Saturday 18 November 2023

A Certain Ratio - Face Bar, Reading - 16th November 2023

I didn't really know a lot about A Certain Ratio until recently.

I had a record by a band called Thirteen At Midnight of a track called Shack Up, which I knew ACR had recorded (thinking, wrongly, they did the original version).

I knew ACR were a contempary band of Joy Division and New Order, signed to the same Factory Records, and that was pretty much it.

I spotted they were playing a small venue (the Face Bar) in Reading, covering the span of their 45 years in chronological order.

I did a quick YouTube search to listen to a few other songs by them (and watched a recent interview with the 3 founder members still in the band) and decided I'd go along.

Reading isn't my favourite place to go, even though it's quite close, because the one way system is confusing and parking is often extortionate.

I found, though, a car park a short distance from the venue, so arrived a few minutes before the doors opened - someone came and found a few of us outside and invited us in early as it was cold, which was good of them.

One of the things I liked about the way this gig was described was 'no support' - Few support acts add anything to an evening, so getting more of the act you've come to see could only be good.

The gig was in the 'Red Room' of the Face Bar, a biggish room with a low stage and seats around the sides - I'd imagine it's a disco most nights (the glitter ball about the floor adding to that impression!).

There didn't seem to be many people for the first half hour, but it filled up steadily and was full, if not packed, by 8:30 when the band appeared.

As promised, the sets were in chronological order.

The first song, 'All Night Party', was their first single, followed by Do the Du and Flight (their first 12" single), which I knew from a couple of CDs I'd bought after booking my ticket.

Some of the early tracks had a distinctly moody, Joy Division feel, and some of the later tracks at the beginning of the second set sounded more like some later New Order track.

Who influenced who or whether they shared influences is hard to say, as I know the two groups often toured or gig-ed together, but I liked what I heard.

'Shack Up' was as enjoyable as I'd hoped (really, this one track was my reason for being here, initially, at least) and the first set finished on 'Mickey Way', a track from the 1986 album, Force, which was a very jazz orientated way to end the first set on a high.

The band was formed of founder members, Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop, and Donald Johnson, plus a couple of youngsters (Matt Steele and Viv Griffin) on keyboards and bass respectively, plus a new young female singer, Ellen Beth Abdi.

Original singer, Denise Johnson, died at just 56 during the COVID epidemic, and the first song from the second set, the melodic "Won't Stop Loving You" was dedicated to her.

'Good Together' was another track I remembered and there were a few which, complete with Whistles, sounded more like Happy Mondays (another Factory stablemate) rave-era tracks than anything else, but they were energetic and, well before this, the crowd was having a good time.

They rounded out the second set with 'Day By Day', a recent track from a new EP in 2023 and then gave us 'Si Fermir O Grido' as an encore before the 10:30 curfew was reached.

Overall, I'd have to say this was one of my favourite gigs of 2023 and for a long time.

I didn't come with any expectations, but they were musically excellent, the chronological delivery of their songs was like a tour through the kind of music I'd enjoyed for the last 45 years and the way Martin and Don switched places on the drums and other instruments (tom toms, guitar and trumpet - So nice to hear some live brass in 2023 - Ellen Beth contributing a bit of flute too!)

They provided a good mix of styles over the years, which is probably part of their enduring appeal to those who know them - As this article says, they never wanted to be a tribute act to their early days, which so many of their contemparies are, whether you enjoy the nostalgia or not.

Sure, this was a trip down memory lane for many there, but one that spanned many eras and genres of music, not something that many, better known, acts could even aspire to.

If I get the chance, I will go and see A Certain Ratio again and my Amazon basket is now full of more of their albums!

If you're still uncertain watch this video.

