McAlmont and Butler + The Magic Numbers @ o2 Institute, 5th November 2015

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In 1995 David McAlmont and Bernard Butler were on the crest of a wave after a now legendary Jools Holland appearance, and the success of the first single Yes. Blink an eye, and twenty years later, after a few false starts and a zillion side projects, it took a charity gig to bring McAlmont and Butler as a duo smack bang back in to the public eye. It’s Weird really; it seemed to come as a surprise. A quite reunion organised in aid of the Bobath Centre at the Union Chapel, assisting children with cerebral palsy, mushroomed into a hastily organised second sell out gig up the road at the Islington Assembly Hall and before you know it here comes the reunion tour, and the reissue of The Sound of McAlmont and Butler.

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Some things are the same. There are still two captivating front men to deal with; our protagonists still have their respective idiosyncratic looks and at their best their sound still comes at you like a feather cushion filled with bricks.

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Some things have changed. The 1995 vintage of David McAlmont seemed an awkwardly aloof individual, the voice of an angel with an unwarranted diffidence, anchored to the microphone. The 2015 vintage is a consummate performer, absolutely sure of his talent and power and still with that angelic voice. Bernard Butler is still a guitar god, but no longer the whirling dervish, being content to let his partner prowl and leap around the stage.

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The core of their band were three out of  four of The Magic Numbers, Sean Gannon being “at home resting”, and they also made up the support for the night. They had their own particular anniversary to celebrate; the tenth of their eponymous debut album. To me that is a scary passing of time.  Like McAlmont and Butler they remain popular and have a loyal fan base, but like the duo perhaps they peaked a bit too soon. Four albums in and they seem set as they are, loved and respected, but not really disturbing the scorer.

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At one point, and as if to illustrate how infuriatingly fickle these things can be, Romeo Stodart, with his big face that just you can’t help but love and more hair than man has a right to have, asked the audience how many of them had never seen the band before. From where I was I saw a smattering of hands raised. The vast majority in the room knew them and knew their stuff. Everyone listened to the newer tunes like Shot In The Dark and the song from the criminally overlooked third album, but it was Love Me Like You and Forever Lost that they were waiting for.

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Even, or maybe especially, in their semi-acoustic mode they are tremendous but even this was surpassed by the addition of McAlmont and Butler for their last song Love’s A Game. It was a surprise but gave us our first view of the pair. Butler denim-clad and still angular with the vast wedge of hair, and McAlmont even more ranging but less hairy, bald pate covered with a flat cap, although as it turned out they were dressed in civvies for their supporting roles.

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They came back on and launched into Can We Make It?, accompanied by the three Numbers, a string quintet and, somewhat incongruously, “Professor” Terry Miles from Death in Vegas. He is a show all on his own but he couldn’t steal the stage from David McAlmont. The set showed us many things: that the strange, almost ramshackle, collection of tunes that make up that first album have stood the test of time; that both front men are significant performers who manage to co-habit the same stage with a lot of humour and no little emotional impact; and that a man can look the business in a cream suit.

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McAlmont was a surprise to me. Yes he has that voice and takes “expressive” to impossible heights but he also put on a show, teasing the band, in particular Terry Miles and indulging in James Brown style false endings, running back to the mic just in time. Although there was a bit of a lull in the middle of the set they were tremendous, and by the second encore and Goodbye I thought it was possible that they may not play Yes at all; and I don’t think too many people in the crowd would have minded, they were all having a great time.

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But of course they had to play it. The Spector-esque wall was cranked up another notch, the faithful sang along and that key change at the end had the desired effect, leaving tears in a few eyes.

The pundits always said that the reason McAlmont and Butler never became huge years ago was their unwillingness to tour. If this tour proves to be a rare event then I feel very happy to have seen them play so well. They were marvellous.

 

Set:

Can We Make It?

Where Are You Now?

What’s The Excuse This Time?

Different Strokes

Tonight

How About You?

The Debitor

Although

Sunny Boy

Disappointment

Blue

Speed

Bring it Back

Zoom (Fat Larry’s Band Cover)

Falling

You’ll Lose A Good Thing (Barbara Lynn cover)

You Do

Goodbye

Yes

 

 

Review: Ian Gelling

Photographs: Stephanie Colledge

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