Tag Archive: Symphony Hall

Level 42 + Will Stapleton @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 7 October 2014

Okay so Birmingham City Centre is busy this evening. Kylie may be tripping the light fantastic at the NIA, but we’re off to the delectable Symphony Hall to see stalwarts of 80’s funk pop. With endless hits, word wide success and a recent EP full of newbies, we’ll be funking out with Level 42.

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Taking their name from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Level 42 formed way back in 1980 on the Isle of Wight. Lead singer and bass player, Mark King, became one of the stand-out musicians of the day, especially for popularising the 70’s ‘slap style’ of playing his instrument. King’s vocals along with keyboard player Mike Lindup’s falsetto vocals gave L42 hit after hit after hit. It was their fourth and more commercial album ‘Standing in the Light’ that gave the band the first UK Top 10 ‘The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’; 87’s ‘Running the Family’ album gave them worldwide success, making Top 10 in numerous countries. But by ’94 they decided to call it a day permanently. Or maybe not. King carried on solo, increasingly playing L42 hits live and in the early nougties came to an agreement to continue with the name Level 42, before Mike Lindup re- joined the band once again a few years later. In 2013 Level 42 released a six track live studio EP ‘Sirens’ and tonight is part of a series of dates promoting it.•Level 42-12
Support tonight comes from singer songwriter Will Stapleton, solo with guitar, inspired by Level 42. He’s played around London for the past few years; a soulful sound with poetic lyrics. He has a single out ‘I Understand’; he’s engaging and goes down well – check out his website for further info.
Bang on 8.45, L42 take to a darkened stage – King slapping his bass like crazy – the neck of which is glowing in the dark, emblazoned with lights. And as the lights come up, the band are dressed retro, retro – in spangly, sequinned black shirts. Full band on stage tonight, with a trio on brass and rhythm cranking up the sound.
First part of the set tonight is lesser known – one for the fans: ‘Love Games’, ‘Are You Hearing (What I Hear?)’ – as the songs funk out and roll into each other, as the band groove down in true L42 style.
“Hello! How are you? Fantastic!” say King, as he quips that sequins are coming of his spangly shirt. And they’re on on their musical journey again – track from ‘Sirens’ – ‘Mind on You’ before an old one, ‘Kansas City Milkman.’ The ‘Sirens’ EP is well played tonight – all tracks get featured over the set, keeping up with the L42 trademark sound. The crowd are taking it all in, mostly seated bar a few boogying on down on the balconies. A hit – ‘Leaving me Now from 85’, then to ‘Tracie’ from ’87.
“W.T.F?” King is still having issues with his sequins. And the audience get to their feet, dancing and clapping away to ‘Living It Up (Sun Goes Down)’. And take to their seats as we’re back with a track from ‘Sirens’. “Any stars kids out there?” and they deliver us ‘Starchild’, before UK #6 hit from ’85 ‘Something About You.’ and we’re into a hit medley and dancing one again, with ‘Lessons in Love’ – go back in time to 12” vinyl inch record, mega mega remixes, which go on and on…. and you’d be on the money. ‘Sirens’ track ‘Build Myself a Rocket’, prog-funk-rock rolls on as one band member after another leaves the stage.
Encore – features ‘Hot Water’ and ‘Chinese Way’ where all individual band members get the chance to fun out under an individual spotlight of music, and the encore rolls on and on.
Level 42 are going strong on their funk-pop vibe – tonight’s gig was one for the fans – the bands hits being the clear stand outs as the crowd danced the night away. Level 42 may have been going for 30 odd years – but they’re certainly to out of sight or out of mind.
Meanwhile (and as a footnote to this review) as tunes continue roll through our little brains – we succumb to the traffic nightmare of Birmingham City Centre. As much as we like Brindley Square, over an hour and a half stuck in the car park after the gig really wasn’t our cup of tea. Methinks someone should be in ‘Hot Water’ over it!
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Listening:
Running in the Family [1987]
Staring at the Sun [1988]
Guaranteed [1991]

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Photos Courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

 

Inala: A Zulu ballet featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham 3 October 2014

Tonight at the delectable Symphony Hall we have a unique mix of the  classical sound of South Africa complimented by contemporary modern Western ballet, as the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo bring ‘Inana – A Zulu Ballet’ to Birmingham.

Inala-7To celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo feature in a unique artistic collaboration with multi-award-winning choreographer Mark Baldwin. Performing INALA’s original score (by LBM’s Joseph Shabalala and classical composer Ella Spira) as they blend the intricate rhythms and infectious harmonies of their native musical roots with live percussion, piano and strings. The performance features richly visceral choreography unites Zulu traditions with classical ballet and contemporary dance, performed by an exceptional company of eighteen dancers and singers.
LBM formed way back in the early, and have gone on to become one of South Africa’s most prolific recording artists. Jospeh Shabalala took the isicathamiya harmonies of the Zulu people, formed a group and started singing at local weddings and other gatherings before entering competitions – becoming ‘so good’ they were effectively banned from entering. First album ‘Amabutho’ was released in 1973, and their collaboration on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ brought them to worldwide acclaim.  LBM have recorded over 50 studio albums and have won multiple awards, including this year – their fourth Grammy. While there have been over 30 members of LBM, the line up has remained consistent since ’93, with only two members retiring.