Set 1
All Night Party
Do the Du
And Then Again
Shack Up(Banbarra cover)
Winter Hill
Knife Slits Water
Mickey Way

Set 2:
Won't Stop Loving You
Good Together
27 Forever
Get a Grip
Yo Yo Gi
Emperor Machine
Afro Dizzy
Day by Day

Si Fermir O Grido

Monday 13 November 2023

Big Country - Harlington Centre, Fleet - 10th November 2023

Big Country seem to play the Harlington Centre in my home town of Fleet quite often, so I finally decided it was time to go and see them this year.

I knew that Stuart Adamson, their original singer, had died tragically in the early 2000s, but I didn't know much else about the band except a few hits.

After booking the tickets, I bought a copy of their greatest hits album, so knew a few more songs.

Doors opened at 7:30 and at 8:00 a man with a plugged in acoustic guitar appeared on stage.

He introduced himself as Billy Liberator (for some reason, I keep thinking he said he was Billy Whirlwind!) and played a few of his own songs. They sounded OK and he told us how happy he was to play Fleet and to support Big Country and he got a polite applause for each of his songs.

I felt he could probably do with getting a band to back him or focus on songwriting, as the songs sounded decent musically and OK lyrically, but it was all a bit flat and he wasn't terribly charismatic.

Overall, though, not a terrible support act, but not one that made the evening.

He was on for about half an hour and then, at 9 sharp, a man in a Fidel Castro cap appeared and sat at the drums as a video of a thunder storm played on a video screen behind the drum kit.

By now the hall was pretty much full and most people cheered him loudly (I didn't realise, but he is one of two founder members still with the band and, of all things, English!).

He started drumming and 4 more men appeared. From left to right across the stage, they were a youngish, bespectacled man with a beard and a guitar (Jamie Watson), a lanky, bit fit looking, 60-ish chap, also with a guitar, a chunkier man of a similar age, with spiky hair, not unlike 1980s style Rod Stewart, with an acoustic guitar and finally a slightly younger looking fellow with a bass guitar (Gill Allan).

They quickly broke into a song that I vaguely knew, but the sound was loud and energetic.

Possibly a bit too loud as Simon Hough (the chap with the Rod Stewart haircut) 'blew up' his monitor!

To be honest, I think this hampered the gig a bit, as the vocals were always a bit lost amidst the guitars.

The lanky chap introduced himself as Bruce Watson in the expected Scottish accent after the first song. He is, along with the drummer, the remaining founder member of the band.

They obviously pride themselves on their guitar work, but the thing I noticed was that the distinct 'bagpipe' sound they achieved on records was only partly replicated live.

This site explains how they did that on record, but they managed a reasonable facsimile and the songs I knew didn't sound dramatically different live.

I recognised and enjoyed the second song as the song I thought was called "Walk Away", but is actually "Look Away"!

A few other songs followed that I didn't know. They were similar in sound, but well played and distinctly 'Big Country' in that respect and most of the audience cheered them loudly.

'Steeltown' was another I know, and 'Ships' was a slightly slower track, before a few more tracks I was less familiar with until we got to the final 'hits', which included 'In a Big Country', 'Wonderland' and finished on 'Fields of Fire'.

They came back quickly for the predictable encore, which was a track I didn't know and then Mark Brzezicki (the drummer) came forward and in a very home counties accent explained how he was heading home to Slough and that Fleet was a favourite venue of his because it was his local one!

He introduced all the band members again (Bruce had done this earlier, more or less, too) and then said they missed Stuart Adamson and then they were gone.

I suspect they were out at the merch stand (a lot of people had tour T-Shirts on during the gig), but I was out to my car by then.

I'd enjoyed the gig, but it wasn't one of the best I'd been to.

They were energetic and certainly played well, but the vocals were a bit lost in the mix and, not being a hardcore fan, a lot of the songs sounded very similar without the benefit of being familiar.

However, for the modest price I paid for the ticket and being right on my doorstep, I was happy and with 2 of 4 original members in the band, they're more 'original' than many of the '80s bands touring today.

If you liked Big Country a bit in period, they're still worth a listen today!

