earlier, pausing for a pic with the man and informing how much I was looking forward to THE CHAMELEONS’ Skyline Arena set later that afternoon. So, no surprise then that I was on the barriers, front and centre, for this one, in a buoyant mood which was aided in no small measure by the Arena DJ playing some obscure indie classics from Easterhouse, Comsat Angels, The Mighty Lemon Drops and Killing Joke! Totally appropriate mood-setters for The Chameleons, then, Burgess leading his charges onstage, spot on at 4.35. From the off they were amazing; opener “A Person Isn’t Safe Here Anymore” sounded dark, deep, rich, resonant and uncommonly good, with an undercurrent of bristling menace leading into the hook “man of steel”, which echoed around the arena. An early “Monkeyland”, all stretched and creepy slow burn early doors, built the atmosphere to an intense level before popping like a cork with the strident “just a trick of the light” hook, and an unexpected “Intrigue In Tangiers” was a windswept and anthemic stomper. “Caution” was icy, languid and somnambulant, meandering brilliantly along its’ 7 minute length, before the tumbling, intricate riffery of “Swamp Thing” topped even that, Burgess and the band deliberately slowing this and other numbers down to give them extra drama and gravitas. A joyous “Second Skin” rounded off a quite brilliant set, probably better than their 1 a.m. Reds set which earned them 2018 Band Of The Weekend honours that year, the Skyline Arena stage lending their material a greater sense of widescreen power and majesty. The stuff dreams are made of, indeed! A welcome cherry on the cake was my friend the DJ sorting me out a set-list (most other Arena lists being hoovered up quickly and apparently chucked in a bin backstage by some ignorant new roadie – bah!) – nice work!

 


A tough act to follow for me, then, but old Jamie Wednesday and Carter USM mate JIM BOB, along with his band The Hoodrats, gave it the old college try, impressing with a sturdy selection of poppy recent material and old Carter USM “beatbox battlehymn” numbers, which actually sounded pretty good given the full band treatment. Good to hear the jovial sea shanty wordplay of “Prince In A Pauper’s Grave” (which appeared on my one Jamie Wednesday set-list from gig 78, waaaay back in 1987!), the tough and dramatic polemic of “Bloodsport For All”, and rousing set closer “The Only Living Boy In New Cross”, rounding off an unexpectedly fine set. Bring the band again next time, Jim!

 


This led us beyond 7 p.m., into the last couple of laps of Shiiine On for another year, and to Rachel’s potential highlight. Another slightly surprising “recent” band addition to the Shiiine On band pool, Scotland’s GLASVEGAS, despite increasingly patchy follow-ups to their stunning 2007 debut album, had always impressed mightily “live”, so hopes were high for this one. We weren’t to be disappointed; despite a fairly sparse turnout around our usual spot (in front of the tent stanchion, house right, near the stage) Glasvegas were “on it” from the off, a deliciously mournful and affecting “Flowers And Football Tops” giving chills down the spine of all and sundry, then an epic “World Is Yours” was shimmering and shining with its Jesus And Mary Chain meets Cocteau Twins guitar dynamics. Overall, this was a superb study in rock’n’roll insouciance from the band, and particularly vocalist James Allen, who, with his heavily accented vocals and black-clad cool, should by all rights be now be as respected as a Strummer or McCulloch, I really believe that… A heartfelt cover of “Be My Baby” (“my favourite song ever – my fiancee’s over there – this one’s for her,” announced Allen) sounded splendid and entirely in context; “Go Square Go” got the crowd singing along to the rambunctious “here we fuckin’ go!” hook, but it was the final double whammy of “Lots/ Sometimes”, starting all deep and mournful and accelerating into chaotic and dramatic punk rock, and a stunning “Daddy’s Gone”, sounding both epic and bleakly personal at the same time, which were the highlights of another sparkling Glasvegas set. Woah. And we’re seeing this lot at The Thekla next February…!

 


One to go for us, and none more fitting to close out things (well, maybe the strangely absent Wonder Stuff…) than PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT. On in front of a packed final day crowd to the sound of Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” and sporting a Christmas “Baa Humbug” tee (“as you can see I’m in a festive mood”), Hooky’s set took a couple of numbers to bed in, an early “She’s Lost Control” edgy and claustrophobic yet thin, with “Transmission” the first number to really take dramatic flight. Dispensing with a clutch of Joy Division numbers early on, Hooky then moved into New Order territory with a ringing, haunting and resonant “Ceremony”, which was probably my overall set highlight; however a subsequent “Regret” and particularly “Crystal” were overlong and not particularly great, “Love Vigilantes” welcome but a little thin sounding as well, and “Blue Monday” sounded rushed. “Perfect Kiss”, by contrast, was great, absorbing and full-on effects-wise, and “Temptation” was a brilliant, bubbling indie dance delight.