Inala-1
With such an eclectic mix of art on stage tonight, it’s difficult to know what we will see tonight as we take our seats. The band take to the rear of the stage – the main front area flat for the performers and the whole set incredibly simple. Tonight’s set is in two parts and given the energy of the performers – we soon understand why. LBM deliver us their unique mbube vocal style, (mbube means’ ‘lion ‘ in Zulu) – as a male lead sings cappella and the others float and harmonise in accompaniment. Tonight’s perforce is sang in Zulu too – very little is spoken in English.  The ballet dancers give us their interpretation of animals from the plains – of birds and others – stalking across the plains. The dancers performing are some of the best – award-winning, individuals with roots the Royal Ballet and The Ballet Rambert.
But LBM don’t just stand there and sing, they are part of the art, intermixing with the dancers, participating in the dance – the high kicks flying. The contemporary dancers contort, giving beautiful lines, beautiful and energetic, intermixed with Zulu dance.  There is no story as I understand, this is an interpretation of the day and of the life in Africa inspired by LBM’s songs – a village stirring at daybreak, traveling, in boats fishing, a thunderstorm of city.  This is performance, just watch, just listen; become immersed in the sounds, and the visuals.

Inala-9
Part two starts with a ballad, beautifully simple hamornised vocals, two dancing interpreting in details and amazing moves. And the atmosphere builds, the audience are mesmerized aurally and visually.  LBM are perennial world tourers – for six months of the year they are on road – their response has always been ; as long as the people of the world want to hear their music they will be putting on the shows. An English spoken section “There are many things that you may want…. but if you want to do this, you have to put your mind to it. Travel…. say I am going somewhere….”
LBM are in a line, intermixed by dancers and they each come to the front of the stage, one dancer, and one singer. Many dance in time together, a couple of LBM members chicken out this duel – to laughter from the crowd.
As as the show draws to a crescendo, the dancers amazing, the harmonies quiet spectacular – the second act completes to a standing ovation. And group and dancers bow to us all “Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh goodbye….”
LBM are legendary world musicians and they do indeed bring the beauty of their tribal harmonies to the world. This accompaniment with contemporary ballet, taking traditional and mixing it with modern was something really quite mesmerizing and well worth taking a peek. ‘Inala’ mans abundance of goodwill; a show on the past, present and new hopes future, is an uplifting cultural experience, And as we leave, we leave with smiles on our faces the tunes of the South African plains swirling round our heads.

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

Hall & Oates + Longfellow @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham UK – 22nd July 2014

With huge hits, these guys permeated the radio during the 80s and took over MTV. We know all the words, we sang all the songs. So as a blast from the past we have the luxury of spending a beautiful summers eve in the delectable Symphony Hall, with guys who have the acclaimed status of being the number one selling duo in history* (*RIAA) – we’ve here fora bit of Hall & Oates.

With a career spamming over forty years, Daryl Hall and John Oates signed to their first label in the early 70’s releasing ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ in ’73. A top ten hit beckoned with the soulful classic  ‘She’s Gone’, which has been covered by multiple artists since. A different label spawned a series of multi-platinum albums and a succession of number one hits including ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Kiss on My List’, ‘Private Eyes’, ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), ‘Maneater’ and ‘Out of Touch.’ And that excludes a long list of top ten singles. Hall also wrote ‘Everytime You Go Away’ – noticeably a number 1 hit in the UK for Paul Young in ’85. In the same year they were part of Live Aid – singing on US single ‘We Are The World’ and closing the Live Aid show in Philadelphia.

And now in 2014, for the first time in a decade, Hall & Oates bring their show to the UK – tonight’s Symphony Hall gig being the closing date of their UK tour. And it’s totally sold out.

These days Hall presents a multi-award winning monthly web series ‘Live From Daryl’s House’“It was a light bulb moment,” he says of the show’s genesis. “I’ve had this idea about just sitting on the porch or in my living room, playing music with my friends and putting it up on the Internet.” Indeed a LONG list of stars from Smokey Robinson to Fall Out Boy’’s Patrick Stump to new upstarts Neon Trees, pop in for a bit of nosh and a jamming sesh. In the US it’s syndicated by a TV channel – you’ll have to take to the interweb to view it here.  Hall has also gone all “George Clarke: Renovation Man”  and has renovated several 17th century properties both in London and the USA.. Oates meantime continues to play and record – recent solo album ‘Mississippi Mile’ gained critical acclaim, whilst he’s plugging new album ‘A Good Road To Follow’ . While their last ‘new’  recording as a duo may have been way back in 2003 with ‘Do It For Love’- they are clearly still best known in the UK for what we’ll see tonight- as the legends that are ‘Hall & Oates.’

