I’d never have believed anyone who suggested after the Norman Blake/Euro Childs gig at the Strathaven Hotel back on Friday 21 February 2020 that it would be just over 19 months before I saw any live music again.
The COVID pandemic has been an absolute bastard for all sorts of reasons and in so many ways. And yet, relatively speaking, I’ve not been badly affected by its impacts other than it has put a stop, temporarily, to so many things that are enjoyable.
When the venues were first closed down, I really resented it all. It wasn’t just the music that I was missing – indeed, that felt secondary to the fact that so many familiar and friendly faces were disappearing off the radar. But, and I’ll be brutally honest here, as time has gone on, that resentment disappeared, and I began to get used to a gig-free life, helped by the fact that some of the familiar and friendly faces were keeping in touch via catch-ups in bars and cafés. I actually wondered at times if my enthusiasm for live music would ever be rekindled, especially as I was getting e-mail after e-mail advising of yet another cancellation for tickets bought such a long time ago.
It took until 18 August 2021 for the Scottish Government to publish its guidance for the reopening of cultural events and venues. My first scheduled gig, as far as already owned tickets were concerned, was scheduled to be Arab Strap at Glasgow Barrowlands on Friday 10 September. But at the same time as this was being confirmed, other gigs in smaller venues were being cancelled or rescheduled, which got me thinking whether or not it truly was safe to go back to a music venue. In the end, I took the difficult decision to give Aidan and Malcolm a miss, far from secure in my mind that I wouldn’t be going to some sort of super-spreader event, unnecessarily putting my own health, and that of my wife, parents and close contacts at risk.
My next gig was scheduled to be Scritti Politti at St Luke’s, Glasgow on Monday 27 September. This really felt like something of an acid test. The venue was smaller but being a converted church had a very high ceiling so wouldn’t feel claustrophobic or likely get too hot and stuffy. The band was likely to attract a more mature audience who were more likely to follow the advice around spacing and the wearing of masks, which would take care of some of my main concerns. Finally, even though it was a ‘safer’ gig than many, it was still likely to be less than 100% capacity as some folk would still need some convincing that it was a sensible thing to be there.
You’ll have worked it out that I did go along, accompanied by my sidekick Aldo, who just happened to be with me at Norman Blake/Euros Childs all those months ago. And yes, it was his return to the live scene too.
Our verdict? It really couldn’t have gone any better or been any more enjoyable.
There proved to be no issues whatsoever to cause any undue anxiety that St Luke’s would prove to be an unsafe environment.
And the music turned out to be quite special too.
Support was provided by Alexis Taylor, best known as the lead vocalist with Hot Chip. Although I was unfamiliar with much of the material, his 45-minute set of largely gentle and easy-paced songs, centred around him on either keyboards or guitar, provided an ideal reintroduction to live music. I just happened to be at the bar when he offered up an excellent cover version of Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones for about his fifth or sixth song, and I remarked that I’d love someone to cover Wild Horses by Prefab Sprout for a change. To my utter astonishment, that turned out to be the very next song played by Alexis Taylor…..and he did it very well, I’m pleased to say!
And so to Scritti Politti.
I think it was last December that I bought the tickets, excited by the fact that the tour was to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Cupid & Psyche 85, with the album, in its entirety, to be performed live for the very first time. I wasn’t the only blogger excited by the prospect, as Brian from Linear Track Lives got in touch to say he and his wife had decided that a trip to Glasgow all the way from Seattle was just the tonic they needed to help get over all the post-COVID blues and that tickets had been purchased and plans made for flights and hotels. Sadly, the easing of travel restrictions between the US and the UK came too late to allow Brian to confirm everything with a degree of certainty, and so he pulled the plug a few weeks back, but very generously passed on his tickets and asked that they find a good home to go to. And if you happen to read this my friend, I can confirm they did and that Juliette and John were very grateful.
Green Gartside has, on the basis of last night’s show, made some sort of pact with the devil. He is 66 years of age, but looks at least 20 years younger.
And then there’s his voice.
The show opened with The Sweetest Girl, arguably the most popular and enduring of his songs from the back catalogue. It was note and pitch perfect, to the extent that if you closed your eyes, it could sound as if he was miming and that the vocal track had been lifted from an album released as long ago as 1982. And it remained that way throughout a crowd-pleasing set which went all the way back to the very early days and threw in an as yet unreleased song, prior to the promised run-through of Cupid and Pysche 85:-
The Sweetest Girl
Day Late and a Dollar Short
The Boom Boom Bap
Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy)
Skank Bloc Bologna
The Word Girl
A Little Knowledge
Don’t Work That Hard
Lover to Fall
Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)
There was a real surprise for the encore. A very faithful version of At Last I Am Free, a ballad written and recorded by Chic back in 1978 (and later recorded by Robert Wyatt, who has long been a hero of Green Gartside) for which Alexis Taylor returned to the stage for a co and backing vocal.
It was a beautiful and perfect musical ending to what had been the most enjoyable occasion, made all the better for stepping outside and seeing a group of other friends who had also been at the gig, including Duncan and Wendy whom neither myself nor Aldo had seen for more than two years when we used to bump into them on a very regular basis at venues all over the city.
I never anticipated it being such a perfect night. And as it whetted my appetite for more live music over the coming weeks and months, you could say it was job done.
Loads of highlights to choose from, but I’ll settle on the surprise of such an early song and the majestic way one of the best pop songs of the 80s was delivered last night:-