It was earlier this month that myself and Rachel made our way over to the o2 Academy in Glasgow to take in the first night of the Soft Cell tour commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the release of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.
There were a touch of pre-gig nerves in that it was the largest gathering we’d been to since the COVID restrictions were eased. There was also a worry that maybe, after all these years, Marc Almond (64) and Dave Ball (62) might not be able to cut it in the same way. The latter was partly driven by a fear of later regretting the fact that so much had been spent on the tickets….the face value was £60, which was for the standing section, and allied to booking and admin fees, the cost had been over £140 the pair, which is the most I’ve ever paid for any gig by one act.
I’ll cut to the chase. The night was an absolute joy from start to end, and I’m willing to say it’s likely found its way into my Top 10 of all time gigs, that is, if I kept such a list!
The duo, accompanied by the imperious Gary Barnacle on sax, along with four backing singers, took to the stage at 7.45pm. They played for about 70 minutes and then took a 30-minute break, after which they played for another hour. So, no grumbles about their ability to cut it.
Opening with a rousing rendition of Torch, and thus immediately setting the stage for how important the saxophonist would be throughout proceedings, the first set was initially dominated by songs which will be coming out in Spring 2022 when a new album, Happiness Not Included, is finally released. A lack of familiarity with the new material didn’t detract from the show, with many of the tunes packing a real punch, proving that Dave Ball still has the touch of genius about him.
Lyrically, with the points driven home by the stunning accompanying visuals, Marc Almond sings of living in something of a fucked up world, with fingers pointed at the failing politicians and greedy, uncaring capitalists for letting the science fiction dreams of the 70s turn into something of a nightmare. It was loud, it was heavy and it was hugely enjoyable, but these veterans know that a show filled with new material can make for a restless audience, and before long, we were treated to some of the best tracks from the vastly underrated 1983 album The Art Of Falling Apart, with the title track being followed by a genuinely epic and bombastic rendition of Martin, the song they sort of threw away by only offering it on a bonus disc that came to early buyer, and which closed the first show of the evening.
We aren’t as young as we used to be, and the audience, as much as the band, needed a break after Martin, as much to get our voices back after the extended cheers and applause that accompanied it. The stage crew got busy adjusting some of the screens that were being used for the visuals while a packed but respectful audience (there were more wearing facemasks than I had anticipated) waited patiently for the second show of the evening, knowing fine well what was coming thanks to the powers of social media.
It was to be a run-through, in the order in which it can be found on the album, of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. It meant that big hit single/cover version would be aired early on. It meant also that Glasgow would be the venue that Entertain Me and Secret Life would be played by Soft Cell for the very first time, all these years on. It also meant the show would close with Say Hello Wave Goodbye.
The lack of surprises did not make the excitement and energy any the less. The opening one-two of Frustration/Tainted Love almost brought the roof down, such was the enthusiastic response of the audience, but even that didn’t come close to the reaction to Sex Dwarf. I was a bit sceptical beforehand about this one….it’s a song that is of its day and I was uncomfortable that it was going to be sung by someone who is now old enough to have a free bus pass; throw in the revelations in recent years of some now infamous folk from music and the entertainment world being revealed as predators, made me fear would come across as shady and seedy
I needn’t have worried. Marc Almond had been in fine voice throughout the evening, much better than I think even any of his most dedicated fans could have asked for. But, and with the help of his four backing singers and the manic playing of messrs Ball and Barnacle, he went for it in the same way that the star of any opera would when they came to the aria which is most anticipated. It was delivered with sense of fun, joy and sauciness rather than any creepy or leery way. The photo above was taken on my phone during the song, and hopefully it shows how much a part the visuals played on the night, but it also gives a hint of the glint in the eye of Marc Almond as he gave what felt like the performance of a lifetime.
The other pleasant surprise was that Bedsitter was extended to include the parts on the 12″ single that didn’t make the cut on the album, and the cheers and applause at the end were an indication of how well it had gone down. It had been another song in which the accompanying visuals were incredible, consisting of central but not touristy London, in the pouring rain, as seen through the eyes of someone who is making their way home, somewhat lost, unsure and hesitant.
Secret Life was well received before the crowning glory of Say Hello Wave Goodbye, turned into a massed and emotional sing-along. Only the smoking ban, and thus folk no longer carrying them, prevented 2,000 folk getting out the lighters and holding them above their heads…believe me, some of the audience were reduced to tears, no doubt thinking back to how they had lived their lives these past 40 years thinking of the broken hearts, suffered and delivered, along the way.
An encore, consisting of a new song, followed by the bleeps and electronica of early single Memorobila, brought an unbelievable night to an end. It’s not often both myself and the missus come away from gigs in full agreement, but we both knew we had seen and been part of something very special.
One of the professional writers reviewed the Soft Cell gig in Manchester a couple of nights after Glasgow. There was a wonderful summary:-
This show has been a real triumph, an almost perfect combination of vocal prowess, musical dexterity and visual choreography. Sometimes you emerge from heritage anniversary gigs wishing you’d witnessed the music when it was conceived. Tonight proves this isn’t always the case. We’ve been treated to a great body of songs, that have not only stood the test of time but live, have seen their impact enhanced by current technology and visuals.