5 September 2016 at Islington Assembly Hall, London
Okay folks. Anyone who regularly reads my articles (which is possibly just that one bloke that I know from many years ago) will know that I don’t tend to write gig reviews in the usual way. In fact, I don’t really write anything in the usual way, but I digress. Most of the time at gigs I won’t remember all the songs that were played as I can never write them down in the dark. It’s also quite off putting to the people that I’m with as they find it somewhat annoying that I’m either writing on my hand or rooting around in my bag for a pen and paper.
I honestly wasn’t going to bother with writing a review of the Teenage Fanclub gig in London this week because I didn’t make any notes at the time as I was trying to be cool with my companion for the evening and not appear like the massive geek that I am. But when an online friend presented me with a picture of the set-list I had the perfect excuse. Thanks Paul :0)
So, am I a massive Teenage Fanclub fan? Probably not as much as some of the other folks I know online, but I have followed them for many years, own a considerable amount of albums and like their music very much. The last time I saw them live was a really, and I mean a really long time ago. When they announced that the new album was in the works it was something of a edge of your seat time. Would there be gigs? Where would they be? When would they tour? It was exciting to watch and wait for the news to break. And then it was announced. Just a few shows for now, but unfortunately nothing near to me. London was on the list though and I had a sense that I wouldn’t want to miss it so I geared myself up for another solo trip.
As I was in the process of getting round to booking it, I happened to email my old friend Kevin about something else and asked him if he fancied going. I didn’t really expect him to say yes to be honest, but he did. Now let me explain who this person is. He’s an old work mate who I haven’t seen for over 15 years and the person I credit for giving me a lot of the musical taste I have today. He introduced me to artists such as The Divine Comedy and Belle and Sebastian to name but a few. In other words, I’m kind of his fault.
Cut to the evening of the gig and to me standing outside Highbury and Islington tube station considering the fact that it might all be an elaborate joke and he wasn’t going to turn up and I’d be left with an extra ticket to try and flog. But I was wrong. He did turn up, we reminisced about work, I spilt beer all over the table and tried to blag a free pizza, it was great. I’d never been to The Assembly Hall before so was impressed by the building. We had seats upstairs which provided a great view of the stage and the crowd downstairs all eagerly waiting for the band to arrive on stage. One thing I have to point out is it was boiling inside. And I mean roasting. I don’t think I’ve ever been that warm at a gig before so heaven knows what it was like being in the crowd below.
Taking to the stage at 9pm, the band are greeted by an audience of fans who are there to bathe in the sublime beauty of their gentle harmonies and heartfelt lyrics that have made them so beloved over the last 25 years. Beginning rather fittingly Start Again, it was a wonderful opening to what would be a pleasant walk though a back catalogue so rich with marvellous tracks that we all had no idea what they would play next. Kevin commented to me on the way home that it must be great to have so much material to choose from when making up a set-list!
Showcasing songs from their upcoming new album Here (which is released this Friday), it was obvious that they haven’t lost any of their songwriting edge over the years. Norman Blake commented that the album would be competing in the charts with The Beatles so “I’m sure we’ll be at that number one spot” which was met with much amusement.
Taking it in turns to take the lead on their own songs which I think is a wonderful trait, I was very happy (as were the crowd below) when Gerry Love came forward and the opening to Sparky’s Dream started. I think I saw some arms in the air and heard lots of singing along which was lovely. That’s one of the things that I like about this band, they all have equal playing time for their own tracks.
For me, it was kind of nice to see a collective of 50 somethings on the stage just doing what they do with no pretence or need for anything more than that. Simplicity in the easiest and most wonderful form. There wasn’t much banter from the band to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We all knew why were there and we loved every minute of it. Finishing with the marvellous The Concept, a small reprise of a few minutes was allowed while the audience cheered for more.
Returning to the stage for an encore, I was delighted to hear the ‘bar bar bars’ of I Need Direction which was hastily followed by the pounding guitar of Can’t Feel My Soul. And speaking of guitar, to end the evening we were met with “the song we always end with”, yes it was Everything Flows with it’s amazing outtro. And that was it. I was very sad when it was all over.
Looking around at the happy faces of those leaving the gig, it was clear to see that even after 25 years, this is a band that still means a great deal to so many people. We’ve grown up with these songs and they have been there as a companion to our lives. I have no doubt that the new album will slot into the mix just as easily as the others have which is no mean feat and that the upcoming gigs later this year will be a treat for those attending.
And as for me. Well, I finally met some online friends that I’d never met before (including the man behind the Everything Indie Over 40 website), got hugged by a Bluetone who just so happened to be there aswell plus I finally got to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen for over a decade. All in all it was a pretty good night. Apart from the fact I brought a coat with me. On the hottest night of the year. Oh well.