In 1982, a skinny 19-year-old stood outside Hatfield Polytechnic, trying to get someone to sign him into the Student Union bar, so he could see the band with whom he had become obsessed. Perhaps, more accurately their lead singer, a similar aged Scottish girl, called Clare. Nobody signed him in and heartbroken, he never got to see the band before they broke up several years later. Hearing the band through the wall was as close as he got, until tonight.
Altered Images were massive favourites of the legendary John Peel. They even let him sing backing vocals on Song Sung Blue, a Neil Diamond cover from their second LP. Tonight’s crowd seems to be populated with males of a certain age, to a man, fans of the late DJ.
Academy 3 isn’t full but there is a buzz in the room. Altered Images have gigged sporadically over the years since last decade, mostly as support on various 80’s Night Tours and more recently as tour support to the reformed Human League. Tonight sees them as headliners in their own right, embarking on a mini tour as a precursor to a new album, Mascara Streakz recorded in 2021 and soon to be released on Cooking Vinyl.
Another new line up, which doesn’t include hubby and former Altered Image Steve Lironi, hits the stage as the opening bars of “I Could Be Happy” start up. Fortunately, it’s the 7” version and Clare Grogan bounds onto the stage, resplendent in dark glasses and we’re up and running. [The album version intro is over 3 minutes long before the vocals start!!]
Most attending may have been expecting a set mainly made up of the first 2 albums. Then we’re straight into See Those Eyes. Her voice still sounds as twee and girlie as it did on those early recordings four decades ago. She seems to be genuinely happy to be back on stage, dusting off these songs and almost embarrassed at the same time. Turns out that she got the creative urge again last year and we’re introduced to the title track taken off the impending LP. Mascara Streakz is pure pop music and a natural progression from the direction the third LP, Bite, took before the band decided to quit. Before launching into a personal fave, Insects, Clare takes some time out to talk about the band’s relationship with Mr Peel and how this song was one of his favourites too. The years are rolled back and it sounds just as good now.
The set goes a bit 80’s disco funk with two numbers from Bite, Love To Stay and Bring Me Closer, with new song Glitter Ball, written with Bernard Butler [Suede], sandwiched in between. I doubt Peelie would have found these so enjoyable!
Another new track, Beautiful Thing follows, this time co-written with Bobby Bluebell. Again it’s pop chanteuse territory, which goes down surprisingly well with certain pockets of the audience. It seems that Clare Grogan has become a bit of a gay icon over the years.
Dead Pop Stars follows, which is the first Altered Images track I ever heard. It sounded so dark and menacing, but Clare’s staccato delivery added a certain frisson, almost sexual. It should be included in any Punk Top 100. She explained that it was her attempt at aping her idols Siouxsie and The Banshees, as an impressionable teenager. Now, nearly 60, her delivery still has that dangerous feel to it, which is the perfect counterpoint to the more saccharine pop moments of the evening. Since Altered Images started gigging again regularly, That’s Not My Name, by Salford duo The Ting Tings, has become a staple part of the set and tonight is no different. It’s poignancy is related to the fact that she had to change the spelling of her name, due to there being another Claire Grogan, when applying to the actors union Equity. It sounds great though and she really makes it her own. The Manchester crowd really embraced it and sung the chorus back with great gusto. Another couple of “Bite” songs follow with Change of Heart and Don’t Talk To Me About Love, which gets another great reception, straddle another newbie, The Colour Of My Dreams. Happy Birthday is executed perfectly as the encore, and it’s all over far too quick.
Nearly 40 years to the day, a lot of things have changed. I’m no longer skinny, it’s now called the University of Hertfordshire and only the singer remains from the original line up. Did I have fun? Mostly. Was it worth the wait? Mostly. Am I still obsessed? Well, you never forget your first love.
I Could Be Happy, See Those Eyes, Mascara Streakz, Insects, Love To Stay, Glitter Ball, Bring Me Closer, Beautiful Thing, Dead Pop Stars, That’s Not My Name, Change Of Heart, The Colour Of My Dreams, Don’t Talk To Me About Love and Happy Birthday
Words by Andi Callen. Thanks to Clare’s manager, Christine Dinwoodie for arranging.