Saturday 2 March 2024

Nouvelle Vague - 1865, Southampton - 29th February 2024

Cover bands, they're OK for a bit of fun, but they don't add anything, do they? Well Nouvelle Vague have always challenged that notion.

I've always found their very different, Bossa Nova, style covers very enjoyable, taking familiar (mostly '80s) songs and transforming them into something totally different.

So, when, in May 2023, I saw they were coming to Southampton, I booked a ticket, so this was a gig that I waited longer than most for.

It was a miserable February evening and, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the drive to Southampton.

However, it was delay free and I found somewhere fairly close to park for a reasonable amount (parking being free between 8PM and 8AM) and made my way to 1865, which I'd never visited before.

Inside I found one fairly large hall with a balcony area to the right, overlooking the main floor and stage. A small bar was alongside the floor to the right (as you look at the stage), while a much larger bar was between the floor and balcony levels at the rear.

I bought myself a nice pint of beer for a very reasonable £4.50 (The Boiler Room's pricing put to shame here) and waited for the support act, De Laurentis, to appear.

I had no idea who or what that would be, but it turned out to be a French woman with an electronic box of tricks. Throughout her set, she pressed the squares on what looked like an electronic chess board.

I can only presume she was manipulating some kind of sampler, but it was very French and enigmatic, she described her instrument as an 'AI' at one point.

The material was electronic dance music, I guess, not horrible, but not truly remarkable, with definite hints of Jean Michel Jarre at times. She got a positive response and the crowd definitely warmed to her as she progressed. Overall, a decent support act.

After that, we had a half hour wait, while the roadies did final setups and sound checks and then, about 9PM, four men appeared and took up their places behind a keyboard, a drumset, something like a double bass and on a chair with an acoustic guitar.

The lighting stayed low, though, just a series of downward pointing spots and then a blonde woman in a black dress appeared as the first notes of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' were played.

Now, I'm a big fan of New Order and Joy Division and I think that most covers of, possibly the latter's most iconic song, are pretty awful, but Nouvelle Vague's is so different and yet retains the essential emotion (unlike, for example, Paul Young's dire rendition) of the original that it works for me. Melancholic, rather than angst ridden, like the original.

The lights illuminated the blonde's face as the next song started and she was joined on stage by another woman.

The blonde was Marine Quemere and the other woman, Shanice Alonya Sloan, apparently.

Together they sang a sultry version of 'People are People'.

Marine's voice is quite sweet, with an almost characature French accent ('Zese are the Zings we can do Wizout' on Shout, for example), but I'm a sucker for a French accent anyway, so that's 100% fine with me. Her delivery (most of the time) is very 'torch singer'.

Shanice, meanwhile, has a deeper voice and doesn't sound French (although she seems to be), having no problems with 'th' sounds in English. Her delivery, too, is far more theatrical than Marine's and together they provide a great visual and aural combination, either singing together or taking turns on the lead.

Most people (me included) probably think of Nouvelle Vague as slowing down songs, but their live rendition of 'Only You' provided it with a energy that neither the original or the Flying Picket's acapella version have.

'Making Plans For Nigel', though, was the more typical style of cover for the band.

It was only after listening to their new album the day after the gig, that I realised that many of the songs they performed were from it. They've been fairly prolific and I just assumed I'd not heard them all or even that I had, in some cases!

'Girls On Film' started with the bass player centre stage, delivering a 'Fever' like introduction and then a very different version of the Duran Duran hit. 'What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend' is a fairly obscure Specials song, but delivered in a chripy, upbeat manner here, very unlike the original.

'The Forest' saw the stage lit in green and gave Shanice a chance to show off her modern dance skills as well as take lead vocal.

And so it went. 'Teenage Kicks','I Just Can't Get Enough' and 'The Guns of Brixton' were old favourites for me, but 'Too Drunk To Fuck' was a rare excursion into manic energy for Marine, especially, and brilliant fun.

Their reggae-tinged version of 'Shout' (Tears for Fear, not Lulu!) was great too and they finished the main set on a song I only vaguely knew 'I Melt With You', which was fantastic.

Of course, it didn't take long for them to return to the stage for an encore, which started with the stalwart 'Ever Fallen In Love' and then Marine delivered 'This Charming Man' and Shanice ended the gig with another song I didn't know 'In a Manner of Speaking'.

I must admit, I came to the gig wondering if I'd really enjoy it, maybe finding it a bit too mellow and a bit samey, but my doubts were comprehensively dismissed.

Live, the band have a much more energetic and edgy sound than on recordings and the two singers, especially, deliver an entertaining performance.

Early on I recall thinking that the guitarist was doing a lot of the instrumental work, but as the gig progressed, the bass player and the drummer all had virtuoso performances and, on reflection, I don't think any single member of the band could have been dispensed with, everyone played their part.

Throughout, founder member, Marc Collin, remained impassive, almost hidden, at the back behind his keyboard, letting his band take the limelight while, no doubt, adding to the overall pleasure of the sound. I liked that.

So, Nouvelle Vague are absolutely not your typical cover band.

Their versions of the songs, while homaging the 80s classics they love, are absolutely their own.

Another gig, like A Certain Ratio, where I came away a fan! Go see them!

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)
People are People (Depeche Mode cover)
Only You (Yazoo cover)
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC cover)
This Is Not a Love Song (Public Image Ltd cover)
Girls on Film (Duran Duran cover)
What I Like Most About You is Your Girlfriend (The Specials cover)
A Forest (The Cure cover)
Marian (The Sisters of Mercy cover)
Teenage Kicks (The Undertones cover)
Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode cover)
She’s in Parties (Bauhaus cover)
You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive cover)
The Guns of Brixton (The Clash cover)
Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys cover)
Shout (Tears for Fears cover)
Friday Night, Saturday Morning (The Specials cover)
I Melt With You (Modern English cover)
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) (Buzzcocks cover)
This Charming Man (The Smiths cover)
In a Manner of Speaking(Tuxedomoon cover)

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