Setlist (from numerous gigs on the same tour)
1000 Stars
Look Away
Close Action
Lost Patrol
The Storm
Just a Shadow
Harvest Home
In a Big Country
Fields of Fire

Sunday 20 August 2023

Watches - Speedmaster Professionals - Real, reimagined, homaged, faked and, err, just plain insulted?

I'm a bit of a watch fan, having a reasonable collection covering everything from Casios to Breitlings, Heuers and Omegas.

I have a few 'homage'/'clomage' watches that owe their entire design to a well known watch, but are branded as something else (take a look on Aliexpress, there are plenty of examples).

However, I'm generally adverse to outright fakes.

I've owned a mid-1990s Omega Speedmaster Professional for many years, picking it up when they were relatively affordable and, a broken mainspring aside, it's been a great watch.

The Speedmaster's claim to fame, of course, is that it was the watch worn by NASA astronauts on the moon, but before that it was a high quality chronograph, delivering precise timing from its Swiss build quality.

It's a dated design now, with a manual wind movement, although the latest version features a modern automatic movement.

In 2022, Swatch, Omega's parent, unveiled a plastic Speedmaster clone under the SwatchXOmega brand as the MoonSwatch and it was a huge, perhaps unexpectedly so, success.

At around £250, it was expensive for what you got, but not for a watch with Omega branding (that wasn't an all out fake), but the success, in my mind at least, led to some very unsavoury behaviour from Swatch.

These watches were selling for 4 or 5 times RRP at times and knife wielding gangs were intimidating regular buyers queueing outside Swatch stores to ensure they could get the supply and sell them for a profit. Worse than that, Swatch seemed to facilitate this 'scalping' behaviour, by allowing such groups (Whether knife-wielding or not) preferential access to the watches.

Therefore, when, inevitably, 'lookalike' MoonSwatches started appearing for a fraction of the RRP (and even less that of the profiteers' prices), I, for once, felt no qualms about picking one up and raising a metophorical finger to the Swatch Group and their contempt for their customers.

I watch a lot of watch review videos and this is definitely not intended to be a watch review (you won't get movement specs, timegrapher plots or a rundown on the various brushing on the watches), but I thought it may be interesting to compare the iconic Omega Speedmaster to the genuine MoonSwatch to the various 'dodgy' copies I have and see where the value lies, between the plastic models.

My Speedmaster is a 1997 Omega Speedmaster Professional (145.022), which I bought from eBay over a couple of a beers, while staying in a hotel in Chester for business.

That was almost certainly one of the worst ways to buy a £1,700 watch, but it turned out fine, being a nice example with no issues.

It arrived on a leather strap, rather than a bracelet, but I believe they were sold that way back in 1997, and I tend to prefer my watches on leather, anyway.

My Speedmaster is a traditional hand-wind model and one morning the mainspring broke, leading to a full service by an independent watch maker (From memory, I used STS).

The standard Speedmaster Professional isn't a flashy watch (some of the many, many special editions are, though), with no applied indices, ceramic bezels, screw down crowns and pushers, significant water resistance and the like, but it is a well made, nicely finished quality chronograph - NASA didn't choose it over the Rolex Daytona and others because of a big 'product placement' deal (Yes, I am thinking of the Omega Seamaster 'Bond' tie-in), but because it was the best watch for their job, providing precision timing in zero gravity.

The case finish is very high quality, mine now lives on this Uncle Seiko 'Beads of Rice' bracelet, which may not be as good as a genuine Omega bracelet, but I really like the look and feel of the watch on it, more than the bracelet my watch may or may not have been shipped on in 1997.

The crown isn't the easiest to wind, a bit of a shame on a hand-wind only watch, but it's manageable. The bezel (as on all the lookalikes) is a Tachymeter, that allows you to calculate speed from the time taken to cross a known distance - A fuller description can be found here.

The dial is fully printed, with no applied indices. Likewise the subdials.

