Thursday 23 November 2017

Bananarama, NIA, Birmingham

I am a little out of my comfort zone tonight. I know this because I’m at the NIA in Birmingham, or whatever it’s called this week, and the two women in front of me are wearing flashing red devil’s horns as are a distressingly large number of other folk. I have a feeling that the car is out of it’s comfort zone too as it throws a flat tyre into the mix that I don’t notice until we pull into the NIA car park. Hopefully it’s only just gone flat.

I could do with a drink, a pint of overpriced cheap lager perhaps, but in a nod to the times the venue is full of fast food joints and merchandise stalls selling t-shirts for £30 and programmes a snip at only a tenner less. There are hardly any bars which means long queues at the ones they do have, so we don’t bother. Oh, and I have a seat. Welcome to the world of Arena concerts, this is not my usual environment.

Oh, and the support act is a DJ. Hmmm. Really? Apparently Belfast got The Adventures, who are admittedly from Belfast but I'd have contributed towards their air fare.

Tonight’s main attraction, by the way, are Bananarama on their inventively titled ‘The Original Line Up Tour’. Yes, Siobhan is back and so are we. We’d seen Sara and Keren at Splendour a few years ago but this, amazingly, is the band’s first ever tour as a threesome. However, while Splendour was more or less an up close and personal experience from where I’m sat tonight I can’t even tell who’s who let alone able get any decent photographs.

Almost all gig venues are rectangular but places where the experience matters put the stage in the middle but places where the money matters put it at the end, like tonight.

Anyway, I best stop whinging about the place because the girls are good tonight. They’re in good voice, well choreographed and with a very able four piece band backing them with no obvious signs of any backing tapes. The music, well, dubious but popular Stock, Aitken and Waterman era stuff aside, that is good too.

Openers ‘Nathan Jones’ and ‘Robert De Niro's Waiting’ are excellent but probably chucked in too soon, ‘Cruel Summer’ also comes very early, as the pacing does go a little bit awry mid-set with material that many are unfamiliar with.

Some of these are their best songs though because ‘Rough Justice’, ‘Trick of the Night’ and their one and only ballad ‘Cheers Then’ are terrific songs, and very well done tonight. Everyone sits down for the latter, so that is why we have seats because us old folk need a mid-set siesta.

In what is a fairly daring set list they also play their d├ębut single ‘Aie a Mwana’ sung entirely in Swahili which must have took some practicing. For me the earlier stuff is indeed the best, so it’s a little annoying hearing ‘Shy Boy’ truncated and merged with the lesser known ‘Boy Trouble’ but fellow ‘Deep Sea Skiving’ tracks ‘Really Saying Something’ and the closing ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ hit the spot.

They chuck in a cover of Shakespeare's Sister’s ‘Stay’ which is interesting with Sara and Keren becoming Marcella Detroit and (I think) they play only one track from the post-1988 post-Siobhan era, ‘Preacher Man’ which Keren, or was it Sara?, said it was one of their favourites.

There is also the bizarrely brilliant sight of seeing them dance in time with their younger selves up on the big screen on ‘I Heard a Rumour’.

The encore opens with the Fun Boy Three’s ‘It Ain't What You Do’ which they now seem to have claimed as their own. Personally I’d have got the guys to re-record their bits or take clips from the original video so they could have been ‘there’ but what do I know.

Overall though, it’s great entertainment for us and for the girls themselves, who seem to be having a whale of a time. Then it’s gig over, tyre fixed and the M42 closed. What? There’s always something.

Friday 3 November 2017

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Rock City, Nottingham

Tonight’s support band are the incredibly misspelt Restavrant and on the evidence of the last 30 seconds of their set I would have quite liked the sound of them, had I not arrived so damn late.

Then in the gap between bands the entertainment and the intrigue is presented by Rock City’s forthcoming gigs board. Just who are Arse Full Of Chips and am I missing out on something?

Then it’s time for BMRC and I’m in my element. This is how I like my music. Simple. Guitar, bass and drums. Music wi' Nowt Taken Out and nothing added either. What else do you need? And for good measure Black Rebel play it loud.

They also play it dark and smoky, and its therefore pretty dire for photography. The band seemingly disappear completely several times and we can only take their word for it that Leah Shapiro was back there on the drums at all.

Tonight they test the water with a lot of new material from their forthcoming album ‘Wrong Creatures’ although this isn’t due out until January but half a dozen tracks are featured, and they are all met with due respect, including tonight’s opener the current single ‘Little Thing Gone Wild’.

Where as ‘Bandung Hum’ is new but less so (it was also played last year) but isn’t on the album or anywhere that I can see.

Naturally the old favourites go down the best. ‘Berlin’ is as gorgeous as ever but not less impressive are the really old oldies ‘Love Burns’, ‘Stop’, ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’, ‘Spread Your Love’ etc. If there is a criticism it is that, like a lot of bands, they don’t vary the oldies enough. There is a nice outing tonight for ‘U.S. Government’ which doesn’t always feature. 

‘Howl’ is heavily featured with four songs and one does wonder whether Peter Hayes can do anything other than ‘Devil's Waitin'’ on an acoustic. Go on Pete, confuse us next time.

Sadly this traditional mid-set acoustic break which also saw Robert Levon Been perform ‘Sympathetic Noose’ wasn’t treated with the respect it deserved. Too many boozed up folk, who clearly only came to ‘rock’, talked over the top of it which is a huge shame. These people were also most likely responsible for the frequent rainstorms of lager. Something you don’t, thankfully, see much of these days. 

After ending with ‘Whatever Happened...’ and Been inevitably down the front with the crowd, they returned for a brave encore playing ‘Ninth Configuration’ off the new album. A track that is sure to become another brooding BMRC classic.

Twenty three songs and two hours from probably the finest rock three piece around.