 

“Two years of weird shit – I’m so fucking glad we’re still here, and you’re still here!” roared Hooky before a brilliantly fitting communal singalong to “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, ending his fine if initially patchy sounding set – and the musical aspects of Shiiine On, for us at least – on a suitably fitting and high note. That was it for us – back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep, checking out Monday morning at 9.30 and swiftly driving home. Another splendid Shiiine On in the books then; this one a little less manic than recent times, drinkies-wise, but for me featuring a bona fide all-time classic set, thanks to those punk rock reprobates from Midway Still. And hopefully we won’t have to wait 2 years to Shiiine On again!

 

SHERIFF’S SHIIINE ON SELECTION

 

Friday Best – FEEDER

Saturday Best – MIDWAY STILL (you had to ask?)

Sunday Best – THE CHAMELEONS

Overall – 1. MIDWAY STILL, 2. THE CHAMELEONS, 3. GLASVEGAS

Best New Band (if you can call a near-40 year old band “New”, that is…) – CANDY OPERA

We Can Be Heroes – MY CREW (as ever), THE GENTLEMEN OF THE STILL, MARK BURGESS, PETER HOOK, JAMES ALLEN, THE SUNDAY ARENA DJ, THE GUY IN THE PIG OUTFIT (who apparently smuggled a condom costume into the Arena on a later day…!), THE HAIRY DOG CHEFS!

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

1,198 HEAVEN 17, PETE WYLIE, Bristol O2 Academy, Saturday 6th November 2021

 


A swift return to the Bristol O2 Academy for me and Logan, but something completely different to Thursday’s night’s jam-packed “grunting rock pig” Biffy show… Heaven 17’s quite stupendous “live” renditions of The Human League’s seminal first 2 albums at the Roundhouse in September (gig 1,189) may have put them in serious contention for Top Gig of 2021 for me, but I still needed a bit of persuasion for this one. I’d drifted away from Heaven 17 after their fine debut “Penthouse And Pavement” album and before their catchy yet anodyne string of 80’s synth-pop chart bothering singles. So something extra was needed to twist my arm, which arrived in the ample shape of support Pete Wylie, a post-punk teen hero of mine, and the brilliant Wah!conteur and host of gig 1,141 in Birmingham a couple of years ago. I eagerly snapped up tix, and because this was a weekend, I ran a couple of tracks past Logan, advising him this would be somewhat different from his usual rock and folk/punk gigs. Surprisingly, he was still up for it!

 So a boys day out was planned; firstly the new Marvel film “The Eternals” on the IMAX, then a drive down to Bristol early, parking up just after 6 and joining a small queue outside before 6.30 doors, grabbing a bit of barrier house right (for a change here!) and chatting with fellow punters to while away the time. Waaay fewer out tonight; balcony closed off, and only a smattering of weekend couples present to welcome Wylie onstage at 7.30. Black camo-clad with a “Wah! Humbug!” hoody, and accompanied by a back-up guy playing backing tracks from a laptop (all recorded by Wylie, apart from female backing vocals provided by his daughter Mersey), he immediately strapped on his guitar and burst into epic, soaring opener “Come Back”, which sounded as brilliantly widescreen as if a whole band – nay, a whole orchestra – was playing it. Easily the best thing I heard all night, with Wylie pointing directly at me to sing the “it’s all up to you!” line, while I lustily joined in, not hurting either! Thereafter he was into a lengthy anti-tory and anti-Thatcher diatribe, comparing Bristol to Liverpool “before the wankers got in!” and dismissing tories with his motto, “give a shit or be a shit!” A marvellous “Sinful” (“this describes most of the politicians today!”) followed, impassioned and with bags of conviction, before another speech, this time thanking the NHS for saving his life after he broke his back in the 90’s, urging us to protect it and dedicating a heartfelt “Heart As Big As Liverpool” to this precious institution. It wasn’t all political sloganeering, however; Wylie wisecracking, “for Heaven 17 fans, this is a guitar!” and announcing, “I’m the best guitarist at this gig!” before another impassioned “Story Of The Blues” saw him run over time, but not before sneaking in a stripped back and quite poignant “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”. A 40 minute vignette which seemed like 10, this was superb stuff from a National Treasure; the man should have a blue plaque on his back, or at least a National Trust preservation order!

