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Wednesday 1 November 2023

Eighties Gig Double Feature

I've been to two gigs recently, both a little unexpectedly, both 80s pop stars making hay while the sun shines. Last Friday I went to Buxton Opera House with my brother to see Lloyd Cole, touring with two Commotions in his band and playing a career spanning set. Buxton Opera House is a beautiful Edwardian venue, a proper theatre with stalls, circles, drinks orders taken for the interval and no alcohol served during the performances and as a result feels very civilised and not especially rock 'n' roll. Lloyd appears solo at first with acoustic guitar and is then joined by Commotions Neil Clark and Blair Cowan plus an outstanding female percussionist/ drummer. There are two sets with an interval and Commotions songs scattered throughout with a selection of songs from his back catalogue. 

I cannot pretend to have stuck the course with Lloyd Cole- I loved the three Commotions albums back in the 80s, Rattlesnakes and Easy Pieces especially but Mainstream too. I owned/ heard his debut solo album from 1990 and then bits and pieces along the way- but not knowing many of the songs he played doesn't stop me enjoying the show, he and they play well and he has a genuine rapport with the audience. Lloyd is very droll- after playing 1990's Undressed, a song with lines about him and her 'smoking cigarettes naked on the bare stone floor' he tells us that it's a 1990 version of him that is naked, not the 2023 one. Songs from recent albums, Guesswork and On Pain, are played along with Commotions songs- Mr Malcontent is played second song in, on acoustic guitar. As the band appear around him the sound fills out and after the interval Lloyd switches from acoustic guitar to electric bass, Neil Clark soloing on Strat. Lloyd Cole's 80s songs always seemed at least partly a guide to books, films and people you should have seen, heard and know about, lyrics peppered with Eve Marie Saint, On The Waterfront, Simone de Beauvoir, Arthur Lee and Norman Mailer, and those songs get a big reaction tonight. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken? closes the first set in fine style with Why I Love Country Music, 2cv and Rattlesnakes already played. Minor Characters, Perfect Blue, Brand New Friend and (of course) Perfect Skin all show up in the second half, perfectly crafted 80s pop but played with forty years of experience. 1990 debut single No Blue Skies, first song after the interval, is a welcome song and encore The Young Idealists skewers youth and middle age. In the all seated environment of a Edwardian opera house, this is classy adult pop, polite and well mannered.

Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?

The week before I accompanied my friend Darren to The Ritz to see Haircut 100, the early 80s popstars who had a hit album, Pelican West, and several big singles. Singer and guitarist Nick Heywood really doesn't look like a man over sixty and the band consists of two former Haircut 100 players (Les Nemes and Graham Jones with drummer Blair Cunningham absent due to illness), a sharp three piece brass section and percussionist, Sian Monaghan. The crowd is very much there for the songs (and for the poster boys of their youth- 'we love you Nick', one woman calls out between songs. 'We love you too', he replies).  Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl), Love Plus One and Fantastic Day all get played, the choppy guitars and brass at times sounding like a pop, more polished version of Orange Juice along with Heywood's solo single Blue Hat For A Blue Day and a smattering of new songs. The encore was a frenetic version of Favourite Shirts, the 12" mix, played at the double, guitars being scrubbed as much as being strummed. 


Martin said...

I have gig envy on both counts.

Brian said...

I'm with Martin. I have only seen Cole solo. It was great, but to hear the Commotions material with a band (especially this band) would be special. As for Haircut 100, I bought the anniversary box of Pelican West and have thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a disc of works in progress that was meant to eventually be the followup album (with Heyward), and it shows the fellas were really on to something. I'm not much for live albums, but I came away pretty impressed with the joyful performance in the box too.

Nick L said...

Gig envy here as well! Sounds like two really good nights. I saw the Commotions at Kingston Poly (as it then was) the week Perfect Skin entered the charts, then a year or so later at the late lamented Hammersmith Palais. Good band with great, literate songs.
Still love the Haircuts too. What a fab, poptastic album Pelican West is.

Swiss Adam said...

Lots of love out there for these bands, good to hear. Next up for me, Red Snapper- moving on a decade.

JTFL said...

Sounds like fun. I'd be interested to see both acts. I went to see Squeeze and Psychedelic Furs at the Greek in LA a couple of weeks ago. Not sure why Squeeze was the opener, because they're absolutely brilliant. Only Difford and Tilbrook from the original outfit, but they sounded great and all the songs were stellar. The Furs, by contrast, were an embarrassing joke. Glad they went on second because we only lasted 3 songs.

Swiss Adam said...

I saw Squeeze last year JTFL- a good night out and great song after great song.

Rol said...

Adam - we were at the same gig!

Lloyd, that is. (Though I would have loved to see Nick Heyward too.)

I was upstairs, middle of the dress circle.

Having seen Lloyd quite a few times in the past 20 years, I had a few quibbles about the full band arrangements and the curious set list. And I say that as someone who has bought and loved every one of his albums. Still, a great night, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Swiss Adam said...

We were upper dress circle, dead centre- so very close to you Rol. If only we'd known!