Two of the subdials only work with the chronograph running, as does the centre second hand. The exception, the left hand subdial, tracks the running seconds, while the right hand one tracks chrono minutes. The lower of the 3 dials, tracks chrono hours, up to 12.

Finally, this period Speedmaster Pro is fitted with a hesalite (plastic) crystal which is far more prone to scratching than sapphire crystal (as you can see - It looks far worse in the photo than to my eye), but I can forgive that, as it's what the NASA astronauts had and minor scratches can be buffed out.

If it really bothers you, you can get a sapphire sandwich model (with a sapphire crystal and display back - The display back on my watch is an aftermarket one).

The 'genuine' MoonSwatch here is a 'Mission to Jupiter'.

I bought this a few days old from someone on a watch forum, for the RRP, specifically for this comparison and it will be moved on shortly after I complete this blog.

It came in the original box (some fakes will come in very similar looking boxes), which has a slightly plastic feel and a grippy feel, like soft sandpaper. The fakes won't have that feel to them.

Opening the box up and picking up the watch, it felt very like the fakes, but closer examination reveals that the lugs are far more refined in their finish (closer to the true Speedmaster) and, indeed as you may expect for ten times the price, the finish of the watch overall is noticeably better than the fakes.

Oddly, for a watch costing £220+, Swatch skimped on a quartz movement without a ghost date position on the crown, but the chronograph is a 1/10th second model, with the right hand sub-dial tracking that after you stop the chronograph.

The lower subdial is a continuous ticking second hand and the left hand dial tracks chrono minutes.

I was skeptical about this watch, I'll admit, but, while I don't personally think it's worth £225 (let alone 4 times that price, as they often sold for at the height of the frenzy), it's much nicer than I expected.

Next up, price-wise, is the Pagani Design PD-1701, sometimes referred to as the "Mission to Alaska", due to its similarity to both the Mission to Mars MoonSwatch and the Project Alaska Speedmaster.

This features a decent Seiko quartz chronograph, but it doesn't have the same 1/10th second feature that the MoonSwatch does.

On this watch, the left dial tracks chrono minutes, the right hand one is a 24 hour running time and the bottom one is a running seconds hand.

Unlike the other non-Omegas here, though, it's made of stainless steel.

The bezel insert is red sapphire crystal and the dial is actually silver, rather than plain white as it appears in most photographs. The subdial hands, of course, look like little Apollo space capsules, echoing those on the 'Mission to Mars' MoonSwatch.

From the factory, this comes on a just OK bracelet, but I've swapped it onto the 'Mission To Mars' strap that my red fake came on and I rather like the combination.

My two outright fake MoonSwatches are next.

I paid around £20-25 each for these from AliExpress.

Neither was advertised as being a fake, the images showed dials without the Omega or Swatch branding, which I was happy with, but, as mentioned before, I feel no qualms about owning these outright fakes, given the Swatch groups unpleasant behaviour regarding MoonSwatches.

The first I bought was the Red 'Mission to Mars'.

I was quite pleased with the 'Mars', so I also bought the 'Mission to Neptune', blue watch you see here.

This came on a lookalike strap, very like the Jupiter, while the Mars came on the white strap on my Pagani Design.

It seems to be identical to the fake 'Mars', with the same error on the caseback and completely removable caseback and purely cosmetic battery 'hatch'.

Here the subdials are different again to the real thing.

The left dial tracks chrono minutes, the right is a 24 hour clock, always running, like the Pagani Design, but is marked as if it is the 1/10th second dial on the genuine MoonSwatch. The bottom dial is a running second hand.

At first sight the fakes look pretty decent, but (as you can see above) the devil is in the detail. The lugs are broader and less defined than those on the MoonSwatch, which are pretty close to those of the real Speedmaster.

On the 'Mars' especially, but also the 'Neptune', the bezel printing is quite crude compared to the Swatch.

The hands look fairly similar, but even a few moments in the sun reveals the lume is much better on the Swatch.

The back features some big giveaways, too.

