Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Blow Monkeys - Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury - October 31st, 2019

It was my choice, but it was no choice at all...to sit or to stand

The Blow Monkeys were never a hugely successful band, but for a variety of reasons, I'd always enjoyed their material from their heyday of the mid 1980s. The line "You know it doesn't have to be that way" was often twisted into "Tee Po it doesn't have to be that way" after my wife swapped her FIAT Uno for a Tipo and that may be part of the reason that they stuck in my mind over the years.

The fact that they made catchy, politically astute tunes didn't go amiss either, so I had them on my 'will go and see sometime' radar when I noticed they were touring a while back. When I saw they were coming to Farncombe church, where I'd seen Hue and Cry, I snapped up a ticket, only to forget the date and book a holiday! The organisers were very good and refunded my ticket when I explained the problem (I can't see Ticketmaster doing that!), but I still had them on 'the list' and I noticed a new date added a couple of days earlier in Newbury which isn't too far away. Even though it was the night before I went on holiday, I decided to go.

The day before the event, I got a phone call from the venue and, to be honest, I kind of hoped it had been cancelled, because working and packing and an early start meant getting to the gig was feeling like one thing too many and I had considered writing off the ticket cost. However, the call was to say that due to poor standing ticket sales, it would be all seated, which was a big disappointment, I wouldn't have bought a ticket on that basis and I said so, but it seemed a refund wasn't an option, so seated it was.

In the end, I was packed, work was as sorted out as it was going to get and with a start time of 8PM, I figured I could be in bed in time to get a few hours' sleep before a 5AM start. The drive to Newbury was pain-free and I found the venue, part of a private school site, without any problem.

There didn't seem to be a lot of people there and, while I was a little early, by the times the door to the auditorium were opened I can't imagine there were many more than 100 people there.

There was no support act (no loss on the whole and good for me especially this time) and at 8 sharp, the band appeared. Like us all, Dr Robert has put on a few pounds over the years and the rest of the band (I'm not sure if any were original members) were looking, like most of the audience, to be pushing 60, but once they started there was no doubt that much of the sparkle remained, mixed with a high level of musical virtuosity.

I've struggled to find a setlist (those I've found for the same tour definitely don't match this event or each other, so it seems that they mix it up a bit) and can't recall the opener, but I know it was one of their hits.

The keyboard player also doubled up as a saxophonist on a number of tracks, which comprised a mix of the hits 'Choice', 'Digging Your Scene', '(Celebrate) The Day After You', 'Out With Her', 'It Pays to Belong' and'The Man From Russia' and other tracks I recognized less, such as the 'Coming of Grace' and 'The Sound of Your Laughter', but still enjoyed.

They rounded out the set with their career-defining hit "It Doesn't Have to Be This Way' and delivered a short, but enjoyable encore.

The band sounded good and Dr Robert's voice has held up pretty well. To their credit, despite what must have been quite a demoralizingly small audience, they put on an enthusiastic and professional performance and the audience (pinned in their seats, though we were) warmly received all the tracks.

I suspect this quite late addition to the tour was poorly promoted, which led to the poor sales and, from what I've seen on Youtube other venues had a far better turn-out.

I certainly hope so, as the band put on a good set, impressive musically and enjoyable and would be well worth seeing again - I just wished they'd sold more standing tickets as sitting twitching was no substitute for dancing to their catchy numbers.

Setlist from Farncombe Gig:
(Provided for a taste of the tracks performed, but it was different in order and content at Arlington)
Come on Down
On the Wings of the Morning
Choice?
(Celebrate) The Day After You
Crying for the Moon
OK! Have It Your Way
Wildflower
It Pays to Belong
Digging Your Scene
Out With Her
Said Too Much
You Don't Own Me
The Wild River
It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

Encore:
Heaven Is a Place I'm Moving To
Wicked Ways
God’s Gift
The Sound of Your Laughter
Man From Russia
Superfly

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) - G-Live, Guildford - November 11th, 2019

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (henceforth referred to as OMD) have an unusual place in my musical taste.

I bought every one of their albums up until Sugar Tax in 1991, but they also have the dubious honour of producing the only LP I ever returned for a refund in utter disgust (1983's Dazzle Ships, which despite revisionist opinions still sound like an unpleasant cacophony of noise to me, although I kind of wish I'd kept it as it was one of the original origami-style folding sleeves).

