Theatre of Hate
When I last reviewed a Theatre of Hate gig back in 2013 (https://ello.co/alementary/post/zupaq6crhp1gi4szyuqayg) I said it was the best live show I had ever witnessed. Having seen Kirk Brandon’s acoustic show earlier this year I knew he was still at the height of his vocal powers but was aware that the Theatre of Hate band had changed since the 2013 tour, losing original member John Lennard to Clive Osborne and Danny Farrant to Chris Bell. Original bass player Stan Stammers thankfully is still in place, as is ex Sex Gang Children guitarist Adrian Portas. The thing is though, despite those changes, Theatre of Hate are better than ever – the two personnel changes have made the band tighter and tougher, and almost more powerful than any of their previous incarnations.
How is that even possible? Well, Chris Bell is a power house behind the kit and his timing and feel are perfect, allowing the band to build on that solid foundation. And Clive Osbourne brings a more rock n roll sound to the sax – of course he follows Johnny Jazz’s original riffs and melodies in the songs but adds his own flavour and distinct rawness when he can. Kirk Brandon is the beating heart of Theatre of Hate. His skill and imagination as a songwriter, his insightful lyrics and knack of taking a melody where no one else would, has meant his songs have lasted over four decades and are still as fascinating to hear now as in 1980.
He still belts his words out with utter conviction and his voice has a wonderful quality, incorporating a youthful vigour yet with years of maturity and experience: when Kirk sings I feel as though I can picture him standing there as a 20 year old next to the older man he is now – shoulder to shoulder. Maybe that is because as a young man, Brandon wrote songs way beyond his years; for instance, he never wrote a simple love song, he sang about the original sin or lying when he said you loved someone… did he really mean “Hold me ‘til you die”? when he said it to his partner, or did he feel compelled to retract that sentiment later on (“When I tell you that it was all lies”). Was his reality and sexuality ever questioned?
Was he ever on the receiving end of verbal abuse (“You there stupid queer, in front of your mates you cheer”) – are we confusing the singer with his subject? No matter what the answer, as a young man knowing through Brandon’s lyrics that life was never as simple as black and white was empowering to me. And that feeling is still very much alive in the Steel Mill tonight – it is blatantly obvious as I look around the venue and see a packed room of 50 somethings still proud of their decision all those years ago to be one of Brandon’s freaks. Who wants to be a normal?
Tonight’s set list is a thoughtful and considerate mixture of Theatre of Hate’s original singles and album as well as their more recent releases (‘For Whom the Bell Tools’, ‘Pariah’, ‘Solace’, ‘Slave’, ‘Day of the Dog’ and ‘A Thing of Beauty’ which I admit I am not as familiar with) – but the quality of the songwriting is so clear and consistent, the new songs fit in perfectly. Admittedly, the audience’s energy peaks during the 1980 to 1982 output and we scream along with every word.
With an extended microphone, Brandon encourages the faithful to sing the final moments of ‘Legion’, which takes more breath control than memory as we just sing the word ‘legion’ over and over again. He joins in until the last screamed word, when he allows the audience’s voice to echo around the space on its own and this puts a wide smile on Brandon’s face. Something he should do more of, but the thing is, he is so intense and so into the sound the band makes and the impact he sees in the audience, he is almost trancelike throughout. If Kirk Brandon was not in Theatre of Hate he would be hanging over the stage barrier screaming along with the rest of us.
So many of the songs tonight are recognisable within moments, often because of the incredible bass lines of Stan Stammers: ‘63’; ‘My Own Invention’; ‘Incinerator’; ‘Propaganda’; ‘The Hop’; even ‘Rebel Without a Brain’ and its simple intro of repeating four quarter notes. He is such a great bass player and performer, with his Clockwork Orange-esque outfit of bowler hat and all white clothes; he prowls the stage with an intense stare throughout. Stunning. Stand up Stan and take a bow, you are colossal.
After a phenomenal full throttle 90 minute set, they close the night with ‘Incinerator’ and it takes me right back to listening to ‘He Who Dares Wins’ in 1981 (pay no more than £2.49 – what a bargain). I almost heard a ghostly voice apologising for leaving the synthesizer in the van at the beginning of ‘Rebel Without a Brain’ or introducing a song with “This is a sin which gets committed every time” or the sound of four bass strings being plucked to ensure they are in tune… or particularly at the end of the set before the encores, the Leeds Warehouse MC saying “Let’s hear it for the Theatre of Hate” before a few scattered shouts of encouragement.
However, this performance is not about nostalgia, it is not about saying weren’t things better back then, or wasn’t music better, or weren’t Theatre of Hate a great band… Theatre of Hate ARE here now – they ARE a great band right at this very moment. It is impossible for band and audience to disconnect themselves from the past because that is what made us what we are now, but it is very much a forward facing set of musicians that blow away the room in Wolverhampton tonight. Theatre of Hate continue to be the finest example of post-punk new wave, still active and vibrant and valid, that there is.
At an early age you choose your bands like you choose your football team and you stick with them. Some bands become international superstars, others keep a small but loyal following – like many of those attending tonight’s gig, I’m glad I chose Theatre of Hate in 1980; they have been and continue to be, consistently inventive, interesting and fascinating to watch.
(by the way I feel I need to add much praise to the wonderful Wolverhampton venue ‘KK’s Steel Mill’ – set up by KK Downing of the Midland’s own Judas Priest. It is a fantastic venue with a great stage area and sound system and a large chill out area when you need to rest your ears. It is a refreshing experience to be in a venue where you are not crushed into a corner of one room and are unable to get to the toilet without pushing your way through 2000 people. Good to know for those of us over 50. With the Civic Hall still being refurbished the Steel Mill should try and encourage all genres of music to play there, as I notice the up and coming events are mainly rock and metal. This venue could host any artist and audience – it is stunning.)
Review and Images: Alan Neilson