On the Swatch, you can only open a small hatch, featuring a sticker of the planet the watch represents, whereas these fakes have a completely removable back, indicated by a little notch in the top right lug as you look at this photo.

The pushers and crown, too, look a bit coarse and, yet again, undefined, compared to the Swatch.

The biggest let down though, is the engraving on the back.

Generally it looks fairly good, but while the Swatch says "DREAM BIG FLY HIGHER", the fakes say "DREAM BIG FIY HIGHER!" - If you're buying a MoonSwatch from an unknown source, always check the case back (and the position of the right hand sub dial hand - If the main hands are set to 12 in photos, be suspicious)

Finally, I picked up the Omsan you see here. It features some Swatch branding, but not the Omega one, with Omsan being prominent.

The biggest difference between this watch and all the others, is that it is a fake chronograph!

The pushers do absolutely nothing, they don't even move and the second hand ticks continually, while the subdials are for appearance other.

The case, hands, strap and dial all look pretty similar to the branded fakes, but the caseback is even poorer, with "DREAM BIG FIY HCHER" obviously poorly copied from the other fakes and only printed!

The caseback opening is cruder, too, with just a little tab on it to open the back.

Still, having paid just £4.86 for it, I'm rather surprised to say it's as well finished as the other fake MoonSwatches and after 4 months is still keeping perfect time. Can you expect any more than that?

Also, a quick look at what's inside the fakes.

You're obviously getting a better movement in the £20 watches, as they are real chronos, but they do look far more substantial than the Omsan.

All you can ever access on the Swatch is the battery.

The straps on the fakes are pretty good, I think. I know a lot of people hate the genuine MoonSwatch velcro strap, but it's actually a fraction nicer, with more texture, than the fakes, but it's no more flexible and the fittings don't seem any better quality.

My two fakes, though, now sit on cheap silicone replacements, for no reason other than I thought I'd try them out!

The colours are a poor match for the cases, but I don't really mind. To be honest, I'd be happier if my 'Mars' watch's case was closer to the strap. The first time I wore the watch, my wife asked why I'd bought a pink watch!

So, there you have a comparison of the Speedmaster Professional and a selection of the lookalikes on the market.

The real thing is, I think, a great watch, if undoubtedly over milked by Omega with their massive array of limited editions and the like.

If I had my time again, I would have bought the quite rare version of the Speedmaster with the moonphase complication as I think it looks great, but I'm a very happy Speedmaster Professional owner.

The genuine MoonSwatch surprised me by being nicer than I expected, but I remain unconvinced it's a £250 watch or anywhere near.

The Pagani Design (as with nearly everything from that brand, who stole a premium car maker's name and then compounded the crime by adding Design to it, when design is the last thing they do!) is actually a pretty decent affordable watch.

It doesn't pretend to be an Omega, although it's clearly a copy of the Speedmaster (if not an exact copy of any particular one), and features a quality Seiko quartz chronograph movement for well under £100.

There's little to dislike about it (except the brand name perhaps) if you look past its similarity to the Speedmaster, even the bracelet is reasonable for the price and some newer versions are even more attractive than genuine Speedmasters, in my view.

The fully branded fake MoonSwatches are OK for the £20 or so I paid, but if you look, they're cheap watches and flawed fakes. On the other hand, they work perfectly well as cheap, simple chronographs.

Finally, the Omsam is just a very cheap quartz watch that looks very like a MoonSwatch, but is certainly no worse than many other quartz watches in terms of time keeping - For under £5, do you have any right to expect a watch to even work?

I'm not, as I said before, supporting fakes generally. If I'd known the two fully branded fakes were marked as such I wouldn't have bought them, but Swatch treated honest buyers so badly over the MoonSwatch affair that I feel no guilt in owning these two and would certainly never pretend they were anything other than cheap copies of the Swatch.

So, how would I rate the various lookalike Speedmasters in terms of value for money?

