Yet another “album anniversary” tour rolls into town. In general these events are a stark reminder that not all of the featured album was up to snuff. Indeed sometimes these tours are the very first outings for those tracks, never having made it into the live set back in the day and rarely played since, if at all. Free All Angels was the bands 3rd proper LP. Tim Wheeler apparently suffered from depression, after their 2nd album Nu-clear Sounds, had received mixed reviews, despite being awarded a Gold Disc and Free All Angels nearly didn’t happen as a result. Wheeler returned to his parents house in Northern Ireland to lick his wounds and take stock, whilst writing material for a new album. It is arguably his most accomplished set of songs to date, spawning 5 UK Top 20 singles and winning a prestigious Ivor Novello award for song writing for Shining Light, as well as the NME crowning Burn Baby Burn as ‘Single of The Year’ for 2001.
I have to admit to it being a good few years since our paths last crossed, but with the return of guitarist Charlotte Hatherley for this run of gigs, I’ve been genuinely looking forward to this. There’s a good smattering of younger fans present but most are in their mid-40’s, like the band. Unlike the audience however, Tim, Mark and Charlotte look implausibly young. Rick McMurray? Difficult to quantify under an enormous beard and trucker hat.
Tim’s trademark Gibson Flying V gets a sound thrashing tonight, and he’s ably flanked by the grace of Hatherley and four stringer Hamilton, who resembles a man trying to wrestle a shark on dry land, as he bends and flexes, living every single bass note, wrenching it from the fretboard.
Due to the format, which dictates that tracks are played in album running order, we’ve already had Walking Barefoot, Shining Light and Burn Baby Burn, before Tim relinquishes guitar duties to croon on Candy. It’s like they’ve been playing together as a 4 piece for years, very tight and lean, never missing a beat. The crowd are well up for good time and the next 9 songs fly by without incident. A quick break and on with the encore, which starts with the heavy grunge of Sonic Youth-like Numbskull, which tonight sounds brutal. The sugary sweet “A Life Less Ordinary” follows and the crowd responds by erupting in a pavlovian sing-a-long. It sounds as good as it did 25 years ago. Perhaps it’s because Charlotte is in the line-up tonight, but they refrain from pillaging 1977, other than obvious tracks Kung Fu and show closer Girl From Mars. The rest of the encore are all tracks Hatherley recorded with the band as 4-piece.
For me they are easily in the Top 5 Irish bands of all time, battling it out with Therapy, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers and Thin Lizzy. Still mid-40s they have a lot of music ahead of them.
All in all a great night and in another 21 years, they’ll still be younger than half the bands at Rebellion Festival!!!
[Thanks to Ian Cheek PR for organising a photo pass at such short notice!!]
Walking Barefoot, Shining Light, Burn Baby Burn, Candy, Cherry Bomb, Submission, Someday, Pacific Palisades, Shark, Sometimes, Nicole, There’s A Star and World Domination.
Numbskull, A Life Less Ordinary, Warmer Than Fire, Clones, Orpheus, Wild Surf, King Fu, Projects and Girl From Mars