Union Chapel, Islington
The whole experience was ameliorated, for me, by the guitar-trying in Denmark Street, the browsing through Rough Trade and the Italian meal earlier. Taking with me, as I did, a fairly non-commital (but huge music fan) friend it was interesting to gauge the gig through the prism of his reactions. Firstly, Simon made a point of thanking everyone for coming and making clear that they were just going to “do what we do”, which certainly managed the expectations of anyone who, say, had flown in from South Africa for the gig as the chap sitting behind and to the left of me had.
The set list was pretty much as you might expect – nothing pulled out of the bag to surprise and delight any hard core nerdists, but a nice selection of early material mixed in with stuff from the new album which, to be polite, served to highlight the enormous gulf in quality between the two. I wasn’t familiar with the new songs prior to the gig, but I found myself agreeing with a few comments I’d read online previously as regards their depth. It’s probably unfair to drop ‘Summer by the Cherwell’ and ‘Our Bus Rolls On’ into a set next to ‘Genesis Hall’, so I’d probably prefer it in future if they didn’t.
Having said that, ‘Slipjigs no Reels’ was a timely reminder of the strength of the band’s mid-nineties renaissance. Dipping into that particular well a bit more often might be something to savour. I’m firmly in the pro Simon-sings-Sandy camp, and so his takes on WKWTTG and Fotheringay were particular highlights for me, not least because the introduction of a Sandy song seems to at least prompt the idea of getting Chris Leslie to pick up his fiddle, and the sound of him and Ric in harness together is a thing of beauty and wonder. All too soon, it seems, Chris is back off to rhythm mandolin, which isn’t the best use of either the instrument or his talents, IMHO, OOAA.
Jacque McShee was in fine voice for her one guest spot, and Sally Barker essayed a sterling ‘Rising for the Moon’ during which it was hard not to reflect on the number of participants in the making of that that record who will never cross our paths again. The poignancy of the moment was not lost, I think, on anyone.
The closing chapters of the show bought a lovely tribute to Ralph McTell from Simon prior to a resonant ‘Hiring Fair’ – I should say that mid-tour, and for a man of his experience, he was in fine, strong voice – I wouldn’t be surprised if the suggestion that he’s had some coaching were to be completely founded – and then the farce of going offstage before being called back for the MotL ‘encore’, during which my gig-buddy pointed out that it can only be force of habit which suggests that Simon needs to prompt the crowd in what the next line of the chorus should be.
Out of the doors by 10:40, back on the train home within the hour. That was a grand day out. Our fears for the quality of the sound up in the gods were blissfully unfounded, a tribute to the sensitive work of the chaps on the desk(s), and it was only left to my friend to remark on the stage craft. “Yeah, he’s funny, but they could have played another two songs during that routine” and “They do all look a bit like they’ve gone to a barbecue. Except Peggy – he looks like he’s in charge of the barbecue…”
You have never seen an audience look more like their band, or vice versa.
It made me think..
Although, to be fair, they’ve only got ten years on Paul Weller.