Still, everyone's entitled to one mistake and from the electronic gloom of tracks like 'Stanlow', through their infatuation with Joan of Arc and to catchy electro-pop like 'Sailing on the Seven Seas', I'd mostly remained a low key fan - I never thought of OMD as one of my favourite bands, but my LP collection suggests they were!

Having seen them live on TV somewhere, they sounded pretty good still, so I booked a ticket early in 2019 when I saw they were playing my local venue, G-Live. This was billed as their '40th Birthday tour'.

As I've mentioned before, I think G-Live has an acoustic problem, certainly if you're standing, as often the vocals are very hard to hear and, to be honest, throughout the support act Mig15, I was seriously questioning my decision to see OMD there, as the usual problem arose.

However, it seems support acts either get no decent soundcheck time or don't know how to do it and often the main act sounds much better anywhere and, fortunately, this was very much the case for OMD, being probably the clearest vocals I've heard from anyone there.

Mig15 were a lively and enjoyable foursome (with a McCluskey in the line up, I notice - Presumably the 'best Bassist in our house' who Andy McCluskey jokingly referred to later), who, whilst not setting the stage on fire, certainly got the audience nicely warmed up and got a deservedly warm applause.

OMD appeared about 5 past nine to rapturous applause, it was immediately apparent that some people regard Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys as near Messianic figures!

Amidst a dazzle of flashing lights and panels, we heard a fanfare (and various sounds akin to twisting your radio's tuning knob quickly - something anyone under 40 probably won't understand!) from Dazzle Ships and then they immediately got me onside by starting with the distinctly unshowy 'Stanlow' from their first album, a darkly moody electronic track. As it finished the audience roared with approval as if they'd just delivered the final song, rather than the first!

They then performed 'Isotype', which I assumed was an early track, but checking, I find it was released in 2017, explaining why I didn't recognise it!

They followed this with the early 'Messages', another track that I must admit I hadn't expected, followed by one I'd really hoped for but definitely not expected, 'Tesla Girls'.

Paul Humphreys was a static, if quite jolly, figure behind his keyboard, nursing a sore throat (more on that in a moment), while Andy McCluskey was a constantly moving, jerking energetic figure, whether toting his Bass Guitar or delivering robotic dance moves.

The sound, as I mentioned, was great, McCluskey's voice coming through clear and strong - He's not, I suspect he'd agree, a great singer, but his voice has a distinctive note and it was good to hear that the tracks sounded as I recalled them doing so.

A couple of tracks I didn't recognise followed (I'll admit it's a while since my OMD vinyl saw the light of day, so I'm not sure of the era, but I suspect they were post Sugar Tax). Andy McCluskey then sang 'Souvenir' which, apparently, is very unusual ("This is only the second time I've ever done this") due to Humphreys' sore throat. I don't think it was bluff because, from my spot near the front, you could see him reading the words from the sheet of paper he'd put at this feet!

The two Joan Of Arc tracks followed back to back and had the crowd in raptures again.

A little rest followed with more 'noises from Dazzle Ships' and then a few more tracks, including early tracks 'Statues' and 'Almost', 2019 single 'Don't Go' and 'So In Love'.

The main set rounded out with the crowd-pleasing 'Locomotion', 'Sailing on the Seven Seas' (possibly the track that sounded the best this evening?) and the classic 'Enola Gay', their first hit.

A very short interlude occurred before they came back for two more tracks, 'Pandora's Box' ("A new song. From 1991!" as McCluskey quipped) and finally the early track 'Electricity' ("The fastest thing we have").

Then they promised to be back in 2 years, the lights came on and we left.

Overall, it had been a very enjoyable performance, the sound (for once) was great and the selection of tracks was excellent for a 40th celebration, covering everything from their earliest stuff right through to stuff I'd never heard before!

McCluskey was great fun, far more than I'd imagine OMD to be and I would say it was probably the best gig I've seen in 2019.

I'd certainly think about going to see them again, which I rarely do - Now, I'm off to the loft to dig out my LPs!

Setlist:
Souvenir Tour Intro
Stanlow
Isotype
Messages
Tesla Girls
History of Modern (Part 1)
If You Leave
Souvenir(Lead vocals by Andy McCluskey)
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)
Time Zones
Statues
Almost
Don't Go
So in Love
Dreaming
The Punishment of Luxury
Locomotion
Sailing on the Seven Seas
Enola Gay

Encore:
Pandora's Box
Electricity