del Amitri at the Symphony Hall
It has been a strange and frustrating journey for all of us over the last couple of years and many plans made in 2019 that were hoping to see realisation in 2020 were stopped in their tracks. For del Amitri this meant that ‘Fatal Mistakes’, the album they finished recording in March 2020 was only released in the following May. As the documentary film that followed the writing and production of the album showed, the post-production remixing was done with each band member in a different part of the world. Their stunning and enlightening film ‘You Can’t Go Back’ also fizzled out without a big finish. This resulted from the show that was planned to reveal the new album being cancelled. This was an archetypal del Amitri ending filled with self-deprecation, humour and modesty.
Top 5 Album
Thankfully, even without a promotional tour to launch the album in May 2021, there was enough support for the band and favourable reviews to get the album into the top 5 album chart. And that support continues to see sell out shows on the tour that should have started long ago. In some ways this is a typical bitter sweet del Amitri tale, of love, loss and ultimately self-reliance and survival. After all, the new album was made and paid for by the band themselves with no label interference or support. Whether by design or luck or sheer skill, del Amitri are back stronger than ever.
When del Amitri last played Symphony Hall in 2018 I wrote “There is one new song in the set, ’You Can’t Go Back’, which Justin introduces and then says ‚‘So we’ll see you back here in a few minutes after you’ve been to the bar’”. At that time the band knew that the 2018 tour was about reconnecting with an audience and as such giving them what they wanted – the old hits. But when you are a great songwriter the newest song you write is always your favourite and when you are promoting a new album, those new songs are going to take up a lot of the set. How well that works within the set and how it goes down with an audience unravels like a good story as the night progresses.
The good news is that the six songs from the new album ‘Fatal Mistakes’ fit perfectly into a set that follows the del Amitri career, apart from their ‘Can You Do Me Good?’ release, which seems all but forgotten, sadly as it is a fine album. The show’s energy levels do ebb and flow, but this is not to do with the new songs, just the tempo of the arrangements.
It is amazing to see the welcome ’You Can’t Go Back’ gets this time compared to when it was unknown to fans in 2018 and that has something to do with its faster tempo and a lot to do with the new album sliding effortlessly into the del Amitri body of work: ‘All Hail Blind Love’, ‘Close Your Eyes and Think of England’ and ‘I’m So Scared of Dying’ could have easily found there way on any of the band’s earlier albums; the consistency in excellent songwriting is clear, spanning as it does, thirty years.
The running order of the songs is sometimes a little infuriating for the audience, as when there are a couple of faster numbers, they are followed by a slower or really slow one. It seems to have been a conscious decision by the band to highlight the more mid-tempo songs and ballads from their back catalogue. Early in the set a few of the more sprightly members of the Midlands’ faithful rise to their feet for ‘Always the Last to Know’ but are sat back down again by ‘Mother Nature’s Writing’.
It is only when their radio friendly hit ‘Roll to Me’ kicks in towards the end of the set that the audience rise and don’t sit down again… even through those heart-breaking ballads. The tempo picks up again for ‘Stone Cold Sober’ and then suddenly it is ‘Goodnight Birmingham’ and the set ends. Everyone is pumped up; our backs are hurting; our feet are sore and you leave us now? But they do come back… obviously. Even though they said they can’t; and the encores are an absolute master stroke.
Some of the arrangements of older songs are stripped back and are both brave and fascinating. The set opener ‘When You Were Young’ for example is softer and more contemplative, starting off with only Justin and his acoustic guitar, before the other musicians join in, but it never reaches the normal energy levels from previous tours. The first encore utilises the same idea and elevates the track ‘Empty’ from a mere album track on ‘Waking Hours’ surrounded by ‘hits’ to an absolute highlight of the night. Arranged with voice and piano, the claustrophobic lyrics pull you in further to that abandoned house – it is startling.
Audience participation is full on now as the band volume level has been reduced; the last lines with only Justin’s supreme vocal filling the hall, except that is for the fans whose timing is way out and who try and sing ‘At least a house…’ before the singer does, on three occasions. ‘It’s all about timing!’ Justin laughs it off and it is clear he and the band are thrilled by the turn out and support from the Midlands. I must note that at times Justin’s right hand trembles and I can’t tell whether it is from nerves or the palpable excitement in the room – the energy within Symphony Hall is exhilarating.
It is a brave band that finishes a show with five of the saddest songs written, with ‘Be My Downfall’ being the last of five stunning encores. I had to smile reading the Facebook comments of a previous show that one fan and his partner’s “our song” is ‘Be My Downfall’ – imagine being someone’s ‘slow road to ruin’? Maybe if they are married they also had ‘Every Breath You Take’ as their first dance… some people just don’t read the lyrics. But I guess being a del Amitri fan means you are preconditioned somewhat for melancholia and can spend the evening ruminating over the last thirty years in a relationship with del Amitri – and for most of us it is the longest relationship we have had, except maybe with your football team. And after all this time we still love del Amitri unconditionally.
Highlights of the night are: Iain Harvie’s performance, his guitar work is still an absolute marvel and his backing vocals support the lead perfectly throughout; the mock fighting between Justin and Andy Alston at the end of his solo in ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ when the long drawn out note from the accordion stops Justin continuing the song, it must be Panto season already; the stunning dual melodies at the end of ‘Here and Now’; the audience joining in with ‘Move Away Jimmy Blue’ and ‘Empty’; Justin Currie’s vocals, still as emotive and powerful as ever; and the genuine feeling of appreciation from the band as they accept their standing ovations before leaving the stage – the love and support for the band still knows no bounds in the Midlands.
When You Were Young
Musicians and Beer
All Hail Blind Love
Always the Last to Know
Not Where It’s At
Won’t Make It Better
Mother Nature’s Writing
Mockingbird, Copy Me Now
Driving With the Brakes On
Move Away Jimmy Blue
Close Your Eyes and Think of England
You Can’t Go Back
Roll to Me
Here and Now
Tell Her This
Spit in the Rain
Stone Cold Sober
I’m So Scared of Dying
Kiss This Thing Goodbye
Nothing Ever Happens
Be My Downfall
Review and Images: Alan Neilson