Live Review: Altered Images – 229 Great Portland Street, London 18.03.2022

Don Blandford

Blame the internet. Time is warped. Everything is now….and everything then…is now too. Without the internet, the hunger and desire to see bands from “back in the day” may not exist outside the mind of some aspic-encrusted nostalgia radio geek. All hail the global jukebox.

Nobody in 1983 said “I’m just popping out, I’ve got tickets to see The Joe Loss Orchestra play their big band hits – that Hungry Horace game is still loading on the ZX Spectrum so don’t unplug my tape player whilst I’m away!”. Yet seeing a big band from the 1940s then is the time equivalent to seeing an Altered Images gig in 2022. Marty McFly, Wayne and Garth and Dr Who would struggle to explain all this, so what chance do I have?

Time is no thief though – tonight, time is kind. As the strains of the cool music selection of veteran BBC London D.J Gary Crowley fade away…here’s Clare Grogan! Newly into her sixtieth year on the planet yet looking as stunning and as fresh faced as she did when mobile phones were the size of a brick. Move aside Bath, it’s the waters of the Clyde that really hold the secret to eternal youth.

Decked out in Hollywood style over-sized shades and shoes almost as high as the stage, Clare and the band launch straight into I Could Be Happy. The top ten hit from…forty years go. Then it’s on to another track from the Martin Rushent produced Pinky Blue album from 1982 and Clare removes the shades with perfect timing as she – and the happy audience – sing See Those Eyes. It’s a lively start. Clare surveys the 229 audience in disbelief ““I’m so f’ing nervous – what are you doing to me?!”.

The new album is announced – so ‘long-awaited’ – it makes the output of fellow Glaswegians The Blue Nile look prolific. Or as Clare says “some people think I’m rushing it a bit!”. Mascara Streakz recorded with the able assistance of Robert Hodgens (aka Bobby of The Bluebells), Clare’s band and life partner Stephen Lironi and Bernard Butler is released later in the year. The title track from the new album is the kind of fantastic Euro-disco pop that Saint Etienne have mastered so well over the years and actually there is something of Sarah Cracknell about Clare tonight.

Some shows get described as “intimate” but when Clare is trying to respond to individual shouts form the audience it really adds even more warmth and love to the night.

Insects from the Happy Birthday album is dedicated to “all the creepy crawlies in the world…”. Clare has family in the audience. She says she can hear them above everyone else and she thanks them for their “endless support”.

Love To Stay from the Bite album delivers another fantastic dance pop mood with Clare admitting during the song that the note is a bit high for her and she’s appreciates the presence of her superb backing singer Steph throughout the set.

Now, chatting about her family is one thing but then Clare goes and invites her neighbour to join her on stage. Some bloke called…Bernard Butler. Fancies himself as something of a guitarist, apparently. Clare says “Bernard and I really are neighbours and when I was brave enough to talk to him I eventually asked him if we could write a song together…” – the result is Glitterball and afterwards Clare is clearly still in awe of Bernard as she described the experience as “exhilarating and terrifying!” and once again Steph is praised for keeping her on track. Clare just needs to count to keep time I recommend the “one elephant, two elephant” method to track the seconds…

The fun patter continues. Guitarist Alan has a technical issue and Clare fears she’ll have to do her “comedy routine” to fill the silence. She opts instead to reveal how Alan likes to tell everyone on the tour bus about his dreams – “a sure fire way, “ says Clare “to make us all have a power nap!”. Having embarrassed Alan the banter moves on and Clare introduces Rosie “an international sparkly bass player” from Gothenberg. Unintentional interlude over, the party powers on with the sublime Bring Me Closer also taken from the Bite album which turns quite carnival towards the end.

Clare’s patter is fun. She introduces another track from the new album, Beautiful Thing with a story about how she and Bobby Bluebell would play “doctors and nurses” and she always liked the role of “patient” because the medicine was always Jaffa Cakes!

Clare is simply thrilled to still be singing and doing a gig in 2022 “if someone had told me that forty years on I’d be singing Dead Pop Stars, I’d have answered ‘that’s just too f’king weird!’ – and yet it’s not!”. The song itself does remain so wonderfully weird. Pop star posters talking back and fearing being forgotten. Ingenious song writing.

Clare warns she’s usually a “reasonable person” but her one pet hate is “when people put an ‘i’ in Clare…” – all a clever introduction to the fun cover of The Tings Tings classic That’s Not My Name. Yeah, whatever you say…Clare.

The pop party is almost over and Change Of Heart gives way to a new album track The Colour Of My Dreams written by Clare for her husband Stephen Lironi who joins her on stage which means Clare “can’t be rude about him, because he’s here!”. The love between them is obvious and quite frankly beautiful. Later she refers to him as “the Lindsay Buckingham of the band…”.

Time for allegedly the final song, Clare, ever appreciative, says the audience has been amazing and refers to these “crazy times” before adding “but we’re here and I really, really applaud you for being here with me…”. The very familiar Don’t Talk To Me About Love starts up – the first song Clare and Stephen wrote together – what an auspicious beginning that was!

The inevitable encore is Altered Images biggest chart hit Happy Birthday – one of the greatest songs to not quite reach the top of the chart. An hour of audience participation peaks and Clare’s work is done and she parts with a final cry of “we’re still young!”.

Calling Altered Images post-punk or new wave has always felt somehow wrong. Tonight they reveal that their torch burns brightly and is also carried by bands like Saint Etienne, and Bis and even Dream Wife. Altered Images play pop at its finest. Both fun and clever and with Clare Grogan’s warmth and sunny personality who could ever resist them. Timeless and perfect pop.

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