O2 Institute, Birmingham
Here’s the vibe, one of the coldest nights of the year, and there are 5 middle-aged men on stage, singing and strumming their hearts out on the cheeriest sounds this side of the Clyde Riviera. This late blooming, new album “Here” featuring in most of the 2016, best-of lists, is a delight, anything from that album segueing seamlessly with anything from before, interspersing old with new with abandon. Like a comfy winter coat, they instil a feel good whatever in their, um, fan club and tonight, Matthew, I was one of them. Kicking off aptly, Start Again, songs from nearly every stage of their 27 year existence were featured, Norman Blake unmistakably in charge, yet sharing and swapping singing duties with bassist Gerrard Love and guitarist Raymond McGinley. the 3 styles of songwriting impossible to differentiate, all a joyful jangle, a word I try to avoid. But can’t. With keyboard/sometimes more guitar and drums adding to the vocal swell, at times this smacked more of the Beach Boys or, particularly with some of the newer songs, C,S,N & Y, albeit ni a good way, if those bands had been brought up in Northern Britain, our own hotbed of Americana, or is it Glaswegiana. “We played here 25 years ago” said Blake ahead of ripping into Sparky’s Dream from Grand Prix, the harmonies in the hall as striking as the stage. Other highlights were the exquisite Baby Lee, from 2010’s Shadows, and closer, The Concept, strung out for all it’s worth. (Strung out, in the Fannies canon means making a pure-pop 3 minute song last perhaps 5. No time for wigging out here, efficient, effective mini-masterpieces) Back for a 3 song encore, now vocally afire with all 5 adding different backing ba-ba-bas to the mix ahead of final song, Everything Flows. On the street by half-ten. Nothing better.
Smiling, singing, refreshed. Past the first flush of youth, it’s true, but not letting go. Still largely dapper, more spectacles and beards than a Costa AGM, and an almost surprisingly proportion, maybe 20%, female.
It made me think..
Why weren’t they huge? Why aren’t they huge? I don’t know, but it’s maybe as well, fame and adulation seldom adding to anyones repertoire without some degree of trade-off. This could have been the same band of nearly 3 decades ago and I hope it’s a living.
Mind you, a few bob more in the kitty might have bought them a better sound system, the mix relentlessly muddy, needing, I guess, knowledge of the songs to fill in the gaps. Which worked, but might have confused a novice.
And this is a band I would like to see outdoors. I certainly hope the festival organisers are booking them up for this year: what was wonderful in a Birmingham November would be transcendent in a field in the sunshine