Blancmange @ Birmingham Academy 2, 11th March 2011

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Now it’s back to one of those bands that shone brightly for a time, producing truly classic tracks, before disappearing off into the twilight, feeling their time was done. And now, after a TWENTY-FIVE year break, they’re back. Tonight, at the 02 Academy 2, welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the newly reformed Blancmange.

Tonight we’re welcomed to the O2 Academy by a Big Issue seller – “Who are you seeing?” “Blancmange.” Explanation added. “Oh – did you like Spandau as well?” Er….

The 02Academy 2 is three-quarters full of forty somethings, predominantly male, who can clearly remember Blancmange first time round. According to Blancmange’s press release they sound as if they never went away. They were certainly influential in their original hey-day, ‘Living on The Ceiling’, ‘Feel Me’ and “Blind Vision” are just some of their stand out tracks. Over recent years, they’ve been acknowledged as inspirational by bands such as La Roux, Hot Chip and Faithless.

Blancmange formed in ‘79, inspired by Joy Division, early Human League and the godfathers of electronica, Kraftwerk. Stephen Luscombe and Neil Arthur didn’t have a plan; they went along with the ride. And by the mid eighties, they felt their time was as a band was over – but kept their friendship in tact. And so, turn to 2010; they started working on their fourth album “Blanc Burn”. This mini eight-day tour is to promote its release.

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Now I should point out here that sadly Luscombe had been advised by doctors not to tour having been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurism near his spine. So for Arthur to continue with the tour, without his ‘partner in crime’, on stage as Blancmange for the first time in twenty-five years is a massively brave thing to do. He’s accompanied on stage tonight by Indian percussionist Pandit Dinesh and Graham Henderson on the digital / keyboard side of things.

So in a small set, with back screen showing arty images, musical interlude starts with ‘Vishnu’ and on they come. First song is from the new ‘Blanc (pronounced Blank) Burn’ album, the poppy ‘I’m Having a Coffee’. “Hello”, says Arthur in truly northern accent – a cross between Sean Bean and the Churchill bulldog – “Long time innit – bloody ‘ell fire.”

Track two is the rolling ‘I Can’t Explain’ which surprisingly, wouldn’t have been out of place had Trent Reznor been singing it. Arthur: “Well you gotta get it out your system – if you were singing away, I changed a few words around – you kinda get carried away!”

Next up the Talking Heads inspired ‘God’s Kitchen’ to which the crowd responds with loud applause. Arthur: “Spoke to Stephen before tonight’s gig – he gave me a hard time – said it better not be another twenty five years before we do this again.”

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Neil Arthur has lost none of his distinct voice and is enjoying playing live, but truly totally stunned that people will turn out to see them after all this time. He’s quite a character with Bean / Churchill-like voice and is thoroughly engaging. Musically live, there is something still current and fresh, in the both new and old tracks. ‘Don’t Tell Me’ starts off wrong Arthur: “That was somebody else’s song (laughing) we were listening to Donna Summer earlier…”

The melodic ‘Waves’ Arthur is definitely stunned by the response. “We made the video in Cornwall – never been so sick on a ship.… kept thinking about the blasted video .” For new song ‘The Western’ with fast ‘do-bo-do-bo-do- bo’ vocals at the end – Arthur gets Denish to complete the song. “Didn’t realize how difficult this would be to sing live when I recorded it!”

Then to the classic ‘Living on the Ceiling’ the audience is in full sing-a-long – completed with a bow from Arthur. Audience member: “Do it again…” Arthur – “Noh”. Shouts from audience. Arthur- “Anything else to add?” Audience member “ Feel Me”. Arthur – “Noh!”

Then set completes with pure class ‘Blind Vision’ and another Talking Head’s inspired track ‘Feel Me.’ Then back on for the encore “ I’m gonna sign stuff afters” – Blancmange complete the set with new song ‘Starfucker’.

Arthur: “Hope it’s not another 25 years before I see u again!”

Blancmange have some great songs. And at tonight’s gig they were still fresh and current, in lots of ways. They weren’t out of step or out of time. They were definitely not, a bunch of old men on stage. Audience members were heard to say they’re definitely going to look out the new album. If they do appear in the next twenty-five years (and this time I am sure they will) with hopefully a healed Luscombe, they are more than well worth a punt.

Everyone wishes Stephen Luscombe a speedy recovery – so he can come along and join in, what is a wholly surprising, but great ride.

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Neil Arthur spent a while signing and chatting to the audience after the gig and gave Brum Live photographer Ken Harrison an opportunity to catch a couple of words with him and to take some more shots.

KH: “Do you mind if I take some pictures here (at the merchandising stall) .The stage lighting was so low, it was hard work to get good shots.”
NA: “It was hard work for me as well!!”
KH: “Neil, why did you leave it so long?”
NA: “I didn’t want to do it, and Steven didn’t need the money”
KH: “Have you got the taste for it again?”
NA: “The response has been great and we’ve got an album of remixes coming.”

Set List:
Intro: Vishnu
1.I’m Having a Coffee
2.I Can’t Explain
3.God’s Kitchen
4.Drive me
5.Don’t Tell Me
7.The Western
8.Probably Nothing
9.Living on the Ceiling
10. Game above my head
11. Blind Vision
12.Fell Me


Happy Families (1982)
Mange Tout (1984)
Believe You Me (1985)
Blanc Burn (2011)

Review – Zyllah Moranne-Brown
Photos – Ken Harrison

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