Go West & Nik Kershaw – The Grand Opera House, 14/11/15

Given the number of gigs I go to, along with the fact that I started properly listening to music, buying albums and going to gigs in the eighties, it seems strange that I don’t think I have seen a single eighties band since I started this sustained period of live music appreciation a few years back. There’s probably two reasons for that. Despite eighties revival gigs being big business, I can’t think of many iconic bands from that decade that have ventured into York. I think Erasure were here relatively recently and Adam Ant, but neither of them interested me. (Having said that, I am thinking of seeing Adam Ant next year.) The second reason is that much of the eighties music wasn’t too my taste. I remember a conversation I had with gig buddies a few years ago in which they decided that eighties music, as a whole, wasn’t very good. Checking my CD collection afterwards, I found that I had few albums by bands that formed (or found fame) in the eighties and most of my CDs from the period were from bands who had stared out earlier.

Having said that, when a friend’s Facebook post alerted me to this gig, I knew I had to be there. After all, you can’t dismiss an entire decade’s worth of music just because it saw the birth of Culture Club, The Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell. In the end, I went with the family – Debbie keen and a not-so-well (and quite tired) Elizabeth being dragged along to her second gig in as many days.

I remember being very excited on hearing Heart And Soul, T’Pau’s debut single, for the first time. I played Bridge Of Spies (and subsequent albums) to near destruction and saw them live in the now levelled – but still my favourite venue – Queen’s Hall in Leeds. And, let’s face it, Carol Decker… I always preferred Nik Kershaw to Duran Duran, thought his Human Racing was superb, The Riddle even better – I still remember the near constant attempts to work out what the title track was actually about – and even bought Radio Musicola, which prompted an uncle of mine to ask whether Kershaw had written to personally thank me for doing so… I also saw him live, at the Birmingham Odeon. I also owned a copy of Go West’s self-titled debut album back in the day but, until tonight, I had never seen them live.

With the band already having taken their places on stage the announcer asked us to welcome Carol Decker onto the stage and she kicked things off with Sex Talk. Her hair might now be a few shades less red and tonight’s red leather coat may contain more material than her entire outfit the last time I saw her on stage but there was little doubt that she still had the vocal power and a willingness to entertain. Thinly veiled, yet humorously delivered, adverts for her new album and an anniversary box set of Bridge Of Spies mixed with quips to the audience and a brilliantly told story about how T’Pau were Nik Kershaw’s support act back in the eighties – “He didn’t like it, but his management thought it was a good idea…” – and here she was, twenty eight years later, still his support act. As such, she delivered a short set but covered a fair bit of T’Pau history. Secret Garden and Valentine book-ended two tracks from this year’s Pleasure And Pain. Read My Mind opened slowly but built quickly when the full band came in. It was, perhaps, more ballad-like than most of T’Pau’s output. Misbelieving, on the other hand, had that more familiar sound. Still slow, it featured a nice instrumental section which saw Carol hidden from view as guitarists Ronnie Rogers and Deeral took centre stage. “I’m in that guitar sandwich every night and it’s a very nice place to be,” she quipped at the end of the song. Almost inevitably the set ended with T’Pau’s two best known tracks, Heart And Soul and China In Your Hand. There were groans from the audience when the latter was announced, but only because it was the final song. Invited to sing along, the crowd did so, with gusto, arms waving during the reprise. “They’re a much better than the Butlins lot last week,” confided Carol to the band, just before leaving the stage to loud cheers, lots of applause and a few shouts for more. It was definitely too short a set.

With barely a pause, and only two changes of personnel in the band, the evening continued and I was surprised to find that Go West and Nik Kershaw were performing together, not as separate acts as I had assumed they would. Admittedly, there were comings and goings from the stage as one act left to let the other perform one of his/their own songs but, for the most part, this was a sort of eighties “supergroup”. Another surprise was that they weren’t just doing their own material.