 


A still mediocre turnout (I reckon about 1/3 full tonight!) were present to welcome Heaven 17 on prompt at 8.30 to the siren strains of “Introducing”, Glenn Gregory on last and immediately, and commendably, playing to the folks here rather than those not, all expansive gestures and outstretched arms for metronomic opener “Height Of The Fighting”. The clattering rhythm of a splendid “Fascist Groove Thang” followed, Gregory telling how Heaven 17 founder Martyn Ware had asked him to join his band on Monday, and they’d finished and recorded this number by Friday!

 Gregory was once again a consummate performer, striding the stage with imperious command, telling stories and bantering with the crowd and Ware with measured ease and bonhomie, and lending his rich, stately baritone to the material. “Live”, even tracks I had anticipated with little relish were given an extra dimension with the splendid synth work and Gregory’s performance, the likes of “Come Live With Me” plaintive and yearning, and an earlier “Play To Win” pulsing and buoyant. A mid-set “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” duet with Ware was again stark and stunning, but the subsequent “Let’s All Make A Bomb”, fun, flippant and the one track in Heaven 17’s canon which stands comparison with those first 2 Human League albums, was our highlight, Logan recording this number for posterity. The robotic Kraftwerk rhythms of “I’m Your Money” was dedicated to H17 uber-fan Sumo (who’d apparently seen them over 200 times! Yowsers!), before a smoothly seductive and funky “Penthouse And Pavement” featured excellent backing vocals from the 2 girls. Then, their “franchise number” and biggest hit, “Temptation”, got the crowd singing along (if hardly raising the roof as per Gregory’s demands) with a stretched and absorbing version to finish a well-performed set, an authentic cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and a final run-through of The Human League’s jagged proto synth-punk classic “Being Boiled” acting as encore bookends to the gig.

 


A set-list from a friendly roadie and a swift drive home for kebabs and Mexican Grand Prix qualifying on TV capped another fun gig night with my gig buddy. Overall, better than I’d expected from Heaven 17, with Gregory’s performance in particular serving to elevate their later material considerably. But Wylie, the “Come Back” kid, won the night for me tonight…

 

1,197 BIFFY CLYRO, Bob Vylan, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 4th November 2021

 


Recent “live” favourites, anthemic, angular and acerbic Scots rockers Biffy Clyro announced a “Fingers Crossed” tour last Summer for Spring 2021; “fingers crossed”, because it seemed at that time that the dreaded Covid 19 restrictions were starting to ease slightly, albeit in a phased manner, and that booking a tour in smaller venues (as O2 Academies are, these days, for these by-now seasoned Reading Festival headliners!) might get them out gigging earlier. Good idea in principle, but a second wave of the pandemic put paid to the planned Spring dates, necessitating a further bump back to Autumn! Still, at least these dates could go ahead!

 Go ahead without Rachel, unfortunately; our youngest was sent home sick from school, putting paid to the idea of Grandma babysitting, and Rach, not feeling 100% herself, decided to stay home to look after them. Shame, because historically this lot have been a “Rachel band” rather than a “David band”; I like them, no messin’, but the missus loves herself a bit of “The Biff”! An enthusiastic replacement was however available in son Logan, who unfortunately needed to do homework first (how diligent!), so we set off just before 7, utterly tanking it down the M4 and easily into Trenchard car park before 20 to 8. A massive queue outside initially made me think doors had only just opened, but reality hit me after circumventing said queue and getting in on the O2 Priority entrance… the place was already rammed! Crikey, where are they going to put all these folk queueing up outside? Bob Vylan was already midway through his support set; a bare-chested, dreadlock-waving street poet, he immediately reminded me of a young Don Letts dropping truth bombs about race, equality and the corrupt government, over a primitive Crass/ Titus Andronicus soundtrack provided by a tape machine and his drummer sidekick. It was ace! Putting the likes of Rage Against Your Mom to shame with quickfire political rants delivered to this audience of “students who never left”, he was a confident man on a mission, flippantly announcing, “on our next tour, Biffy Clyro are warming up for us!”, but thanking the headliners, “for giving me the platform to deliver my message”. Well, they may have done that, but you grabbed the opportunity with both hands, young man; a great half-set, with closer “We Live Here” (which reminded me of Benjamin Zephaniah’s 40-years older but still sadly relevant “Fight Dem Not Me”) a dramatic highlight.

