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 above 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!) really impressed me.

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

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