Like many other things in my life post-pandemic, going to gigs is not as frequent an occurrence as it used to be. I like my evenings at home on my sofa and it has to be something special for me to buy tickets these days. However, I have been to a few since the world started returning to normal (nine, by my calculations) and have one or two lined up for the future. It’s probably time I start catching up with some reviews again.
It was, of course, highly appropriate that my first post-pandemic gig back was my first time getting to see Duran Duran. They’ve been my favourite band for years now but for various reasons I just hadn’t had the chance to see them. When a couple of surprise dates were announced in September 2021, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
I reviewed this gig for both Daily Duranie and Cherry Lipstick at the time, so my much fresher thoughts are out there already and I won’t repeat those. Really it’s just nice to look back, in hindsight, at a really special experience – the suddenness of the announcement, heading down to Birmingham for the evening, the incredible atmosphere at the O2 Academy (a much smaller venue than the arenas Duran usually play) and the overwhelming feeling of experiencing something for which I’d waited a long time. Not to mention excitedly livetweeting the gig (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) 😀
Now, for the first time in nearly four years, I shall update my Band Aid baby bucket list:
It’s been a while since I did a gig review… mainly for obvious reasons! I do have a couple of outstanding events to review from the pre-pandemic world, though, so I’ll get those posted while I’m waiting for life to return to the point where I can go to gigs again.
I reviewed this gig for Daily Duranie at the time (though the page is down at the moment as the Daily Duranie folks are currently in the process of sorting out their archives), so I won’t repeat myself too much, but it was a wonderful show. Some background context: my lifelong ’80s pop obsession narrowed to a Duran Duran sub-obsession in early 2017, but for various reasons the band (who since 2006 have been the classic lineup sans Andy Taylor) have not played any public gigs in the UK during that time, and so I have still not seen them in concert (or been able to cross them off my Band Aid baby bucket list as a result!). I was meant to see them twice in 2020… but then life stopped, as we all know. I now have tickets to see them twice in 2021, but we’ll just have to wait and see if that can happen. I’m not very optimistic, sadly; I expect it will probably be 2022, along with all the other 2020 gigs for which I’m still holding tickets.
However, I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the Andy Taylor gig in London in November 2019! Andy was scheduled to release a new album in 2020 (now scheduled for summer 2021 apparently), and this gig at the 100 Club was the first chance to hear some of the new material (along with favourites from 1987’s Thunder and the occasional crowd-pleasing Duran track!). Andy is also a touring member of Reef, and so Reef singer Gary Stringer was on hand to help with vocal duties.
It was great to be able to get down to London for this (and meet up with other Duranies for the first time). I was so excited to do it all again in Cullercoats in May 2020… but that is another gig that has yet to see the light of day. Whenever it eventually happens, I’ll be there – Cullercoats is Andy’s hometown, so it should be a fantastic atmosphere, and it’s just a short trip on the Metro for me here in Newcastle. A bit easier than travelling to London!
The second gig of my weekend double-header at Sage Gateshead, following Adam Ant on the Saturday, was Shakespear’s Sister on the Sunday. Geth came with me on this occasion, as he’s probably more of a fan than I am – I like their stuff but am not hugely familiar with it. The November tour was in support of recent reunion album Ride Again, the band’s first new material since the early ’90s.
The support act was an artist called Delena, whose saccharine pop was a bit forgettable. I don’t usually have high standards for support acts, as I think it’s great that artists who are just starting out get the chance to go on big tours, but having enjoyed the Glam Skanks so much the previous evening, I was fairly disappointed this time round!
Shakespear’s Sister did a very varied set – a mixture of their new material and their old classics. The new stuff has a slight country and western tinge, which I’m not usually a fan of, but I didn’t mind on this occasion (though Geth wasn’t particularly impressed). It was the more well-known songs in the second half that really got the audience on their feet, though. Both Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit were apparently struggling with colds, and so they sang exceptionally under the circumstances!
On the whole it was a great show with lots of good tunes, onstage banter and interesting visuals. Can’t ask for more.