The Pagani Design is the clear winner for me. It delivers a quality Seiko movement in a well finished stainless steel case and sapphire crystal for sub £100 (sometimes well under!).

It's a watch you can wear without shame and will probably last you as long as a low-end Seiko would, for substantially less money.

Next, in my view, is the MoonSwatch. I was impressed by the finish, it really is as close as you can get in plastic (oh, sorry, bio-ceramic!) to the real case shape and the 1/10th second chrono feature is a good one, but if you just want a 1/10th second chronograph, even Swatch themselves offer far better watches for less money.

Looking past their fakeness, the two £20 fakes are next up. They're relatively crude compared to the Swatch, but I think you'd only really notice that if you had the real thing to hand as well or took a really close look. They are working chronographs and look the part from arm's length, at least.

Propping up the league table of Speedmaster lookalikes is, of course, the Omsan. It's just a very cheap quartz movement in the crudest of all the watch cases here, but it tells the time as well as the others, so if you really want a watch, for next to nothing, that has the Speedmaster look, it's hard to completely discount!

Of course, many will disagree, but this was never going to be anything but a subjective comparison.

Saturday 29 July 2023

Pulp - Hammersmith Apollo - 28th July 2023

I once commented that I thought that Jarvis Cocker was "the most (only?) interesting man in British pop".

Looking back it seems a rather pompous statement, worthy of those music journalists I despised when I occasionally picked up a copy of NME or Melody Maker as a teen, but there's little doubt that Pulp made some of the most interesting Britpop records and that much of their material has stood the test of time far better than the nasal whines of Oasis and the rather bizarre stuff of Blur.

Not being a fan of big outdoor events, I was disappointed to see their original "This is what we do for an Encore" tour was all outside, but equally excited when I later saw they were adding a few indoor venues, including one of my favourites, the Hammersmith Apollo (I'm sure they could have filled the O2 for a week, so it was great to see them play the far more intimate Apollo. Jarvis commented at one point that they'd never played the Apollo, but he had always wanted to, so maybe that played into the decision).

However, I balked at paying £80+ when the tickets were announced (I'd never paid anything like that before - St Vincent, at the same venue was around £35, David Byrne less than £50!) and in the couple of hours before I changed my mind, they'd sold out, so I figured it wasn't to be (I certainly wasn't paying insanely inflated resale prices).

And then, a couple of weeks before the event, they released another batch of stall tickets and I didn't hesitate, getting a ticket for the first of the two gigs.

I'd seen the setlist from some of the other events on the tour and reminded myself of some of the lesser known tracks in the time before going.

I drove to Richmond, parked for free and caught a tube into Hammersmith, arriving about 6:45.

I decided not to join the queue and went to Nandos for dinner, returning about 45 minutes later and walking straight in.

The venue was fairly busy, but with plenty of room in the stalls for me.

The curtain was drawn, with a collection of very traditional instruments in front of them.

Just before 8, three men and a woman appeared from behind the curtain and picked up/sat behind their instruments.

This, is turned out, was Lisa O'Neill, an Irish Singer-Songwriter. To be honest, they were 100% not my taste. I didn't like the mournful tunes, I didn't like her voice, there was zero charisma, but I guess some will have liked it. The least worst (for me) song was a cover of a Sinead O'Connor song, performed in her memory, but I'm sure the original was better.

It seems she is a favourite of Jarvis, but she didn't do anything for me.

There then followed a short film in memory of their former Bassist, Steve Mackey, who'd died earlier in the year at the age of just 56.

We had the usual shennagins after that, the the Irish instruments being taken away and then, at 9 sharp, the lights went down and the words "Good Evening" were projected onto the curtains.

Further words were then projected, all leading up to the name of the tour "This is what we do for an encore".

Jarvis Cocker, of course, is famous for attacking Michael Jackson's crucifiction performance at a Brits Award (and rightly so, self-regarding Paedo twat that Jackson was), but clearly a lot of the crowd regard him in near messianic terms (Am I veering into Music Journalist pomposity again? Perhaps it's unavoidable with Cocker).

