The London Library
‘Fancy going to see Saint Etienne at the British Library ?’ Well that will be a bit different I thought and so it was. It was on one hand a very intimate gig – probably no more than 300 people. Yet it was held in the vast foyer – and I mean vast –the ceiling about 100 ft above us –great swathes of bare wall and open staircases and I’m thinking this will sound really shit! Anyway the male members of the party dutifully parked ourselves dead centre of the stage equi-distant between the speaker stacks (‘cos we know about these kind of things don’t we?) whilst the ladies went and sat on the side, behind the speaker columns and parallel with the stage – what novices, clearly no idea.
So on came the band and within 30 seconds my worst fears came true as Sarah Cracknell’s beautiful but fragile voice disappeared like smoke into the void. Three numbers in I gave up and wandered down the side to where our other halves were dancing around and seemingly having a great time. The reason being that they were right next to a smallish monitor which sounded great. After mumbling something like ‘well it’s a bit better, I may stay’ – for me, the gig then started again and it was wonderful.
The first half was the whole of ‘Good Humor’ with a 2nd set of ‘greatest hits’ and it worked really well – not too long (finishing at very reasonable 10:00pm which for a Sunday was much appreciated) and full of variety. There were the big full on ‘anthems’ (Nothing Can Stop Us Now, Tonight) but also their unique mix of 60’s French pop stylings and wistful English nostalgia.
Sarah Cracknel, now in her early 50’s is still quietly mesmeric whilst the other two founder members Bob Stanley (currently a writer in residence at the British Library) and Pete Wiggs kept a low profile – occasionally stabbing away at keyboards. The real musical heavy lifting was done by a superb touring band who between them played all manner of keys, guitars, flutes and violins. The guy whose rig I was crouching behind was Gerard Johnson who has previously played with Yes and Chris Squire and it showed – but somehow the great slabs of mellotron and double handed ‘Rick Wakeman’ virtuoso keyboard playing just fitted in beautifully.
We all came out smiling and since then I’ve been buying up cheap copies of SE albums on Ebay – my new favourite rediscovered old band. So I guess that’s a sign of a good gig !
Mixed – all types with, interestingly, a very high gay quota.
It made me think..
The fact that I had to work at this gig a bit and that it went from almost disaster to fab experience made it all the more memorable. I’m taking part in a AW podcast tonight – about whether music matters anymore. Gigs like this make me realise it does.