By Sunday, I was really starting to feel the effects of trying to do a music festival with a bad cold, and so I sort of staggered through the day powered by a lot of Lemsip Max Strength! I’d given up drinking by this point as well, which meant the drunks in the venue were even more annoying.
The Butlins cooked breakfast hadn’t done it for me the day before, so I went for a giant stack of pancakes on the Sunday morning, which was marginally tastier. Geth and I then went back to the hotel room and groggily took ages getting showers and things, so we were a little late into the Centre Stage for the Sunday afternoon session and the first band had already started.
Bands I didn’t see on day 3: nobody, because it was just stand-up comedy in the Reds bar on the Sunday, so I didn’t have to miss any bands!
Bands I did see on day 3:
Black Box were mainly doing their late ’80s/early ’90s dance classics, but there was a good highlight where they did a mash-up of Sweet Dreams and Seven Nation Army with the vocals from the former over the bassline of the latter. They also (obviously) finished with Ride On Time, which was much appreciated by the crowd!
Big Country get super major plus points for being the only band of the weekend with the balls to make a ‘Hi-De-Hi’ gag. Great stuff. I was also excited to tick off the first of the ‘message’ artists on my Band Aid baby bucket list!
Otherwise it was a very enjoyable hit-laden set – with Look Away, Wonderland, and Fields Of Fire (complete with an interesting interpolation of Whiskey In The Jar) all present and correct! In another example of the Butlins stage managers not being able to deal with bands trying to do encores, the band went offstage and the DJ launched into Heaven 17’s Temptation (at which point I expressed my surprise to Geth that the band hadn’t done In A Big Country and Geth shrugged and went off to the bar to get us another drink)…and then Temptation abruptly cut out and the band came back on. ‘We are Heaven 17!’ announced Bruce Watson wryly, before we finally got our rendition of In A Big Country. I have no idea what’s going on with Butlins and their aversion to encores.
We then had a good long break before the evening session, which gave us some recovery time to have a bit of a doze.
Peter Hook & The Light
We’d already seen Peter Hook & The Light at Infest this year, but as I’ve alluded to, the crowd at Electric Dreams is a vastly different type of audience. As such, it was a subtly different show, with more of an end-of-term party atmosphere – Hooky, resplendent in a Christmas T-shirt, explained that it was their last gig of the year, and we got the first (but strangely not the last) of the evening’s Jimmy Savile jokes. Geth went down to the front of the stage while I kept the seats, and from where I was sitting, it just felt really, really weird when the crowd didn’t react at all to the band launching into Joy Division classics like Transmission (especially as I last saw the band at a goth festival with lots of other goths, a subculture in which the Joy Division stuff is absolutely sacrosanct). Geth reported after the set that from his viewpoint near the front of the stage, the band pretty much phoned in the first couple of Joy Division songs until they realised that there was a small group of people down the front who were actually fans, after which they did things properly.
The audience all went nuts for Blue Monday though, so that’s something! Hooky also did the gag about turning the lights up on the crowd and then immediately going ‘argh, no!’, which would probably have been funnier if Big Country hadn’t done the exact same joke earlier that day.
The set was pretty much the same as when I saw them at Infest, except for there being a couple of extra New Order songs – they did Regret, which is one of my absolute favourites (I had it on my Greatest Hits of 1993 album when I was eight). It was also great to hear Temptation again, because the music geek in me was thrilled that it was the first of two famous Temptations we’d hear that night…
…because Heaven 17 were headlining, and they were hardly going to avoid playing their Temptation, were they?
Before the inevitable closing song, though, we got all the classics – (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang, Come Live With Me, Let Me Go – and a lot of very funny stage banter between Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory, who’ve been doing this stuff for nearly forty years and have moved firmly into ‘old married couple’ territory. This included another Jimmy Savile gag (apparently he introduced their first Top of the Pops appearance) and some slightly risqué Morecambe and Wise references.
