After having moved venues twice in as many days – we climb to the top of the HMV Institute to see the iconic electronic Blancmange, back again, for the second time in less that a year after a twenty five year hiatus.
This gig started out life in the 02 Academy 2, then moved to the Academy 3, before a last minute move to The Temple at the HMV Institute across town. We don’t know why, but maybe it was because a “lesser known, small band” with the name of Black Sabbath were performing an intimate gig in the 02 Academy 1…
So after a traipse across town and a climb pretty much to the rooftop of the HMV Institute to the Temple (not sure why they’ve gone for this room – The Library would have made more sense – and there’s nowt else on at the Institute tonight). Though fair play to The Institute, the staff are all very friendly and they’ve opened up the VIP Conservatory, with bar and area for those fans who want a fag, without having to traipse down two flights of stairs.
The teeny Temple is three-quarters full – couple of hundred fans – probably due to the fact they’re playing The Slade Rooms in Wolvo the following night. Blancmange were indeed one of the influential pioneers in their 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.
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’.
Sadly Luscombe once again has been advised not to tour having been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurism near his spine (you can read his message on the front of the Blancmange website) . And so again, it’s down to Arthur to continue with the tour accompanied on the teeny stage tonight by Graham Henderson “twiddling the knobs…”
Local bands are tonight’s support’s – first up – The Audacity – inspired by early Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and New Order. Next up – Light Cascades – another young indie electronica band, with female lead plus bass and guitar; they are very early 80s in sound. Set includes cover of The Cure’s ‘Pictures of You.’
And at 9pm, Arthur and his side kick Henderson appear on the darkened stage, with arty screen backdrop accompaniment and we’re into the first track of the night ‘Game Above My Head.’ Arthur stoops and sheltering his eyes from the spotlight, peers into the crowd. His voice still is the iconic sound of Blancmange. With Lancastrian accent “That’s very nice of you Birmingham, find ya way ‘ere did you? We got lost….” (comment on venue change from an audience member) Arthur joking – “that’s what I meant!” Next track “I Can’t Explain “ shows how early Blancmange gained their early influence – very Kraftwerk inspired. Tonight’s set it the old and the new (from 2011’s Blanc Burn); from the first single ‘God’s Kitchen’ to tracks such as ‘Radio Therapy’ …. And Arthur is keeping track of the footie score – “What’s the score?” (Nil-Nil) “ooooo”
The stand out tracks tonight are the main hits of the past – a track that was released thirty years ago this September – ‘Living on the Ceiling’ is still as classy as Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tears Us Apart’. And as the number closes, and the music rolls, Arthurs disappears off stage – to re-appear slap bang in front of us in the audience – before nipping back. “Always wanted to see Blancmange… wish I was thirty years younger” he quips. Few more tracks – then the classic ‘Blind Vision’, followed by Blanc Burn track ‘Starfucker’ then ‘Feel Me’ – a track that Talking Heads would have been proud of.
Off and back on for encore with an unsuspecting audience member he grabbed “while she was on the way to the loo…” The we get the ABBA cover ‘The Day Before You Came’ and ‘Probably Nothing.’ Arthur and Henderson bow to the crowd.
Arthur is chatty – and loves to engage with the fans – he’ll be chatting by the merchandising stand after the gig, and as we leave – most people stay behind for the opportunity……
Tonight’s gig wasn’t as good as their gig last year at The Academy 2 – but that could well have been down to the venue move. There is something very classy about Blancmange, they truly deserve a bigger take-up from those fans who love electronica. They deserved more than the couple of hundred that turned up tonight – however loyal those few are. So go check em out – you will not be disappointed. And to Arthur, and Luscombe, keep it up boys, it’s great to hear you once again.
Brum Live photographer Ken Harrison got to see Blancmange the following night at The Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton with support from local lad Johnny Normal. This gig was indeed Blancmange back on full form (everyone is entitled to a bit of an off night especially with last minute swap-around on venues!) – far better sound and more space on stage. They were also joined by long time associate, Pandit Dinesh, on percussion. Setlist was a bit different – they finished the set with the melodic ‘Waves’.
Ken caught up with Neil Arthur after the gig – and gave an acknowledgment to Birmingham Live! “They’re great!” Cheers matey – we look forward to see Blancmange back in the Midlands very soon!
1. Game Above My Head
2. I Can’t Explain
4. God’s Kitchen
5. Radio Therapy
6. Drive Me
7. The Western
8. Living on the Celling
9. By the Bus Stop @ Woolies
10. Don’t Let These Days
11. Blind Vision
12. Star Fucker
13. Feel Me
14. The Day Before You Came
15. Probably Nothing
Happy Families (1982)
Mange Tout (1984)
Believe You Me (1985)
Blanc Burn (2011)
Review by: Zyllah Moranne-Brown
Photos by: Ken Harrison