"I-Spy" opened the set and as the curtains drew back we saw the band and a string section spread across the stage.

We could hear Jarvis, but he wasn't on stage,but as a large moon image was projected on the back of the stage, he rose from the floor to be silhoutted against the moon.

Disco 2000, one of their crown jewels was the second track, ensuring that anyone only slightly familiar with their material was quickly up to speed with the rest of the faithful.

As you can hear here, most people were singing loudly along, but in the audience, you could hear that Cocker's voice was the usual distinctive, near-spoken one and that the band were still remarkably good, helped by the string section's swelling of the sound on many songs.

"Miss-Shapes" followed, and then the gentler "Something Changed" was dedicated to Mackey, followed by the seedier Pink Glove and Weeds and Weeds Part II, which demonstrated Pulp's often darker lyrics and tone.

But part of Pulp's appeal is their breath of styles they can perform so deftly, as the bombastic "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E." and "Sorted for E's and Wizz" amply demonstrated.

A throne appeared at the top of the stairs where the moon had originally been and Cocker lounged louchly in it for "This is Hardcore".

The chirpy upbeat sound of "Do You Remember The First Time" and "Babies" followed, driving the audience and then the main set finished on the lesser known "Sunrise", ending as Cocker walked into a setting sun lamp.

Of course, we all knew there was an encore to "This is what we do for an encore" and they were very quickly back to perform "Like A Friend", "Underwear" and, of course, their most famous song "Common People" (with an introduction of the band members) which absolutely (as the phrase goes) brought the house down, with everyone upstairs in the seats on their feet as well as the 'Hardcore' down in the stalls.

The lights didn't go up though and no-one in the audience was leaving, so back they come for a second encore (as I knew they had elsewhere).

This was made up of lesser known tracks, "After You", "Razzamatazz", "Glory Days" and finished on the second outing for 'Hymn of the North", a song written for a little performed play and then that was the 11 O'Clock curfew reached.

So, that's what happened, but did I feel it was worth the money?

Writing this the following day, the songs are still swirling around my head.

Jarvis was the gangly, angular, witty, really rather likeable frontman he always was (tossing chocolates and grapes into the audience at times!), if (like all of us) no longer the youth he seeemed on the early videos that sometimes played on the back drop to the stage.

The band performed well, sometimes it's not easy to recognise songs at first when they're performed live, but they sounded like they did on recordings, with the added excitement of a live performance.

The string section buoyed the sound where appropriate (again something many bands neglect, or I guess can't afford, on live performances), although there was a long section where they were absent, only returning for the second encore, I think.

The venue was packed and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Gigs at the Apollo always, in my experience, feel like a small venue gig with some of the advantages of a bigger one. Bigger stage, lighting, good acoustics and that sloping floor that ensures that even at the back of the stalls, you can still see the stage clearly!

Aside from the finale, every track was a nostalgic trip down the best of their back catalogue, with no 'this is off our new album and we'll never play it again after this tour' filler.

I'd have included Live Bed Show, personally, but I'm sure everyone else had a favourite track missing, but I'm sure few would have minded another hour of this!

The audience surprised me a little. Of course there were plenty of 50+ aged people there, but there were also lots of people in their 20s and 30s around me and they seemed to know the songs as well as I did.

So, overall, I'd say it was a great gig, not the very best I've been to and the support act left me cold, but Pulp delivered a fantastic performance and I don't even mind having paid the price of the ticket!

It has, though, cleared out my gig budget for 2023! Luckily, I've already booked a couple more gigs for later in the year.

I Spy
Disco 2000
Something Changed
Pink Glove
Weeds II (The Origin of the Species)
Sorted for E's & Wizz
This Is Hardcore
Do You Remember the First Time?
Like a Friend
Common People
Encore 2:
After You
Glory Days
Hymn of the North