There was a cover of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, which is another song that’s a bit of a theme for covers at the moment. They also played Being Boiled, which was the Human League’s biggest hit while Martyn Ware was still with the band – which meant that in the space of five days, Geth and I managed to see Being Boiled performed by both the Human League and Heaven 17! Geth preferred the Human League performance, while I gave the edge to Heaven 17. Both brilliant and very different though!
I enjoyed the performance so much that I was really surprised when they launched into Temptation to finish the set – it honestly felt to me like they’d only been playing for about five minutes. I’m so thrilled I got to see them, and not just because it means more artists ticked off my Band Aid baby bucket list! I’ll make sure to get tickets again when they’re next on tour.
Afterwards, Geth and I finished our drinks and sloped off to get some rest. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend of music and the bands were great…it was just a shame we had to go to Butlins to see them.
I don’t really feel that I gave this gig the amount of preemptory excitement that I should have done, given that it was sort of sandwiched between the Culture Club gig of a week and a half ago and the Electric Dreams festival that’s coming up this weekend, and also due to the fact that I’ve been ridiculously, ridiculously busy recently.
As such, I didn’t even realise who the support act was going to be (Midge Ure with his band Electronica!) until I happened to see it mentioned on Twitter the morning of the gig. That was the best kind of surprise, and I spent the rest of the day bouncing off the walls with excitement – apart from anything else, it’s a fairly major scalp for my Band Aid baby bucket list, given that it’s the guy who wrote the song!
Much to the crowd’s delight, Electronica played all the Ultravox and Midge Ure solo classics, along with a much-appreciated couple of songs written for other people! Geth and I were a bit surprised that the crowd were on their feet right from the off (Newcastle City Hall is a seated venue), but I could absolutely understand it, because it was such a danceable and entertaining set. Dude can still belt out Vienna like nobody’s business.
(Also, dude retweeted my excitable gibberish. Yes, he retweets all his mentions, but that was cool.)
Midge Ure & Electronica setlist:
Yellow Pearl If I Was Love’s Great Adventure Death In The Afternoon Fade To Grey Reap The Wild Wind Vienna All Stood Still Hymn (The Power And The Glory) Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
There was a good long break in between Electronica and the Human League, meaning that Geth was able to go and get us another drink. Highly useful!
The Human League are one of those bands that I’ve loved forever, because they’ve just been part of the furniture of my life. I don’t remember where I was when I first heard songs like Don’t You Want Me or Love Action (I Believe In Love), because they’ve always just been there. It was so amazing to see and hear all those songs live – it’s really just the singers (Phil Oakey, Susan Sulley, and Joanne Catherall) who remain from the classic lineup, but frankly, that’s whom you’re there to see. I have to give a shout out to the stage decor as well – it was all made up of pretty neon boxes, and it looked incredible.
My highlight was, rather predictably, Don’t You Want Me – it’s not every day you get to see a UK Christmas number one (1981, in case you weren’t aware) performed live by the original artist (and throwing Midge Ure into the mix, that means I actually saw two artists in one show who had written Christmas number ones! How appropriately seasonal!). However, there was also an amazing moment when they finished the encore with Together In Electric Dreams, the classic hit that Phil Oakey did with Giorgio Moroder. It’s one of Geth’s favourite songs, and he never thought he’d get to see it live, so he’s now making noises about the show being a contender for gig of the year (and given how much he loved Peter Hook & The Light and Promenade Cinema at Infest, that’s saying something).
The Human League setlist:
The Sound Of The Crowd Mirror Man Heart Like A Wheel The Things That Dreams Are Made Of Night People Seconds The Lebanon One Man In My Heart Louise Human Open Your Heart Who Do You Love Love Action (I Believe In Love) All I Ever Wanted Tell Me When (Keep Feeling) Fascination Don’t You Want Me Being Boiled Together In Electric Dreams
If you’re lucky, there’s something special about the song that was number one when you were born. Maybe it symbolises something about your life, or your interests, or the person that you ended up growing up to be. Maybe it’s just a really awesome song.