 The place got even fuller then, and our postage-stamp sized spot, a couple of rows back, house left, in front of the speakers, seemed to shrink further as the witching hour approached… chants of “Mon The Biff” welcomed the band onstage, under the eerie shimmer of a UV light, opener “Dum Dum” building from a hushed opening with regimental drumbeats, into the trademark huge Biffy hook. Recent single “A Hunger In Your Haunt” followed, an rollicking old school Biff anthem, and by the tremendous singalong of “Tiny Indoor Fireworks”, the boys were away, rocking and riffing for all they’re worth… and then some!

 This is likely the smallest place I’d seen The Biff “live” to date – even vocalist Simon Neil commented on its sideways configuration and overhanging balcony as, “nice and compact!” but tonight they not only made me realise we’d missed a trick by not latching on to them earlier and seeing them in venues this size on their way up, but also demonstrated serious stadium credentials with some massive hook-laden rock anthems, roof-raising singalongs and sheer, ball-crushing guitar riffs. Shorn of the large venue stage-sets, paraphernalia and in front of a single backdrop, this trio demonstrated they’re as good as any rock band around today. Period. Visceral, thrilling and savage, yet undeniably melodic and hook-laden, this was easily the best I’ve seen Biffy Clyro, with new numbers from their current “Myth Of The Happy Ever After” easily standing tall against anything else they’ve ever done. “Errors In The History Of God” was stunning, with almost operatic choral “whoa-oh’s” and a dramatic triple false ending; “Golden Rule” was a savage attack, with Neil hunched over his guitar, sawing away furiously like a young David Line (a massive compliment in my book), and after a titanic singalong “Mountains”, they stripped it right back with a solo acoustic “Machines”, Neil both praising and inviting the rabid crowd to sing along with, “we’ve missed you guys singing our songs – that may be dropping a hint for this next one!”

 A bit of aggro in front of us was dealt with by the stewards, the offending perp being swiftly taken out, allowing us to enjoy Logan’s set favourite, an immense and roaring “Wolves Of Winter” fully. Another later slow interlude for “Re-Arrange” prompted a girl squashed up behind me to reminisce, “this was my wedding dance!” and the quiet/loud Pixies-ish dynamics of newie “Witches Cup” led into a brilliant double-whammy set closing “Bubbles” and the epic, skyscraping lament of “Many Of Horror”.

 


The echoing, slow burn build of “Black Chandelier” and a stretched, haunting “Cop Syrup” closed out a quite brilliant performance, the Biff giving their all, dynamic and energetic as just about anybody I’ve seen of late. “This show was worth the wait, wasn’t it?!” inquired Neil as the band took a deserved bow. Hell yeah! Set-lists went early to the baying moshpit (fair enough really), so we made our unexpectedly easy egress and home for 11.30 (hopefully not too late for a 14 year old rocker on his first school night gig!), reflecting on this excellent and enjoyable, if unexpected, “boys” night out. Everything about the Biff tonight screamed “BIG!”, and I’m sure the next time we see them, it’ll be headlining stadium gigs. Oh and by the way, after this gig, I think The Biff might just be a “David band” now…!

 

Sunday, 31 October 2021

1,196 BAUHAUS, Hope, London Alexandra Palace, Saturday 30th October 2021

 As per last time out, this one is another reunion gig from a band I loved in my mid-teens, and another big tick in my “Bands To See” list, only on a slightly different scale…! I fell in love with the dark, itchy post-punk musings of Bauhaus after hearing their stellar, savage cover – nay, demolition – of T Rex’ glam classic “Telegram Sam” at the School Youth Club disco in 1980; missed them first time around as they evolved from art-school rockers with a dark, vampiric lyrical twist, into black-clad initiators of the 80’s Goth movement, before splitting up; then missed a couple of subsequent reunions, however happily catching up with mainman Peter Murphy as he celebrated their 35th anniversary splendidly, with solo interpretations of his previous charges’ material (June 2013, gig 883). After that one, it felt as if that was the closest I’d get to seeing Bauhaus (and let’s face it, that was pretty close, so no real complaints), until…

 

Concerning news emanated from across the pond in August 2019, with Peter Murphy suffering a heart attack during a gig in New York. Happily, he recovered swiftly, then even better news emerged, as a Bauhaus reunion gig, featuring all 4 original members, was announced for that Autumn in Los Angeles! Please do a UK one, please do a UK one, I chanted pleadingly… and prayers and incantations were answered, as Bauhaus announced a one-off UK gig for the following April. Then that bloody Covid hit, forcing 3 postponements, ultimately to this day, fittingly one day before Hallowe’en. A sudden back pain the previous day briefly threatened to put a spanner in the works, but an emergency trip to the chiropractor set me right, and saw old school friend Keith picking myself up at 3.30 for a trip oop the Smoke, along with occasional gig buddy Debs (the punk queen of the ‘don) and her bloke Brad, all black clad and gothed up for the occasion. Me, I went with the red velvet shirt and red suede creepers – just to be different!

