100 Club, London
Here’s a funny one. An old friend texts out of the blue and wanted to know if I fancy going to see Modern English. ‘They used to be called the English Beat’ he writes ‘And had a hit with a song called Melt With You’. I haven’t seen him for a while and could do with a night out, so I sign up.
One out of two ain’t bad. OK, it is pretty bad – Modern English were not The English Beat (or just The Beat) – a shame because it would have been nice to hear ‘Save it for Later’. This happens with people I know – one left a Cowboy Junkies gig disappointed they hadn’t played ‘Perfect’. Never mind: here I am, in the 100 Club, watching a band I know nothing about. So here’s a completely objective review – other than the name, Modern English ring no bells whatsoever.
What strikes me first is the disparity between four of the band and their guitarist. Singer, drummer, keys and bass are wearing the regulation Musician Of A Certain Age uniform of black suits and black T-shirts. They have short, or no hair, depending on what the ageing process has provided. Singer Robbie Grey is very well preserved – looking a bit like Peter Capaldi, white hair doing him favours and clearly getting the most from his gym membership.
Then there’s guitarist Gary McDowell. He appears to have stepped in from another band, and possibly another period in history. He walks unsteadily with the help of a silver topped cane (I read he’s had a few health issues). He wears a leopardskin trimmed frock coat, sports a beard/waxed moustache combo and lengthy hair tied in a knot. He has his own onstage fan. Most arrestingly, he has a set of facial tattoos that a Mexican gang member might consider a bit outré. He could easily be a taking the money at a left of field fairground. 100 years previously, he might have been one of the attractions. But to the Modern English fans, he is clearly the beating heart of the band.
To the music. It has the angular new wave groove going on – and it all seems to be in the same tempo. It’s A Flock of Tears For Oingo Bongo and passes over me quite enjoyably, but not too memorably. As I don’t know what the old favourites are, the new ones sound as good as the old ones. Robbie Grey is a great frontman, conducting responses and applause from the room and appearing to have a ball. And when the hit comes, the phones all come out and most of the room go slightly crazy in the middle-aged way most of us do these days. A neat encore of two more and we’re done, and I’m happy and entertained, mind unblown but spirit slightly lifted.
Almost all people who were there first time around – 10 years older than me. A 50/50 gender split (always nice to see) and a range of nerds and gothy types reliving 1981, plus Japanese diehards at the front. One git spent the whole show taking shaky video on his phone, in front of him an uberfan utterly lost in the moment front start to finish.
It made me think..
A full 100 Club is a good return for a band who have been around this long without many hits. Sometimes it’s nice to take a punt on the unknown, if only to share a gig and a pint with an old mate.
Photos by LH Collins/Wikimedia