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Sunday, 5 November 2017

#livereview @MarcAlmond at the @TyneOperaHouse #Newcastle : "a wonderful night with a gentleman who still has star quality"

Marc Almond

Newcastle Tyne Theatre & Opera House

Saturday 4th November 2017  

39 years after forming the seminal electronic 80s band Soft Cell, Marc Almond pays his first visit to the Opera House armed with a large talented collection of musicians and backing singers. With a set centred around his new album Shadows And Reflections he is able to deliver the 60s fused big band sound before ending the set with Northern Soul gold.

Galia Arad originally comes from Indiana, USA but has recently worked as a PA in a hedge fund in New York. This has given her the opportunity to record with Elvis Costello’s band and to now come across to the UK in order to support Marc. Armed with just a guitar she quickly gets the Tyne Theatre crowd on side with the humour that proliferates her tracks. She tells the tale of a so called friend that sends her an email purporting to be from Elvis Costello himself.  Her initial happiness was quickly quashed when she realised and this resulted in her penning the Elvis Costello song.

Galia chooses to cover Brtney Spear’s Toxic and to turn it into a beautiful, breathless acoustic number. Her short set then finishes with a song about falling in love with an Irishman that she met. 

Galia’s warmth and enthusiasm is matched by the quality of her songwriting and performance. She comes across well and deserves to do well in the future. Galia was a very effective warm up act for Marc.   

All but three tracks were played from the new album which is made up of covers of, as Almond admitted tonight, less well known and generally sad songs by his musical heroes like Dusty Springfield and Bobby Darin. His set opens up with Overture - not on a tape but performed live making full use of a large backing band with a brass and string section plus 4 backing singers. As he launched into his opener, the title track off his new album, Shadows and Reflections, it is clear he intends to make full use of the wonderful acoustics of the Opera House. Clever lighting ensures that there are literally shadows of the band on the backdrop.  The big sound also filled the room as he covered Billy Fury’s 1965 hit I’m Lost Without You.

There is a real warmth from Marc to the audience as he explains the reasoning for each track choice. It clearly has been a personal journey rather than a selection of songs given to him by an A & R person at the record company. Take the next track, an obscure top 10 hit in the US by The Rascals. Whilst it was covered by Dusty Springfield, Marc recalls sneaking into his sister’s bedroom in order to play the David Cassidy version of How Can I Be Sure? Marc calls his new collection ‘catchy miserable songs’ as he covers Bobby Darin’s Not For Me.

Amongst the new covers came one the fans recognised as Marc had reached number 4 in 1992 with The Days of Pearly Spencer. This hit worked really well with the live band and took advantage of his live string section. MD Tom Curran did a fantastic job keeping each section of the band tight as they headed into Burt Bacharach’s Blue On Blue. It is interesting to note the Marc is changing the set each evening. A look online shows his has made changes with the set as the tour progressed and this must help keep the show fresh.

As a man who made his name in the singles chart it must be strange to adjust with the download society that we are currently in. He plans to release Embers as his next single. This number which he co-wrote with  Chris Braide sounded fabulous and will be well worth adding to the collection if you don’t already have it on the new album. No One To Say Good Night To is another original on the new album and it wouldn’t be out of place as the theme to a Gerry Anderson animation.

It was 13 songs into a 27 number set that we reached the number one duet that he had with Gene Pitney and Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart fitted in well with the 60s themed set.

Marc is very gracious about the support that he got from the band and he gives the backing singers their due credit as they sing Scar from his album The Velvet Trail acapella. The English version of the Russian ballad The Sun Will Rise went down really well with the Newcastle crowd. Marc showed that he still has a magnificent set of pipes as he effortlessly held the extended final note. Winter Sun involved backing singer Simon King double tracking the lead vocals and the voices complemented each other well. Child Star was an opportunity to use the venues huge glitter ball to good effect.

The covers continued with a superb cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Close My Eyes. The big band and Marc’s vocals filled the room with a sublime sound before Marc went into Soft Cell territory with Torch which had the stalls back on their feet. Jacky had a Spanish feel before he finished his main set with Hand Over My Heart.

The encore went into Northern Soul overdrive with a cover of the Vel-Vets I’ve Gotta Find Me Somebody with all of the backing singers having a solo spot before it segued into Tainted Love. This was a version much closer to the original Gloria Jones original than 1981 hit which topped the chart in 17 countries. The audience were on the feet dancing and singing. The set then closed with Say Hello Wave Goodbye which had the crowd in good voice as they took over the vocal duties as Marc captured the moment on his phone.  

This was a wonderful night with a gentleman who still has star quality. His voice is still golden and there was a clear connection with his fans. The Tyne Theatre & Opera House, with it’s character and high quality acoustics, continues to be a great place to hear your heroes sing.

Marc mentioned at the end that 2018 is the 40th anniversary of Soft Cell. Could this be a hint of a reunion with David Ball? One hopes so!

Review by Stephen Oliver

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Fundraiser for Historic Ryton Pub : with members of Royal Northern Sinfonia