 

An entertaining drive up, avoiding the inevitable M4 road closures, got us to the Pally for 6, queueing up for 6.30 entry and grabbing a drink in the huge ornate bar/eaterie area, people watching and occasionally meeting folks (Debs inevitably knowing lots of people, and myself running into Lev 3 mate Colin). Quite the event, this, and this crowd of first-time-round post-punk/Goth devotees and keep-the-faith young emo/darkwave types had dressed to the nines for the occasion too, the place occasionally resembling a Tim Burton steampunk film set! Keith and I wandered into the huge, dome-ceilinged main auditorium, grabbing a spot 1/4 of the way back, house left, and catching the last knockings of introspective synth-led support, young Berliners Hope, at whom I’d snarkily shouted, “play something depressing!”, so they did!

 

We were then subjected to some between-bands jarring white noise over the P.A. system, as the place filled up (the bloke behind me, on his return from the bar, remarking, “is that bloody jumbo jet ever going to take off?!”). Then the lights appropriately smashed to black at 8.40, as a squalling single guitar note heralded the arrival of the band, Murphy emerging last and doffing his wide-brimmed hat to the crowd, before doomily intoning the lazy, languid lyric to opener “Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores” over Kevin Haskin’s tinny snare snap. “Double Dare”’s tumbling drum and dissonant riff again saw an authoritative vocal performance from Murphy, already strutting the stage and throwing angular, dramatic shapes, and stretching the “I… I… I…” notes, before the song ultimately collapsed in on itself (as a lot of Bauhaus numbers seem to do!).

 

Bauhaus, as often is the case with true innovators, were sonically less extreme than their Goth successors, with occasionally stark and bleak, almost minimalistic post-punk guitar forming the base of their sonic template, underpinning Murphy’s dark, sinister vocals and creepy, black and white horror movie lyrical imagery. So the stark sonar beep of “Spy In The Cab” was stripped bare and haunting, feeling almost like a companion piece to The Associates’ similarly austere “Q Quarters”, and a welcome “Terror Couple Kill Colonel”, always one of my faves, was equally musically gaunt, driven by the angular drumbeat and Murphy’s onstage theatrics, posing under a white spotlight which gave him an appropriately deathly pallor.

 

That said, the performance seemed a little introspective and occasionally understated overall, Murphy’s posing and preening notwithstanding, with the band taciturn throughout (no numbers being introduced – no need for this knowledgeable crowd, I suppose…) and even Murphy restricting his communication to a couple of brief monologues. Also, the sound occasionally seemed a little disjointed and distant from our spot; an occupational hazard, I guess, with a venue this size. Little matter; the captivating Murphy was full value for money nonetheless, and it was honestly just great to hear “live” the likes of the languidly funky “Kick In The Eye”, the squalling “In The Flat Field”, and the bell-jar echo of “The Passion Of Lovers”, the latter seeing Murphy conduct an unexpected and impromptu singalong. And, of course, the inevitable “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, all stretched, meandering and gloomy, the audience suddenly holding masses of phones aloft like black orchids reaching full bloom to record the moment, as Murphy coaxed harsh, caustic white noise from a small synth.

 

The pounding drums and descending riff of a thrilling set closer “Dark Entries” was my highlight of the night, the sound totally sorted for once, although a grandiose encore march through Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”, following a slightly ragged and messy “Telegram Sam”, ran it close. Finally, a mournful and elegiac “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything”, preceded by Murphy’s fulsome compliments on the size of tonight’s crowd, brought this near 1 ½ hour’s revisitation of old haunts to a close. Despite a couple of reservations, a fine performance overall, with Murphy once again a true star, thankfully showing no effects from those health issues.

 

I grabbed a pic and a word with the excellent Desperate Journalist’s drummer Kaz (whom I’d noticed a couple of rows in front of me!), then slow egress from the venue and even slower from the car park, combined with a nonetheless equally chatty drive home via the M40 and A420 to avoid M4 closures, didn’t get us home until the other side of 1. Yikes! But well worth it for excellent company and a fine showing from another favourite from my misspent youth. Thanks, Bauhaus, and stay well Peter Murphy!