I may be over-simplifying things but it seems to me (completely non-musical as I am) that the man-and-acoustic-guitar act is the easiest form of live music. While I’m not denigrating the work these these acts put in – they still have to learn to play an instrument, write songs and have the guts to get up and perform in front of an audience, three things I have never even attempted – there are so many that it is getting harder for them to impress me in any stand out way. There are a couple of local musicians whose work I have taken too almost immediately and others that took numerous performances for me to get and appreciate their music. It’s not that I don’t like others that I have seen, it’s just that, well, they are all seem to be very similar.
Tonight’s opener was Gareth Icke (yes, son of David as I joked with a gig buddy a few nights earlier, only to find out later it was true, assuming his Wikipedia entry is correct) and I fear it’s more of the same. To be fair to him, material on YouTube suggests a full-band sound for his recorded material but, this evening, he was solo on stage. He opened with Route Of Least Resistance, and it was so far, so good, the punishment he put the guitar strings through, powerful vocals and extended “ess” sounds at the end of many lines (think “hopessss”) rising him above the average. The Island was dedicated to his “missus”, whose birthday it had been the day before. She was in the audience and smiled as he capped off the song, musically gentler equally powerful vocally, with hopes of it getting him brownie points. Latest single Get Your Love On was lighter, a potential chart-botherer with the right backing, while Jura (I think, although I can’t find any evidence to back that up) also opened in lively fashion and added guitar body percussion later in the track. The seemingly obligatory six-track support set was brought to a close by What’s Love Without Meaning, Icke explaining that, while David Gilmour had recently “ripped off” a French rail jingle for the title track of his latest album, Icke himself had used the same jingle for this song years previously. All-in-all it this was as enjoyable a set as so many of these acts provide. As with many, though, it just didn’t inspire me to look any further as much as listening to the version of Get Your Love On that can be found on YouTube did.
I remember the name The Icicle Works but don’t remember any of their output and it is only because a friend who shares a fair few musical tastes with me recommended them that I decided to go along to this gig. For some reason, on the way there I couldn’t get Love Will Tear Us Apart out of my head, even though I knew it wasn’t one of their tracks. It is, perhaps, testament to may lack of knowledge that, in hindsight, I think the lone smoker I passed outside Fibbers as I headed in was Ian McNabb himself. As I presented my ticket, Mr H had told me I was in for a good night and as the stage was being set up a roadie taping down a set-list that filled what looked to be a piece of A3 paper, rather than the usual A4, seemed to confirm the promised long set. By the time the band wandered, almost unobtrusively, onto the stage the venue had filled up nicely, the vast majority of the audience male and around my age. McNabb, scruffy even for a rock star – denim-jacketed I feared for his salt-levels in the Fibbers heat – urged everybody forward, “Don’t be shy, you’ve paid,” before telling us, “We’re going to try to play as many songs for you as we can. Have a good time” his Liverpudlian accent and general geniality, referring to the audience as “friends” throughout, give this well attended gig an unusual air of intimacy.
For some reason, I wasn’t expecting keyboards and was immediately hooked by Richard Naiff’s opening to the set which led into a lively, track nothing like what I had in mind. A great start that was met by a fantastic reception from the crowd. By the second song, When It All Comes Down, something was tugging at the strings of my memory. I’m not sure whether it was the track itself or just the overall sound but something was coming forward from the back of my brain in the way that music heard long ago has a habit of doing. The first audience sing-along was, to be honest, a bit lacklustre but with McNabb’s guitar soaring during the instrumental sections the set was already getting better and better and crowd’s cheers getting louder. There’s a hint of fading memories of a busy career as McNabb asked whether he has played York before, then introduced Evangeline as a song from, “The third Icicle Works album, I think…” Once again the keyboards are superb and Naiff’s playing is animated. This time the sing-along is much more impressive. The audience are warming up nicely, even their reply to an early, “How are you doing?” is enthusiastic and, for the majority, favourite followed favourite with Little Girl Lost then Seven Horses, with even its release date getting a cheer, prompting McNabb to shout, “Let’s hear it for November ‘85!” Naiff was a bit less animated during the piano opening to Rapids but, when McNabb acknowledged him at the end of the track, even his bow was flamboyant. By now the audience seemed to be cheering everything, including all the streets of Liverpool mentioned in McNabb’s introduction to Hope St. Rag, much to his amusement. By the time they are singing almost the lion’s share of Who Do You Want For Your Love, I have realised that I have missed out on a great band.
“I hope the memories are coming back to you as quickly as they are to us,” says McNabb, explaining that this is the first night of the tour. “It might not be the same personnel when it finishes,” he quips, perhaps alluding to the fact that he is the only original member. “Yeah, you need a new guitarist,” counters somebody from the audience, to laughter. Perambulator puts that idea to bed as McNabb produces an almost classic rock opening to a track whose slower first half gave way to a faster, impressive second and ended with McNabb acknowledging Matt Priest’s drumming. By now that denim jack was turning a soggy dark blue and you could only wonder at the state of the clothes underneath it. Somehow Blind – a lovely, slow-paced, atmospheric and almost ballad-like song – reminded me of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, whereas (bizarrely) something about the next, with its hard-rocking opening, reminded me of Run To The Hills. I think it was the vocal structure in places. With the set rattling on at a fair old pace Starry Blue Eyed Wonder was followed by Melanie Still Hurts – its opening guitar simply stunning – and In The Cauldron Of Love. Nearly an hour and a half into the set (where had the time gone?) and McNabb announced a fifteen minute break. “Get yourselves a drink, well be back soon,” he said, leaving stage with his jacket now almost totally dark blue, barely a dry patch in sight.
There was a small cheer as the band returned after just ten minutes, McNabb’s jacket discarded, and kick things off again with Up Here In The North Of England, a song that seems very much of its time but was no less entertaining for it and which featured a nice change of pace and tight instrumental section towards the end. What She Did To My Mind saw Naiff apparently playing while on his knees. It’s another that I vaguely remember, although not the kicker of an ending, both musically and lyrically. It’s testament to the brilliant sound tonight that the those lyrics could be heard so clearly. At this point McNabb thanked the audience for coming to see the band, acknowledging that going to gigs isn’t cheap and cheekily pointing out that he doesn’t include babysitters in the list of costs anymore because, “looking at you, all the kids have left home…” “This one’s from ‘83,” he cries and the first notes received a huge cheer, Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream) bringing forth the best and loudest sing-along yet, only to be overtaken by the next track. A count in was the prelude to a false start and a roadie rushed on, apparently to reconnect something, before a second count and the audience singing so loudly that I couldn’t make out any lyrics and so don’t know what the song was, but the increasingly frenetic rat-a-tat rhythm from Priest and Rob Corkhill’s bass was incredible.
With the band off stage again there was the inevitable shouts for more. With the time already passed Fibbers’ usual curfew, I was surprised when they came back on for one more track, a superb evening-ending rendition of Hollow Horse.
As I said earlier, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from tonight. It definitely wasn’t what I got, though. The keyboards and extended instrumental sections gave an almost prog-rock feel and McNabb’s guitar-playing was rockier than I thought it would be. There is a good chance this will end up being one of my gigs of the year and I will definitely be checking out the band’s back catalogue.