The first gig I ever went to was, as a 15-year-old, at the Glasgow Apollo in May 1979 when I saw The Police supported by The Cramps. Doing the maths, that’s forty-four years of watching live music, which means I’ve had the privilege of being entertained by a countless number of singers and bands.
Nothing, however, prepared me for the night of Wednesday 25 January 2023 when The Delgados ended a short five-day comeback tour with a show at Glasgow Barrowlands.
I came away, quite prepared to believe that, no matter what else happens over the next twelve months, I was unlikely to see a better gig this year. And then I slept on it. And then I spent all of Thursday thinking about it.
I reckon I’ll be unlikely to ever come out of any gig for the rest of my life having been so utterly blown away by what I had witnessed.
I hadn’t quite been prepared for what all unfolded. Sure, the reviews of the gigs in Brighton, London, Manchester and Sheffield had been universally positive, and having looked at the various set lists, I knew what songs to expect. But as I said to my gig-going companions, and occasional TVV contributors, Aldo and Comrade Colin as we walked out to the iconic venue located on the eastern edge of the city centre, my worries were that it would turn into a mass community choir event from an over-excited audience. After all, it had been 18 years since The Delgados had graced a stage in their home city, and there was bound to be a lot of excitement and anticipation to the extent of delirium among the 2,000-strong capacity audience.
We got there early and to our delight, the first person we saw was Stevie (of Charity Chic Music fame) who came and joined us. Over the next hour and a bit before the band took to the stage, and without us shifting from the spot we had decided upon, we must have met or spotted about a couple of dozen more folk we knew, all of whom mentioned the names of other friends who were also somewhere in the building. I reckon, if I had been able to freely wander around the cavernous venue, that I’d have bumped into anyone and everyone who is part of the local music scene as performers, promotors, writers or just regular gig-goers. We were all in this together, awaiting the return of the best and most important indie band to come out of Scotland.
Ten musicians took to the stage – Alun Woodward, Emma Pollock, Paul Savage and Stewart Henderson were joined by a keyboardist, a flautist and a string quartet. The roars were tumultuous. And then something quite beautiful happened…….
mp3: The Delgados – Everything Goes Around The Water
The opening notes of the opening song are played on a flute. The audience responded by falling into a hush. Alun started singing and the band started playing. Emma came in, on cue, on co-vocal and the string quartet joined in. The audience, certainly in the area where we were located, halfway back and in the centre, looked on in awe and with utter respect. Nobody was singing out loud, and nobody was talking excitedly to the persons in the immediate vicinity. The song ended and the audience erupted. Not a word was said from the stage. It was straight into this:-
mp3: The Delgados – Accused of Stealing
A song which has slow bits, fast bits, quiet bits and loud bits. A song which openly invites crowd participation of the wrong kind.
It didn’t happen. Just a few minutes in, and the satisfying feeling that this was going to be something unique, with a band on top form and an audience prepared fully to stand and appreciate what was unfolding in front of them – there proved, all night, to be respect and hush throughout during the slower or more intense songs with releases of energy when the faster indie-classics were aired.
The interaction from the stage was for the most part kept to a minimum. Alun restricted himself to a just saying ‘thank you’ at the end of any song he’d taken lead vocal on. Emma said a little bit more on maybe five or six occasions, but there was always a real flow and tempo to the set. Near the end, there was a little bit of back and forth between Alun and Emma as the other musicians were introduced – ‘the people on stage without whom this would have been shite’ – as well as thanks to the folk on sound and lights whose contributions were equally invaluable.
The lack of chat enabled the band to get through 23 songs in not too far short of two hours, including an encore that was every bit as joyful, classy and perfect as the entire night had been. There had even been a little nod of appreciation midset to Robert Burns, the national bard of Scotland whose birthday is celebrated on the very day The Delgados were at The Barrowlands.
Emma mentioned that it wouldn’t be too long before they would be back, perhaps to a certain bandstand in the city; the refurbished Kelvingrove Bandstand in the west end of Glasgow is the venue for a two-week long festival of outdoors gigs in the summer months when it’s supposed to be dry, although seeing The National there a few years ago was on a night when the rain was of biblical proportions.
It was more reasons for smiles, as those words from Emma meant The Delgados weren’t just getting together for this handful of dates and then going back into hibernation or retirement. And with that, it was time to make an exit from the wonderful old venue, and as I made my way down the stairs, I couldn’t help but going all High Fidelity on myself and thinking where, in the Top 5 of all time Barrowland gigs this would find itself. By the morning, I was thinking where in the Top 5 of all gigs in any location.