So tonight starts off with youth – Longfellow are a bunch of lads from London of a genre nearer to Coldplay or Keane – who have the potential to be rising stars. Tonight’s audience are indeed 40+ something, but the young lads go down well. They are plotting an album due for release in 2015 – check out their website for more information.

So at 8.45pm the lights go down, the band take to the stage. And the bass starts up. And we’re encouraged to clap, we’re standing already as the sax is playing. Hall & Oates take to the stage and we’re off with “Ooooohhhh here we come….” it’s indeed ‘Maneater.’ We sing along to this classic – Hall & Oates are accompanied by sax player Charles De Chant, who’s been with them since ’76. Akin in white suite, he look’s like Mick Fleetwood’s older brother, but no matter, the sax tune is bang on and the song ends to huge applause.

Hall & Oates are engaging and chatty – between songs two white spotlights shine on each of them and at times the house lights comes up so they can clearly see the audience. Next up ‘Out of Touch’ – Hall still has the recognisable voice and the duo’s vocals are still beautifully harmonised. And we’re singing along: “You’re out of touch, I’m out of time, I’m out of my head, when you blow my mind.…”

Cheers and wolf whistles from the crowd – the guys feel complimented to receive such a response. “So far so good….” grins Hall. And we sing some more – as we’re into the dark ‘Family Man’ – “Leave me alone I’m a family man, and my bark is much worse than my bite…”

“Welcome to last show on UK tour…” says Oates, as he alludes to the dizzying height of the venue and his own diminutive statue… “I bet I look taller from up there. Next up a song from the 70s….” As they take us into the soul blues with ‘Back Together Again’ followed by “one for the gamblers amongst us” - ‘Las Vegas Turnaround.’

As Oates states, this song is one of those songs that always feels like the first time they’ve played it – it’s always fresh. And a huge classic indeed – ‘She’s Gone.’ Full of soul and blues – not bad for white boys, as they used to say; a song that rolls on and on… ‘Do What You Want, Be What You Are’ is a blues RnB ballad that rolls. Hall’s vocals dance as much as the sax does as it morphs into ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ – and we’re clapping; and they’re jamming; the sax player is now fluting; and we’re singing. I defy you not to…

And as the hits are performed  – “Com’on y’all sing it…” encourages Hall as he conducts us before the band jam on and we spy  fellow Gig Junkie amongst the crowd, one Mr Daron Billings getting his groove on and boogying on down baby!  Now the percussionist is in a vocal challenge with Hall. Before the song rolls on and we’re in a blues sax mellow chill zone…. he gets us clapping before carrying and taking it up a gear and we’re back in the funky tune…

The encore brings us ‘Rich Girl’ and ‘You Make My Dreams’, then a tiny break. Back on Hall alludes to his other activities while Oates quips that he has his own show about inflating tyres. He’s waiting for the call from the TV channels for syndication. Meanwhile he’s making music – which we, in the UK, can download. If you want hard copy – that’ll be a visit to the States.

And here we go ‘Kiss on My List’ which morphs into ‘Private Eye’ totally seemslessly. And we chant “Private eyes. Are watching you. Are watching your every move….” Clap. Clap- Clap. Repeat. And the set over, the band are grinning and bowing, Hall takes time to smack the hands of the punters at the front of the stage.

Well, well, well. I can’t say that Hall & Oates are my preferred genre of music if you like but in my teenage years they permeated the airwaves, took over MTV. It was their 80’s hits we sang – ‘Maneater’, ‘Family Man’ –  I knew all the words, and I too was bopping along with the best of them tonight. Given that they are both over mid-sixties (Hall’s been battling with Lyme’s disease for a few years too) they look great; they sound great and they were indeed a pleasure to see. I did indeed go for that (And I’m so glad I did).

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Setlist:
Maneater
Out of Touch
Say It Isn’t So
Family Man
Back Together Again
Las Vegas Turnaround
She’s Gone
Sara Smile
Do What You Want, Be What You Are
I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)

Encore I:
Rich Girl
You Make My Dreams

Encore II:
Kiss on My List
Private Eyes

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Listening:
Private Eyes [1981]
H20 [1982]
Big Bam Boom [1984]

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Review for Gig Junkies.

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel with the Orchestra of the Swan & Chamber Choir @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham,UK – 29 June 2014

Tonight it’s to the exquisite Symphony Hall where 70’s pop meets classical. To quote the artist this is “the chance to make a dream come true.” Tonight, ladies and gentlemen Steve Harley and his Cockney Rebel bandits will be making you smile, with a classical make-over of his first two albums, with the accompaniment of the Orchestra of the Swan & Chamber Choir.

Cockney Rebel formed way back in 1971, recording ‘The Human Menagerie’ in 1973 (an album that didn’t chart at the time and the tracks didn’t break either) and followup ‘The Psychomodo’ in 1974 which made number 8 in the UK charts. They went onto become classic albums of the era –  ‘Sebastian’, ‘Mr. Soft’ and ‘Judy Teen’ are still played on the radio worldwide. Then three members walked and the band split – but that didn’t stop Harley – he renamed the band Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel and went on to have further hits including the million selling global hit  ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)’  and has been touring and performing ever since.  He influenced a generation – bands such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Erasure all cite him as an influence, with even The Wedding Present covering ‘Make Me Smile’. Tonight’s venue is not far being sold out – he still remains popular and can pull in a good crowd.

Harley started this journey with a one off “exclusive” gig at The Symphony Hall about a year and 3 months ago. He in his own words, “felt slightly fraudulent” as he announced this trio of gigs –  tonight is the third of the three  which includes a previous night at The Royal Albert Hall in London.

So the lights dim, and the choir, then orchestra and band take their places – before Harley takes to the stage – cheers getting ever louder. First part of the set is ‘The Human Menagerie’ in track order listing – something he comments on – invariably he mixes and matches the sets  certainly when it’s acoustic – and doesn’t necessarily  “…have a clue what’s coming next…” but tonight he does and we do.

‘Hideaway’ is performed with depth of sound with full orchestra and choir. ‘What Ruthy Said’ remains more true to its original roots – you can hear the lighter side of Cockney Rebel in their true colours. And as the sax solo rolls out – we recognise the player – this be Steve Norman, one time member of Spandau Ballet, tonight playing with the guy that inspired him, and acting not only as saxophonist but multi-instrument percussionist. ‘Loretta’s Tale’ has an Italian vibe – with mandolin. For ‘Crazy Raver’ we bop along happily.

As Harley removes his jacket he quips it’s “…expensive… made for the occasion…. Not just made to measure…made to fit…” He chuckles that a London journalist thought his career was on the skids – clearly not with his expensive jacket. He’s quietly spoken, but self effacing and funny – and engages well with the crowd.

‘Sebastian’ is one of the highlight’s of the night – beautifully haunting with full orchestral arrangement, the sound rises and rises, the ethereal accompaniment of a high female voice from the choir, lifts it more  into an epic reworking. And quite rightly, the audience respond with a standing ovation. “If you didn’t think that was big and powerful – you should stand here and feel it!” He’s chatting again “ … if that wasn’t bad enough, playing in track order – you feel we’ll peak too early…”

And the tracks roll on – the orchestra performing perfectly with the accompaniment of the choir – at times coming over all Beatles-esque aka ‘Sergeant Pepper’ as they remix and juggle and spin the tracks round and around – still totally identifiable. And Cockney Rebel play deliciously well – Norman is partying – playing every single type of percussion instrument available in each song.

We chant back right at them for ‘Judy Teen’ as he tells us, he just doesn’t hang out with musicians, he’s unpretentious, some reviewers just don’t get him and quote him word for word [avoids doing such! – sic]- as the orchestra, band and choir crank up for the epic ‘Death Trip’ and we are indeed tripping – think Beatles – ‘A Day in The Life.’

Huge applause and standing ovation again – we’re off for a 20 minute break….

Second album ‘The Psychmodo’ starts as it means to go on – energetic and frenetic – before Harley comments that “..we know what’s coming…” and we’re into the bouncy bouncy ‘Mr. Soft’  – far bassier and bam bam bam with this full orchestral package.

An introduction to the band and current Cockney Rebel line-up. He says he was on the radio plugging these gigs and he got a ‘tweet.’ (Harley is well know as a self-confessed technophobe). Which turns out was from @garykemp saying “Tell Harley we want him back…” as he introduces Spandau band mate Norman. ‘Ritz’ is spooky and mesmerising; ‘Cavaliers’ is all big and epic. Harley and Norman duet at the from of stage, Harley on accordion, Norman on sax – and another standing ovation. Harley offers his accordion up tell sell on E-bay for a tenner, and indeed chucks it to an audience member – along with the instructions.  Someone shouts from the rear of the audience “…. I can’t deal with heckles…” he jokes, “… nor can I deal with requests!”

Before ‘Sling It!’ he relates how the three band members left him, right as they were making it big, just weeks before a big headline gig at Reading. He wrote ‘Sling It!’ –  “…this was a flop too…” before they deliver the final track of the album ‘Tumble Down’ all big and epic -once again. During an interlude for the track he tells us of magical moments in a gig – even the biggest stars know of. And how important it is to be nice. Pete Townsend is nice. Others aren’t. (No names mentioned – social media spies). He relates a tale of meeting one of his heroes – Bob Dylan. Who didn’t speak. At all. Just cos Dylan doesn’t do that.  And ask we finish with the final ending and the crowd sing back  on ‘Tumble Down’ that magic moment is there….

And they leave – but not for long. How could you not deliver another magical moment? And they do indeed ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me).’

In Harley’s words:  “Playing live is the biggest thrill there is. Every night is different. Every audience and every town have their own personality, and I am a relentless explorer.”

And 40 odd years on he’s still exploring. Tonight’s gig isn’t the cheapest  – top tickets £45 each. But it was definitely worth it – the Orchestra of the Swan & Chamber Choir were an amazing accompaniment – Harley hadn’t been precious – they remixed and played big and large – and developing the music to the next level. Cockney Rebel make 2014 clearly had blast and truly emotional – Norman had a grin from ear to ear. Harley’s getting on a bit now. He’s 63. And whilst clearly struggling physically, he delivered, engaged, made us laugh, entertained us, performed and then some musically and indeed made us smile. He clearly loved it too. A magical moment. What a nice bloke.

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This two part set featured albums in their running order:

The Human Menagerie

  • Hideaway
  • What Ruthy Said
  • Loretta’s Tale
  • Crazy Raver
  • Sebastian
  • Mirror Freak
  • My Only Vice (is the fantastic prices I charge for being eaten alive)
  • Muriel the Actor
  • Judy Teen
  • Death Trip

B side – Rock and Roll Parade

The Psychomodo

  • Sweet Dreams
  • The Psychomodo
  • Mr Soft
  • Singular Band
  • Ritz
  • Cavaliers
  • Bed in the Corner
  • Sling It!
  • Tumbling Down

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Review for Gig Junkies; pictures Ken Harrison

Runrig @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 28 March 14

Spring is nearly here and it’s finally warming up – so tonight to the delectable Symphony Hall and to see a band who, to be honest, I don’t know too much about. Off the back of several large open-air, events held across Europe during 2013 at venues such as Edinburgh Castle, and culminating last August at Party On The Moor, Runrig come to Birmingham to celebrate their 40th anniversary with us.

So to a quick potted history. Formed in ’73 as the Run-Rig Dance Band they mooted their wears around the clubs and societies playing Gaelic folk. This early incarnation played fundraisers for various things like the “….shoot fish sheep shearers association…” and as a trade for playing, from the local ladies backstage, came piles of sandwiches and cakes. Up ‘til ’78 is was very much a part time / student venture before they took the plunge and issued their music through their own independent label. With line-up changes it was ’87 before they gained their breakthrough ‘moment’: tours of Canada, a festival behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin and support to the newly crowned heroes of rock – U2. The same year they finally signed to a major label. ‘The Big Wheel’ charted reached number 4 in the UK Charts, ‘Amazing Things’ did even better reaching number 2 – and open air concerts such as the one at Loch Lomond beckoned; such gigs have since become annual outing of the band.  In 1997, original lead singer Donnie Munro departed for politics and was replaced with Canadian Bruce Guthro.  After successfully continuing and gaining more success across Europe and the US and Canada, they took a hiatus, before in 2013 they performed at several large open-air, anniversary events held across Europe, culminating at ‘Party on the Moor’  – tonight’s gig is inspired by this event to celebrate their 40years in the music business.

One poignant fact about Runrig.  Their song, ‘Running to the Light ‘was chosen as the wake up call on the final morning of the ill-fated Columbia Space Mission by astronaut fan, Laurel Clark. Very little survived the tragedy but amongst the wreckage, scattered across Southern America was Laurel Clark’s Runrig CD. It was recovered intact from a field in Texas, and presented to the band by Laurel’s husband and son at a memorable night in Glasgow City Chambers later the same year.

Runrig of 2014 are brothers and founding members Rory and Calum Macdonald, Malcolm Jones (34 years Runrig service), Iain Bayne (31), vocalist Brian Guthro (who joined in ’97) and Brian Hurren on keyboards who came to play and stayed in 2001.

Tonight’s gig at Symphony Hall is pretty much sold out. The instrument covered stage is being covered by a carpet of dry ice . We are promised that tonight’s set is in two halves – an hour then 20 minute break and then around an hour an a half. Runrig are due on stage at 7.45pm. The crowd is a real mix tonight; including some little people have been brought along by parents. As the lights go down, people cheer. An old fashioned radio appears on the screen, broadcasting the shipping forecast; then differing tracks and the clapping starts as people recognise the tunes and melodies being issued.  Runrig take to stage and bow to a huge cheer – people clapping in time to musical intro. The band haven’t even haven’t even started yet and they are getting a huge response!

Jones starts up the tune on his guitar and first track ‘Road Trip’; folk with a guitar twist as the lyrics float across the screen to the chorus. ‘Everything you need, is everything you see.’

Guthro wishes us hello and asks if we’re up for a good night tonight. The answer is already yes – the audience are here to enjoy and party – as we’re taken into  ‘City of Lights.’  Guthro is chatty and funny as he explains it’s Runrig’s 40th anniversary and that he doesn’t reckon there’s any one here from ’73 – they’ll be way too long in the tooth… (although a few cheers do indeed go up). ‘Big Sky’ is more whimsical as it starts before rising into a Pink Floyd inspired prog-rock Gaelic epic that rolls on for at least 10 minutes – while ‘Maymorning’ is rock meets ‘Tubular Bells’ with folk vibes. And as the drumbeat rises the audience are on their feet and clapping away.

Guthro: “So here we are in Birmingham on Saturday night. You’re famous for Black Sabbath….Duran Duran…..not because of your football team! You are a Birmingham Runrig whiskey drinking crowd…” We cheer and sing along as the band go into ‘The Locomotion’. “Enjoying your spring weather – feels like the beginning of summer to me…” (Guthro is from Nova Scotia, Canada) “…30 cm of show on east coast – thank god I brought the wife a shovel before I left…” before we’re back into the rock Gaelic vibes with ‘Dance Called America.’

‘Siol Ghoraidh’ is a flag-bearing Gaelic anthem, with a core rhythm that beats out. ‘The Engine Room’ sees guitarist Jones playing what appears to be electronic bag-pipes ( a stick like instrument with no bag!) before drums and percussion come in: Runrig take traditional folk and crank up the volume.

“So 40 years – happy birthday to us!” A comment that the founding brothers only look 35 – “Memories are good ones – the songs are for you…” as ‘Book of Golden Stories’ features historic pictures, tickets and reviews from their career on the screen behind the band. Before the last song of their first set, clearly something they’re not used to, this split set –  “…. Two sets and a break …. no idea what we’ll do back stage, maybe hook up to oxygen masks or adjust makeup…” before they embark on ‘Every River’ and the crowd sing back, the band quiet so they can hear us – with a kinda U2 ‘With or Without you’ vibe.

What a great first set, we’re buzzing as we pop out for a quick beverage.

And so for Set 2, onto a darkened stage, Guthro appears with acoustic guitar to play us ‘In Search of Angels’ before being joined partway through by guitarist brother MacDonald and Hurren on keyboards.

MacDonald explains, tongue in cheek, that the first half took so much out of them they’re going to sit for the second set – as 5 of the 6 piece take to their seats, percussionist MacDonald and drummer Bayne sitting on boxes, which become beat boxes as Runrig take us into the Gaelic ‘Tir a Mhurain’ ; the other members joining in on zither, accordion and acoustic guitar. Guthro rejoins his band’s little Kayleigh quipping about the Scottish referendum “… whole border lined up with tanks – guys with face half painted in blue…” and him being Canadian will play the U.N (United Nations) role. Rungrig are apparently, one big happy family, sound guy is from Denmark, the light man is English (as said light man promptly switches all the lights off!)

‘Dust’ is a traditional Gaelic jog, followed by the rhythm section of the band gain individual drums of varying sizes and line-up at the front to beat their hearts out. A drum solo (quartet) with a difference – Runrig drummer Bayne get’s a swig of beer, personally brought onto the stage courtesy of Guthro, during the middle of this drumming escapade, as they continue to drum out with rhythms of varying beats and power.

And then to another historic video. “In the beginning… 1973…” and we’re on their journey once again, before “2001- “. The band are back in their places we’re back to the full on Gaelic rock with ‘Rocket to the Moon’ – before the haunting romp that is ‘Alba.’‘Pride of the Summer’ gives us full Gaelic pride – quite literally; ‘ Skye’ with Big Country vibes, lilts out into a prog-rock epic – guitarist Jones goes from Floyd before cranking it up – I almost feel I’m at a Who gig. ‘Going Home’ is the culmination for the second set; a ballad crossed between country and folk.

But it’s not over – encore now as Guthro, solo, takes us into ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’ his powerful Canadian voice ranging through the auditorium.  The words are on the screen and he encourages us to sing. Quite beautiful as the Hall carries our 3,000 voices, as Guthro sings over our words to accompany us – one of those moments when the hackles go up on the back of your neck…

‘On the Edge’ takes us back to Gaelic prog-rock as we go all Pink Floyd and The Who, before a-stomping country, folk mix that is ‘Clash of The Ash’ – as we dance and sing to the words on the screen ‘ Come On…Allright…” (two ‘L’s I know!)

‘Loch Lomond’ Runrig style, their charity single from 2007 for Children In Need – the drumbeat dictates we should clap – so we all do. Clap clap. Clap. Clap clap. Clap. This version is beefed up and powerful – wave your arms in the air and sway them from side to side before back to … Clap. Clap clap. Before the audience sing ‘solo’. I’ve never seen so much Scottish patriotism in Birmingham….

‘And We’ll Sing’ is a new track and completes the set; the band members at the front of the stage akin with drums and accordions and acoustic guitars – right back to Runrig’s basics…

Wow. I’d heard of Runrig but they hadn’t quite ever hit my musical radar. And so an opportunity to see them was indeed something to take opportunity of. But even in the early part of the first set I wondered, how the hell did I miss these guys? Did they appear over the years in a different universe? Because Runrig are talented. Runrig live – I have to say, are pretty epic. Heavy, prog rock, pure folk and more and yet beautifully gaelic and clearly over the past 40 years have taken a truly alternative musical journey. A total of two and a half hour set – we danced, we clapped, we sang our little hearts out. And we left with huge grins on our faces.

If you get they opportunity – Runrig are not to be missed. Tonight;s 2 and a half hour epic was just £27.50 a ticket. If you get a chance – go literally party with Runrig.  Their ‘Party on The Moor’ gig was defined as one of the best Runrig gigs ever. Thank you for bringing it to Birmingham tonight. What an epic blast.

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First Set:
Road Trip
City of Lights
Big Sky
Maymorning
Dance Called America
Siol Ghoraidh
The Engine Room
Book of Golden Stories
Every River

Second Set:
In Search of Angels
Tir a Mhurain
Dust
An Sabhal Aig Neill
Drums
Rocket to the Moon
Alba
Pride of the Summer
Skye
Going Home

Encore:
Hearts of Olden Glory
On the Edge
Clash of the Ash
Loch Lomond
And We’ll Sing

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Review for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken Harrison.

Mike and The Mechanics + Sadie and the Hotheads @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK, 1st March 2014

The Symphony Hall and surrounding area is a very busy place tonight. Ant and Dec (not in person) are filming a fling thing in Centenary Square, while there’s a posh black tie do on in one of the halls. But we’re here in the lovely Symphony Hall auditorium to see Mike Rutherford’s ‘side project’ Mike and the Mechanics.

This little off shoot of his hasn’t done too badly. Releasing 7 albums and selling more than 10 million records, they be here tonight celebrating 25 years since the release of ‘Living Years.‘  Rutherford’s other band didn’t do too bad either, notching up over 130 million record sales, making Genesis one of the biggest selling bands ever…

That doesn’t mean to say, it’s been easy. The sudden death of one of the original singers, Paul Young, left Paul Carrack as the only vocalist in a band that featured two lead vocalists. So after quite a hiatus, Rutherford had a swap-around and setup a second incarnation recruiting two new singers. So to confirm these days, Mike and The Mechanics are: Mike Rutherford (Genesis), Andrew Roachford (solo performer, known in his own right, for ‘Cuddly Toy’), Tim Howar (musical stage performer who’s recently appeared in the West End rock musical ‘Rock of Ages’), Anthony Drennan (guitarist with The Corrs, Genesis, Clannad and many more), keyboardist Luke Juby (Leona Lewis, Delta Goodrem, Olly Murs and as part of the band for both XFactor and Britain’s Got Talent) and drummer Gary Wallis (Nik Kershaw, 10CC, Il Divo, Westlife and longest serving member of Mike and The Mechanics with 21 years by Rutherford’s side).

You could say that tonight’s audience is tad older and more refined I guess. Before the gig we’re chatting to some lovely people from Tamworth and Bristol who tell us Mike and The Mechanics are really good – having seen them many times. So we have a positive prognosis for tonight then.

First up Sadie and the Hotheads. Conceived in 2007 when Elizabeth McGovern took guitar lessons from Steve Nelson. He encouraged her to begin to write her own songs and they put together a band of musicians to support the project. Just to clarify, Elizabeth McGovern is better known as an actress, notably as Cora, Countess of Grantham, of Downtown Abbey fame. There a band of seven on stage, McGovern dressed in sparkly silver top and tiny black skirt. The band are an eclectic mix blues meets country with traditional folk mix coming from a left-field stance. She tell’s us she happy to be here tonight and are indeed going down well with the audience. “This track may be familiar…” and as McGovern dances a bit like a zombie; it’s an alternative folky, slowed down version of The BeeGees ‘Staying Alive.’ It’s a bizarre yet surprisingly good take on the track.

She works with a charity called World Vision*, for which she sponsors a child called Justina in Sierra Leone, and she’s keen to promote what they do and the band are indeed at merchandising stand with the charity after their set. Sadie and the Hotheads are interesting, featuring harmonised vocals in an alternative folk way. Check them out, when McGovern and co. next pass by.

And so in the interval we get a bit of Hall and Oats (they’ll be playing here later in the year), ‘Cry Wolf’ by A-Ha and a smattering of The Clash – ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go.…’

And just around 8.30pm, the lights go down, intro music starts and on they come, big cheers and wave to Rutherford. “Hello Birmingham…”

First track ‘A Beggar on a Beach of Gold’ gives us Roachford on keyboards and taking the vocal lead Howar, who has a surprisingly powerful voice and already he’s clearly having a blast fronting the band, there’s a cheeky impish quality about him.  Howar: “Thank you. Anyone for a cup of coffee?” and we indeed go into ‘Another Cup of Coffee’, this time with Roachford on vocal duties.

The band are clearly already enjoying themselves, Howar sings and grins from ear-to-ear, with cheekily infectious enthusiasm in his delivery; Roachford plays keyboards with huge style and accomplishment and his vocals too soulfully soar.  This is already a gig that makes you smile. For ‘Get Up’, there’s is a great camaraderie between the singers and band; the singers just having fun, with one another taking vocal lead from one another and harmoniously dueling.

Rutherford: “Birmingham, it’s Saturday and it’s great to be here…”  There’s cheeky banter between the band as Rutherford implies they’ll deliver their entire back-catalogue tonight…‘Try to Save Me’ was written with Roachford who vocally delivers, before Howar takes duties with the lyrically challenging ‘Seeing is Believing.’ As Rutherford introduces the band, Howar is introduced as delivering ‘vocals and visual interpretation’, which we get – while Roachford delivers in great style, Howar not only brings his powerful voice, but the over emphasised display, akin to musical stage performances. ‘Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)’ is delivered with a great rendition by Roachford taking the lead.

And then to a Roachford track ‘This Generation’ given in all it’s energetic glory, a total clap along – and as the band stop and we continue to clap; Roachford: “Who needs a band? We’ve got the best clappers in the world here….”

Big cheers as crowd recognise the next track, this time a Genesis classic: ‘Turn It On Again.’ Wow! Our jaws drop as Howar, who has a tenor-like voice so far, turns vocal chameleon and sounds uncannily like Collins. He hits the mark and then some. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see Genesis do this (Collins officially retired a few years ago, although is threatening to re-appear, Banks recently killed off any suggestions of reformation) and so it is a pure treat in all its glory.

So to a plug on Mike and The Mechanics retro stuff that’s just been released (quite a list, to which a band member retorts they’ll probably be a pizza too), before new track off said singles collection, ‘When My Feet Don’t Touch The Ground’ – delivered by Roachford. We’d already been told keyboard player Juby is a talented multi-instrumentalist (as well as providing backing vocal duties) as he has indeed taken up bass guitar and by the following song, ‘Everybody Gets a Second Chance’, clearly still bored with keyboards – he’s on sax .

And as the tracks flow, the two singers, swap and intermix, a vocal joust, before we’re given the Roachford classic ‘Cuddly Toy’ which features not just 5 (times) but 21, as the band go dadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadadada – every band member bang on time, an expert musical delivery.

And now to another Genesis classic – once again with Howar taking on Collins, as we get ‘I Can’t Dance’ and Howar, Rutherford and Drennan start to do the classic band walk (check out the original video) across the stage. Roachford takes us on the vocal journey for the tour titled ‘The Living Years’, an anthemic prayer and audience arms start to sway from side to side. We’re in full on party mood now, as they deliver ‘All I Need is a Miracle’, Howar giving it his full vocal range… ”sing-a-long-a-Birmingham – cos this is the home of Led Zeppelin” as he get’s us to repeat “all what, all I need, give it to me baby.”

Quick break for an encore, and ‘Over My Shoulder’ is all acoustic guitars, whilst Howar brings the mike stand to the front of stage to give whistle duties to the bass, sax playing keyboardist Juby. Ridiculously talented bunch this lot are and by god it shows.  But there’s no ego’s on stage tonight – these guys are clearly having great fun, a total blast, and it’s totally infectious too – we are very much at their party. Final track ‘Word of Mouth’, starts with a drum solo – we’re all now in full on party mode in the glorious hall, as Howar gives us semaphore arm gestures to copy far to more than just swaying side to side. Howar: ‘I love you…you guys can sing…’ As this cheeky imp introduces the band for a second time, guitarist Drennan gives us a solo, with amongst other the theme to the Birmingham-based soap ‘Crossroads,’ Roachford gives us a bit of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ on his keyboards, Rutherford receives a huge cheer and delivers us Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’.

Set over, they’ve had a blast, we’re in party mood and in a line the band members bow, clearly on a high from their reception tonight. Rutherford maybe one of the biggest selling artists ever, but as he departs the stage last, he bows down in acknowledgment to the crowd. Respect.

Mike and The Mechanics, a bit like Genesis, weren’t exactly my cup of tea. But their music, permeated the airwaves, and it’s surprising just how many tracks you know. Rutherford has amassed a hugely talented group for his new Mechanics, the expectation of quality was there; but the truly amazing level of talent, musically and vocally in the cascading soul range of Roachford and powerful soaring vocal ability of Howar, took this gig to another level. Wow! is the word tonight, and we leave with big grins and are totally blown away. For around £30 in the best live venues in town, it was a total treat. If you get the opportunity to see them, grab it with both hands, no miracle needed.

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World Vision (every child free from fear) is the world’s largest international children’s charity, working to bring real hope to millions of children in the world’s hardest places.  Their local staff work in thousands of communities across the world to free children from fear. They live and work alongside them, their families and communities to help change the world they live in for good.

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Mike and The Mechanics setlist:
A Beggar on a Beach of Gold
Another Cup of Coffee
Get Up
Try to Save Me
Seeing is Believing
Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)
Don’t
This Generation (Roachford)
Turn It On Again (Genesis)
When My Feet Don’t Touch The Ground (New)
Everybody Gets a Second Chance
Nobody’s Perfect
Cuddly Toy (Roachford)
I Can’t Dance (Genesis)
The Living Years
All I Need is a Miracle

Encore:
Over My Shoulder
Word of Mouth

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Review for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken Harrison.

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