If you’re unlucky, you end up like Geth and get Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless) (UK number one from 25th May 1980 to 14th June 1980, fact fans!) as your birthday number one. It’s not bad as TV theme tunes go, but it’s not special to Geth – he didn’t grow up to be a soldier, or an expert on the Korean War, or even much of a M*A*S*H fan, really.
I was lucky, and my birthday number one is special to me. I love it as a Christmas baby, as an ’80s throwback, as a chart geek, and as a lover of music in general. It’s an extremely well-known Christmas song – one of those tracks you hear constantly from the middle of November until early January. It held the record for the best-selling single in UK chart history for more than twelve years, only ever being overtaken by Elton John’s Candle In The Wind ’97 after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in September 1997.
My birthday number one is Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, one of the most famous recordings in music history.
I was born on 3rd January 1985, the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-five day period (9th December 1984 to 12th January 1985) that Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? spent at number one in the UK. From the 1984-1985 UK birthrates available online, I estimate that I share my birthday number one with approximately 71,000 other Band Aid babies, including Georgia Moffett, Lewis Hamilton, and Newton Faulkner. (I would love to be able to work out the exact number, but the internet is not forthcoming at the moment!)
Due to the ubiquity of the song, I grew up with it, and it became my favourite Christmas song long before I realised that it was my birthday number one. I pored over the upside-down answers to Smash Hits quizzes that challenged readers to name all the artists involved in the song, and memorised names that were unfamiliar to me in the context of the early ’90s pop music landscape. I dutifully learnt to sing the song with my primary school class in preparation for our Christmas performance at the local old folks’ community centre. I waited excitedly for it to come on as soon as my brother and I were allowed to play the family’s Christmas compilation CD (That’s Christmas) on the 1st of December every year. It’s one of those songs that you hear hundreds of times every year, and so it never really goes out of your mind. That’s not something you can say about Theme From M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless).
The finer points of Bob Geldof’s project to put together a charity supergroup and the song’s recording on 25th November 1984 are well known, detailed in a hundred different BBC4 documentaries and summarised fairly well on Wikipedia (though I highly recommend the Smash Hits coverage of the recording day included in the collection book The Best Of Smash Hits: The ’80s for a bit of period flavour – it has a great group photo of all the artists involved except for Boy George, who infamously didn’t show up till six o’clock in the evening due to oversleeping in New York and having to get on a Concorde back to London).
I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life, including a lot of concerts by artists who were big in the ’80s due to it being my favourite music era and favourite era in general. But the other day, it occurred to me that I had never gone to see a single one of the thirty-seven artists who performed on my birthday number one. I had never even seen any of the additional seven artists who couldn’t make it to the recording and so sent recorded Christmas messages to be used on the B-side of the single.
This is the part of the post where I get to the point.
I will never get to see every single one of the artists involved in my birthday number one. Sadly, two of the musicians who contributed to the song (George Michael and Rick Parfitt) and two who recorded B-side messages (Stuart Adamson and David Bowie) have since passed away. But I have decided that I will make a concerted effort to see as many of the rest of them as possible. After all, I have more opportunity than some. My brother’s birthday number one is Ben E King’s Stand By Me (a re-entry at UK number one between 15th February 1987 and 7th March 1987), which means that since King’s death in 2015 he has no longer had the possibility of seeing his birthday number one artist. People who were born between 14th December 1980 and 20th December 1980, when (Just Like) Starting Over was number one following John Lennon’s assassination, have never had the chance to see their birthday number one artist.
Enter the Band Aid bucket list!
For most of my bucket lists, I reckon that if I’m lucky enough, I’ve got another fifty or sixty years left to get them completed. Time is not so much on my side for this particular list, given that all the artists on it are now in their fifties and sixties and won’t be performing or alive forever. As such, rather similarly to the huge hoard of ’80s vintage clothing I’m collecting while it’s still cheap and plentiful, I aim to get the bulk of this project achieved while I’m still in my thirties, and so I’m targeting >50% list completion by my fortieth birthday on 3rd January 2025. That gives me six years, one month and fourteen days as of this post to see as many of the following artists as possible. I’d better get a wiggle on.