Marc Almond @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, 28th November 2010

On this freezing November night it’s off the ‘New’ Alexandra Theatre to see an icon of alternative electronica Marc Almond.

This is his (and yet another act touring with a) thirtieth anniversary tour to celebrate his ‘best bits’ – Hits and A sides.

Marc Almond rose to fame as one half of Soft Cell, formed with Dave Ball in 1979, when they were both at Leeds Poly. Their most famous hit, ‘Tainted Love’ became a dance floor classic available in multiple 12″ vinyl remixes. Most people will have heard, brought or danced to it. Mavericks for the time, Soft Cell celebrated the dark side of the movement with ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ exposing the sleazy side of live they ended up living within.

The critics found them confusing (and before their time) and by the mid-eighties they split amicably, with Almond forming the Marc and the Mambas and subsequently concentrating on his own work, dabbling in a wide range of genres. Though Soft Cell briefly reformed in 2000, Marc continued on his own since then and fought his way back from a life-threatening motorcycle accident, after which he had to learn to sing again. His voice is now probably better than ever. Whether you like him or not, Almond’s work has inspired a generation…

So the set starts off with a film showing Almond’s eclectic career throughout his three decades of work. The audience love it and he appears on stage to rapturous applause.

The Alex isn’t the best venue for a gig, the sound system doesn’t really give his voice justice – undoubtedly in a venue such as the Symphony Hall his vocals would be truly impressive. However, he’s on song tonight, even though he’s suffering from laryngitis and a cough. “We’re all suffering illness – but we’ll battle through ‘cos its show business! I’ll keep going although my voice may be ropey, you can sing the high notes….”

He’s a charismatic front man – happy to chat and engage with the crowd and to shake the hands of audience members.

The set starts off with the hits‘Tears Run Rings’, ‘Hand Over Heart and ‘Stories of Johnny’ featuring a whistling drummer. Then onto a couple of tracks from his 2010 album ‘Varietie’, his first self-written album in over a decade. A few further tracks, including ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’ he departs the stage and we had a second film interlude of Almond from across the decades.

Then an “acoustic” section – just Almond and a pianist – including Soft Cell track ‘Entertain Me’, and the melodic “Gone and Not Forgotten”, a tribute to those who have lost their lives in war. Probably the best section of the show, it truly showed Almond’s vocal talent and lyrical skill.

Then the rest of the band returned and out came the Soft Cell classics and his dabbling with euro-pop. While it was great to hear the classics, somehow a full band didn’t really work on the interpretation of electronica. After ‘Bedsitter’ and ‘What?’ came ‘Tainted Love’ for which the crowd gave a standing ovation. A further song and end of this set – “Thank you for all the past few years…. I’ll struggle on for another thirty.”

And then to the encore of ‘Ruby Red’ and ‘Something’s Gotta Hold of My Heart’, and a break, then second encore. A glove was thrown on the stage, “Oh thank you – you want it back? I was gonna keep it, as a glove puppet, to remember you for the rest of my life. It’s a recession so we got to take our gifts back – oh well you need it to keep warm!”

And then the final song ‘Say Hello and Wave Goodbye” with an audience only sing-a-along to a chorus.

Marc Almond is indeed a maverick. He’s got a phenomenal and unique voice and is a talented lyricist, although dancing is clearly not his forte. You can’t stick him in a box to say which genre he is. He’s continually skirted around the edges, in a similar manner to Nick Cave, and maybe he hasn’t gained the level of success his talent deserves, specifically because he doesn’t conform. In lots of ways he’s a national treasure. Worth a sneak peek, if you get a chance.

1. Tears Run Rings
2. Hand Over Heart
3. Stories of Johnny
4. Nijinsky Heart
5. Varietie
6. ?My Love?

7. You have
8. Tenderness is a Weakness
9. ?Melancholic Girl?
10. Tales of Pearly Spencer
11. Jacky
Film interlude
12. Entertain Me
13. Gone But Not Forgotten
14. What Makes A Man A Man
15. ?
16. A Lover spurned
17. Torch
18. Where the heart is
19. ?Pop Up Poster of a Teenage Dream?
20. Romance of the Night
21. Bedsitter
22. What?
23. Tainted love
24. ?Way You Make Me Feel?

25. Ruby Red
26. Something Gotta Hold of my Heart

Encore 2
27. Say Hello Wave Goodbye

Soft Cell: Non Stop Erotic Cabaret (1980)
Marc Almond: Varietie (2010)

Unfortunately no photographs were permitted for this concert.

Review – Zyllah Moranne-Brown

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