Tag Archive: John Sinnit

Roland Gift + John Simmitt @ Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, UK – 3 September 2014

So way back in the 80’s, as one classic Brum band ‘dissolved’ another one was born. This new band did rather well, worldwide success, and a couple of platinum albums beckoned before they too went their separate ways. But no matter, as tonight, in an exclusively snug venue, their lead singer plays in his own right, playing the old and new – it is the immense vocal talent of Roland Gift, of Fine Young Cannibals fame.

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Fine Young Cannibals were two former members of The Beat (David Steele and Andy Cox) and Gift on vocal duties. After appearing on the infamous Channel 4 music programme ‘The Tube’ performing ‘Johnny Come Home’ they got their break as labels battled to sign them. Said song appeared on their debut album along with a over of Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ – but it was their second album ‘The Raw and the Cooked’ that went multiple platinum and truly global, with Fine Young Cannibals winning two Brit Awards. After then the band drifted and went their separate ways.
Gift continued in solo vein, releasing ‘It’s Only Money’ in 2002, and more recently performing with Jools Holland. Acting also beckoned – an appearance in the Hanif Kureishi penned British movie ‘Sammy & Rosie Get Laid’, acting with the Hull Truck Theatre Company and appearing in and writing music for the Barry Levinson US movie ‘Tin Men.’
So to get an opportunity to see this reclusive singer in all his vocal glory in an intimate venue like the Hare and Hounds, we are indeed lucky peoples tonight. This is part of a  handful of selected dates around the country including Hull Freedom Festival, Gateshead Sage and Raindance Film Festival at London’s Café De Paris. Why these particular locations?

“Each date on this outing has a particular significance. Birmingham is where I was born, Hull where I moved to and started playing music, Gateshead is across the river from where FYC got our break on Tyne Tees TV’s The Tube, and London is where I now live. Playing the Hare and Hounds is like coming back to my roots.”

So as we enter the tiny venue tonight, it’s already warm, and will get warmer – tonight’s gig is sold out! The room in the Hare and Hounds is small – a max of 250 and is well cosy! ‘Support’ is a different mixture. To get us in the mood we have a couple of DJ sets that are intended to get you bopping and in the mood – courtesy of David Wright from Only After Dark and Maryanne Snape. From 80s classics and I mean the class hits from Bowie, Talking Heads, New Order and Tears for Fears the crowd are bopping and enjoying the atmosphere…

Then we get a comedian. John Simmitt. And as he quite rightly explains he’s a comedian not a singer. He feel’s he should have an introduction – and as there’s no one here to do it for him, he’ll do it himself, as he hides behind a speaker and announces his prescence. And as he (re)takes to the stage – ‘‘Here Comes the Hotstepper’ pumps out of the speakers and we’re are encouraged to deliver the “Nananannnannnaaa’s”.

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Self effacing and observant in his comedy style, he quips about being asked to do this gig, and then finding out it was a music gig. And then takes the mick out of the crowd’s age – we’ll be pacing ourselves during the gig then? And he INSISTS he’s edgy, honest. Until he was offered a gig by the BBC. Woohoo! he thought. And then it involved pre-school children and fluffy suits and a long term contract. Simmit maybe edgy, but he be cuddly too – because ladies and gentlemen – his alter ego is….. Dipsy. From the Teletubbies. Ker. Ching. As he said. Simmit is great fun, entertaining – if you get a chance – check him out. “Eh-oh!”

And then here we go for the main man. The Hare and Hounds is so small that the band walk from the back of the room, to the front to make it to the stage – and they sneak through the crowd.

‘What Do You Mean?’ warms us up nicely, and get’s cheers from the crowd. Gift asks us if we like punk rock… ? “Well here’s some reggae..” which starts of with the bridal march before delivering us ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ – and we’re singing. The 6 piece band are tight, Gift’s vocals true to form and this reggaes out version has a beat and we love it.
Gift points out, as we all know, “It’s terribly hot…” and requests a pint of lager from his manager. I’m by the bar – as the request is issued, the barmaid cheekily goes ‘No!” before delivering said order. Up next ‘Girl Like You’ before the classic track that gave him and Fine Young Cannibals their break.

‘Johnny Come Home’ is a stomping rendition. Wowsers. ‘It’s Only Money’ from his 2002 solo effort rolls and rolls – Gift and his band are slick and professional. Somebody shout’s ‘I love you…” – “I love you too baby.” Fascinating fact of the day: Gift was one a cover star of Rolling Stone and voted one of People magazine’s ’50 Most Beautiful People’…
It’s difficult to say what’s the best – but the classics are delivered impeccably – Gift’s voice remains truly unique and time hasn’t aged his vocal ability. He’s just pure talent. ‘Good Thing’ get’s us bopping more and singing – ‘Crushed’ starts off as a ballad – ‘beautiful’ shouts an audience member. Close your eyes – hear his vocals – he is indeed ‘crushed’ as you can here the emotion as his voice tells the story. The song rises and rises before be full stop. Elvis is not in the house (and probably not at the local chippy) – but Gift’s version of ‘Suspicious Minds’ equals and delivers – one of the biggest cheers of the night. ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ straight back in time – but as fresh as the day it was recorded to tape. ‘Broken Hear’ has the beat of ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go Now”…. but we’re still here. No going anywhere. “I’m Not the Man’ rolls on and we sing.

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And a break and here we go again – a ‘Beatles Encore’ – and there’s a grind as we go into baby it’s you – all psychedelic man – he’s a free man…. before a smattering of ‘Blue.’

The dizzying heights of all that success in the mid eighties may have gone – and maybe for Gift that’s a ‘good thing’. He seems somewhat shy, quite literally letting that voice do the talking. But for the 250 punters here tonight – a thoroughly enjoyable time – and a pleasure to close your eyes and take in the vocals and Gift took us on his journey. Is he the mans he used to be? Hell yeah. Johnny came home tonight.

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Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge. Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison.