Tag Archive: THSH

Difford & Tilbrook @ Town Hall, Birmingham – 12 November 2014

Tonight to the delectable Town Hall in Birmingham and a journey through the entertaining lives of two classic songsmiths. In the late 70s, early 80s the band that featured these guys turned out ht after hit – the lyrics such that these two individuals were deemed to be the Lennon and McCartney of their generation. The chap who played the keyboards tottered off on his own journey of ‘The Tube’ and ‘Later…’ and Jazz while the band became these core duo and a rotating shift of other musicians. And so for something different tonight, part Q&A, part acoustic trip through their music journey – welcome ‘The At Odds Couple – welcome Difford & Tilbrook.

Difford_Tillbrook-8

Difford & Tilbrook – the songwriting team of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, known for their work as the principal writers for Squeeze. Responsible for the group’s many hits -‘Cool for Cats’, ‘Up the Junction’, ‘Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)’, ‘Tempted’, and many more, they have both written independently outside the band and together – and tonight features solo, collaboration and band.

Difford & Tilbrook was also the name under which the songwriters recorded and toured following the temporary break-up of Squeeze in ’82. That band reunited in ’85 after only one self-titled album had been released from the pair. Having been issued during this brief three-year hiatus, many fans consider Difford & Tilbrook to be the “lost” Squeeze album. By ’93 Difford and Tilbrook were the only original members left in Squeeze, and the band continues to be whatever rotating band membership assembles around the two songwriters.

Tonight’s gig is sold out and there’s no support but we will be delivered two sets from the duo. The stage set, meanwhile, is set like a bedsit, tables, lampshades,chairs, beds, and in the centre a late screen. Cosy. This is a two man show – just acoustic – and as they start, they pretend to get out of bed before their journey starts…

Their lyrics are a take on life, what they see – the duo sing in perfect harmony- a insanely talented pair be these two. And they have THOUGHT about not only their songs, but the stage set up, the visuals and videos on the screen to accompany the songs. So many times, we see acts who just turn up on stage – this package, with Difford & Tilbrook’s music and audience engagement, plus the cosy set and respect for the classic historic hall and acoustics,  has been well planned and thought out – and is a more than a pleasure to see.

‘Electric Trains’ accompanied by sepia train line journey on the screen, ‘Is That Love’ gets a big cheer, newbie from new album for Squeeze (from a forthcoming TV show) ‘A Beautiful Game’  clearly related to ‘the beautiful game’ as we get football on the screen – and goes down well. A song they wore for K.D. Lang – which she didn’t like ‘cos out was about boys – ‘Cowboys are my Weakness’ gives a video of plastic toy soldiers, doing things that plastic toy soldiers really shouldn’t be doing.

Between every few songs we have ‘the Man in the Golden Cape’ – quite literally – as Miles appears in the audience with a mike for audience members to ask questions.

“Are you cool for cats?” and the pair respond – chalk and cheese one likes dogs and the other cats. “What favourite lyric was inspired by real life?” “Let It Go” comes the answer.
“Madison Square Gardens or Birmingham Town Hall?” –  well that answer had got to be Birmingham Town Hall. Some questions are cheeky “How did Jools (Holland – former keyboards with Squeeze) become really rich and you didn’t?” – and Difford & Tilbrook respond, as they do with all questions, with candour, whit and respect.  Tilbrook’s ditched is recent beard (he now carries it around in a bag!)

Being touted as the ‘South London Lennon and McCartney’ made then pretentious for a while, but it became meaningless after a while – although a compliment. A punter tells Tilbrook his last solo album was brilliant – and he takes the full opportunity to cheekily plug it – it’s in the foyer – they’ll be signing after the gig.

And we get the classics –  ‘Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)’ (which a fan, when she was young though was about snogging – the guys don’y want to delude her innocent thoughts about what it was actually about), the first set ends with ‘Up the Junction.’ ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ is here too, and the hits keep coming ‘Tempted’ – and the video shows us fruit – cos hey we be “tempted by the fruit of another” and we sing.

Difford solo slot includes ‘Fat as a Fiddle’ (he eludes to his weight – up and down – out of cheesecake v gym – the cheesecake always wins…), ‘Wrecked’ about his youth when him and his housemate spent most the time, it appears, wrecked. Tilbrook gives us ‘Persephone’ – a song about a Victorian dressed burlesque dancer he met at a festival, who was , er, quite entertaining; ‘Ice-cream’ apparently written and performed in Birmingham in 1906 by his grand-dad – easy lyrics we sing it back and laugh. And as Difford rejoins him on stage – he’s asked what he’s been doing – “I’ve been been Ironing. My shirt. For tomorrow.”

And to conclude – we get an acoustic version of ‘Coooooollllll for Caaaats’ – we sing – and watch the video – made up newspaper cuttings for key word of the song and ‘dodgy’ archive footage of Squeeze.   Bt it’s not over – another newbie from the TV Series – apparent the title too – “From the Cradle to the Grave’ before the classic ‘Labelled with Love.”

Difford and Tilbrook gave us a thoroughly enjoyable gig tonight – they may be ying and yang, chalk and cheese – but this ‘At Odds Couple’ made us laugh, made us smile, made us sing – and gave us a compete package on their potted piece of history in a thoroughly enjoyable way.  There’s a few dates left on this tour – thigh many have already sold out. If you get to see em you are lucky indeed as this gig was certainly labelled and bottled with love. Thank you chaps.

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

WORLD PREMIERE: A Time and Place- Musical Meditations on the First World War at the Town Hall, Birmingham

And as we reflect on the centenary of the First World War, a powerful new music project featuring Mercury Prize folk artists Sam Lee, Rachel and Becky Unthank will receive its world premiere on Wednesday 17th September at Birmingham’s Town Hall.

This project,  co-produced by sounduk, Barbican and Opera North in partnership with Town Hall & Symphony Hall,  is an incredibly powerful performance that marks the centenary of the First World War by connecting the creative landscape of wartime England circa 1914 to contemporary Britain in 2014.

ATime&Place

A Time and Place presents new material inspired by personal stories and arrangements to First World War poetry alongside original repertoire from the time against striking visuals from Birmingham video designer Matthew J Watkins (Gorillaz, Beat13, Live_Transmission: Joy Division Reworked). This event is funded by Arts Council England and PRS For Music Foundation and is part of the Imperial War Museums First World War Centenary.

British folk singer Sam Lee, whose 2012 album Ground Of Its Own garnered a Mercury Music Prize nomination for Album Of The Year, undertook extensive research for A Time And Place earlier this year by discovering wartime songs and stories from rural communities in the south-west of England.

Sam will be joined on stage at Birmingham’s 180-year old Grade I listed Town Hall by north-eastern singer-storytellers Rachel and Becky Unthank - who have set new music to First World War poetry and more – along with band-mate Adrian McNally who has arranged all of the above for an 11-piece ensemble including string quartet and brass.

Following this world premiere, the show will continue in London and Leeds. This event will surely bring history, creativity and talent into one unique experience. For more information visit The Town Hall & Symphony Hall website.

Follow the performance on twitter: #timeandplace

 

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

Belinda Carlisle + Gabe Lopez @ Town Hall, Birmingham – 13 May 2014

One time member of one of the most successful American female bands of all time and pop icon in her own right; this singer is returning to the UK on a 7 date mini-tour which starts off tonight in Birmingham’s Town Hall. Following the recent chart success of new single ‘Sun’, one time Go-Go and pop goddess Belinda Carlisle is here tonight to give us a clue as to whether Birmingham is indeed heaven.

Carlisle started out as a punk drummer before founding The Go-Go’s with Jane Wiedlin. The Go-Go’s went onto become one of the most successful American bands of the early 1980s, helping usher new wave music and becoming the first all-female band in rock history to ever achieve a number 1 album with their 1981 multi-platinum debut, ‘Beauty and the Beat.’ When the band split in ’85 nothing was stopping Carlisle and she embarked on a solo career and a succession of successful hit albums beckoned. ‘Heaven on Earth’ made top 5 in the UK charts featuring international hit singles ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’, ‘I Get Weak’ and ‘Circle in the Sand.’ Carlisle has subsequently released 7 solo albums and this year sees the release of her greatest hits, ‘The Collection’, featuring a couple of new tracks including ‘Sun’ her first single in nearly 17 years.