“You bought a ticket for us and Carol. You’re probably not expecting to hear this,” said Kershaw and the band started playing Everybody Wants To Rule The World, to which he and Go West’s Peter Cox provided shared vocals. It might have been unexpected but t didn’t seem to bother the audience, who were already lively and loud. “There he goes. He can only do one song,” said Cox, joking that we should have read the poster carefully, as Kershaw left the stage before Go West performed Call Me, the audience readily joining in with the chorus, and Faithful. There was another swap as Cox and Richard Drummie left the stage and Kershaw re-appeared to a big cheer and played Wide Boy, during which he played an extended guitar piece, and then dedicated Don Quixote to his wife – “She f***ing hates this one…” – his vocals during it sounding slightly more nasal than I remembered them. The Nik Kershaw that I remembered seeing live all those years ago used a head-mic and traversed the stage, playing most of the instruments on it. The 2015 version stayed behind his mic stand and just played guitar. The on-stage banter continued as Go West returned. “Sssh, they’re back,” Kershaw announced, before telling us, “I wrote this one in 1989 and then shelved it until some geezer called Chesney Hawkes did me a massive favour.” I’m not sure I knew that he had written The One And Only, nor that I would ever enjoy hearing it played live. “Now that we’ve got you moist and gagging for it, we are going to take a break. We need our medication,” he said, just six songs into the set. It seemed a strange way to structure a gig to me.

After that break, the trio (and band) returned for another song outside of their canon, a rendition of Seal’s Crazy after which Kershaw once more left the stage and Cox told us to fee free to get out of our seats. One group in the middle of our row had been on their feet for most of the set thus far and there had been rumblings from the other side of us about getting the entire row up and dancing, so little encouragement was needed and we joined many more in the audience dancing along to Don’t Look Down. The next surprise was the next song of the set – Sam Sparro’s Black And Gold is from nowhere near the eighties… Then it was back to Kershaw’s catalogue for Dancing Girls and When A Heart Beats. With the between song chat there was a nice feeling coming from the stage. References to a thirty year career carried an undertone that the acts acknowledged that they had reached and passed the peak of fame some time ago but were now going through an enjoyable renaissance. “I know what you’re thinking, ladies. You still would, wouldn’t you?” joked Kershaw and, despite the fact he is no longer the fresh-faced heartthrob and, these days, sports more of a widow’s peak than the quiff of his heyday, you got the impression he was right.

“This one’s not from the eighties,” said Cox before a cover of Birdy’s Wings. “There’s two reasons we are playing it – we like it and we can…” It was the only track of the evening that I didn’t recognise, but they managed to give it an almost anthemic sound that seemed somehow ill-fitting with the rest of the set. Go West’s Goodbye Girl was followed by them performing Nobody Knows from Kershaw’s Radio Musicola album. In my head I could hear my uncle twisting the title to “Nobody’s Heard It” but it still brought back memories for me. Kershaw then returned the favour by playing Go West’s Missing Persons, a track I only vaguely remembered, despite it (like all but one of the Go West tracks tonight) being from the album that once graced my collection, perhaps because it was given a Kershaw makeover tonight. He followed it with, arguably, his most famous track and the biggest surprise, given the history of The Riddle, might have been that nobody shouted out to ask what it was about.

There was another cover, this time The Eurythmics Would I Lie To You? before Cox started some vocal gymnastics that heralded the start of We Close Our Eyes, Go West’s biggest single, which received a huge cheer from the audience as it finished. Kershaw returned again for Wouldn’t It Be Good and the audience were already singing the chorus during its introduction and shouting for more as it finished, even though everybody was still on stage. “OK, we’ll carry on,” smiled Cox as the band started playing King Of Wishful Thinking. Memory is a strange thing – I can’t have heard this track since its release twenty five years ago, yet every lyric came flooding back to me as I joined in the sing-along. That memory deserted me during the next track, though – despite knowing every word as it was sung, I couldn’t bring to mind the title of Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me until Kershaw reached it. It ended up being another familiar song given a live twist as Kershaw played a short, blues-like section within it.

That was to be the final song of the set and, while the audience clapped and shouted for more, I racked my brain but I couldn’t think of anything left that would be suitable for an encore – all the best known songs had gone, hadn’t they. I was proved right when, returning to the stage, Cox announced, “We have one more naughty little thing to play for you.” It turned out to be another cover, and another not from the eighties. Most of the audience seemed to love the performance of Sex On Fire but I thought it was a poor choice for an encore and would have preferred a two-song encore of, perhaps, The Riddle and We Close Our Eyes.

I went to this gig expecting two headline sets. The joint performance worked and I have no problem with that but the inclusion of covers, especially the non-eighties ones that bore no relation to the acts’ output, was less welcome. Not that they were performed badly, just that I would have preferred to hear more from the acts I went to see. Kershaw once had enough material for a headline set of his own. I assume so did Go West and many in the audience would have been familiar with album tracks as well as more well known singles, so why not throw some more of them in as well? Having said that, it was a great night and a brilliant opportunity to hear some of my favourite music from the past. Much of the older music I listen to these days is stuff I am discovering now. With these three acts, I was there at the beginning.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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