Tonight’s audience is an eclectic mix of avid fans from a mixture of backgrounds – a few keen and enthusiastic individuals keen to catch up with her after the gig at the stage door.

But they will have to wait a little as first up on stage is American pop-rock singer/songwriter Gabe Lopez. “Who is this Californian Gabe Lopez and why is he in Brum?” He asks us, before telling us he’s of Mexican and Irish descent and is here because he co-wrote and produced Carlisle’s new single ‘Sun’ and she invited him on this mini-tour. It’s his first time in the UK (he doesn’t get out much!), the first time he’s played live to a UK audience and he loves us.

Lopez is solo on stage, with backing track, electric guitar and a rising and unique voice – he starts off with ‘Summertime’ which is initially just vocals before turning all pop-rock dance. He has an album on pre-sale entitled ‘It’s Obvious It’s Obvious’. Catch it now, while it’s cheap, he tells us. This set is a mixture of pop-rock dance and ballads – including his take on U2‘s ‘One.’ He’s a happy soul, engaging with true vocal talent – check him out online or catch him on this tour.

Quick break and we pop to the various bars in the Town Hall before taking our seats (it’s a full house tonight) for pop iconBelinda Carlisle. Big cheer as she takes to the stage, the seated stalls crowd are already on their feet. She has a six piece full band with her and tonight’s ride starts off as she’s into ‘Runaway Horses.’

“Hello Birmingham…” as the lyrics sing out to the next pop hit: “We dream the same dream, we want the same thing…. Oooohhhhh…” we sing. It’s been around a decade since she played Brum and since then she’s released a couple of singles she tells us. It was her son that found her recent song and she acknowledges her support act and talent Lopez that gave her recent hit ‘Sun’, which with support from Radio 2 made the top 40. Carlisle is mid-fifties, but looks a damn sight younger and fitter than her years, as we’re into another hit: ‘I Get Weak.’ The crowd are here for the hits and that’s exactly what she’s here to give us: sing along to ‘Circles in the Sand.’ Some tracks she hasn’t played live before or for a while – ‘Valentine’ was first aired during an Australian tour in 2013. We bop along to the hispanic inspired ‘La Luna’ – while ‘Goodbye Just Go’ is clearly Carlisle taking out her anger at her man.

Back to upbeat ‘Summer Rain’ and then we clap along with her for ‘Big Scary Animal’ – though neither of those appear to be in sight. And those hits keep coming – ‘Leave the Light On’ – everyone’s dancing, going back to those 90s heydays. And then we all join in…  ‘Live Your Life Be Free.’

Just over an hour and we’re into the encore ‘A Woman and a Man’ which gets our feet a-tapping and our heads a-bopping and for some in the audience, true over-exuberant dancing. And now for a mixture of Edith Piaf meets Grace Jones as we get her take on ‘La Vie En Rose’ all danced up.

“You might know this song.…” as it starts off acoustic….. And we sing along with the first verse before we’re into the full live version. ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth.’

There are many die-hard fans here tonight, who have travelled quite a way to see their beloved Belinda. They are gonna be waiting at the stage door for her. Carlisle is very professional and  clearly enjoying the first date of this small tour; these days there’s no need for big tours  – she’s been there and done that. Nicely sized venue to enjoy herself and showcase her long repertoire of songs to her loyal fans. So did Birmingham live up to their expectations? For them it clearly was indeed – Heaven on Earth.

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Setlist:
Runaway Horses
(We Want) the Same Thing
Sun
I Get Weak
In Too Deep
California
Circle in the Sand
Valentine
La Luna
Vision of You
Goodbye Just Go
Summer Rain
Big Scary Animal
Leave a Light On
Live Your Life Be Free

Encore:
A Woman and a Man
La Vie En Rose
Heaven is a Place on Earth

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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.

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