Blancmange

Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe teamed up around 1978, but the Blancmange name did not appear until 1980, when “Irene and Mavis” a limited (1000 copy) run debut EP appeared. Daniel Miller of Mute Records christened the pair, “the maiden aunts of techno” in reference to the old ladies in the launderette who appear on the single cover. A reference that is still used today (see Stephen Luscombe’s post on the Blancmange website.

Blancmange

The band contributed to the famous 1981 “Some Bizarre” compilation a track called “Sad Day” alongside Depeche Mode and The The, which led to a record deal with London records in 1982. Singles followed with “God’s Kitchen”, “Feel Me” and then “Living On The Ceiling” finally grabbing the attention of the chart buying public with a 14 week run peaking at number 7. Their eastern influenced sounds made them stand out against the regular singer/synth player combo’s of the day. The single subsequently appearing on dozens of 80’s compilations since and recently featured in an advert for a certain healthy drink with the catchphrase “It’s you… but on a good day…”

Blancmange

Three albums later, numerous chart singles, including a successful Abba cover the band decided to call it a day in 1986, with each going off to pursue various solo projects. 2010 saw various cryptic messages on MySpace about new recordings which finally materialised into 2011’s release “Blanc Burn” and a successful tour. The 25 year gap between third and fourth album releases continues to be a source of undoubted amusement to Arthur.

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Support for this evenings show is Johnny Normal who (according to the sleeve notes of his latest “there’s nothing” release) “…lives in a marvellously simple world of flashing diodes, neon lights and wires. He was fused to a Yamaha CSL-X in a bizarre medical experiment in 1981, and from that day forward was compelled to communicate using synthesised language of 1980’s electronica”. Normal writes and composes his own songs about “fried breakfast, family, fear and his mother-in-law’s Metro”. Normal has supported many acts including Adam Ant, Nash the Slash, Global Citizen to name a few and is also supporting Adam Ant again on his forthcoming tour. In addition to these talents, Normal also does a little journalism and interviewing…see his interview with Marco Pirroni (ex. Adam and The Ants). Normal is joined on stage by guitarist, “Psycho Pete” resplendent in feathered hat, for his set.

Blancmange

Normal’s style sits well with the electronic/post-punk tag that has been applied. Indeed at times his vocal and sound is very Numan influenced, but also very raw and punky. NME have described him “as what John Lydon would have sounded like with Levels and a pile of synths”. Normal performs a number of songs in his set from his current album “there’s nothing” including “I Like Walking”. He also plays “London Sound” “There’s a girl that lives in the Sea” and also “Ants Invasion” which are well received by the audience. I think that Normal has made a few more fans tonight with his performance, so keep an eye out for him in future.

Blancmange

On stage tonight are two sets of instruments and Arthur’s microphone, Graham Henderson’s keyboards and the percussion of Pandit Dinesh, who has only occasionally appeared on this tour, and missed on the small stage at Birmingham’s HMV Institute on the previous night. Dinesh apparently brought his instruments up by Black Cab from London earlier in the day. I would not have wanted to pay the fare for THAT trip! Sadly, Stephen Luscombe is still unable to tour as a result of his “Triple A” (abdominal aortic aneurism) as described by Arthur, but is still recording and communicating via the website.

The show starts with a “Jai ho” from Dinesh and some older classic Blancmange tracks “Game above my Head” and “I Can’t Explain”, people are dancing almost immediately as there is plenty of space in the less than capacity crowd, with one girl seemingly spilling more beer than she manages to drink cos’ she can’t keep still and paddling around in a pool of her own making. The audience is waving to Arthur, who waves back frequently.

Blancmange

“WDYF” from the current album is next followed by “God’s Kitchen” and “Radio Therapy”. Arthur takes time before the next track to respond to an audience member who has shouted out about Luscombe. Arthur briefly talks about Luscombe’s “Triple A” and then records a get well soon greeting from the audience on his phone. Arthur then introduces the band members before returning to the new album with “Drive Me” and standing with arms outstretched to mimic driving a car.

Arthur asks for help on the chorus of “The Western” then “Living on the Ceiling” kicks off with some Flamenco style twirling moves from Arthur and some peering into the audience with hands shielding his eyes. “I’ve Seen the Word” follows with Arthur plugging the Vinyl (yes vinyl!!) version of “Blanc Burn” which can be found at the merchandise stall and telling the audience he’ll be there at the end of the show for a chat.

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More “Blanc Burn” tracks follow , the spoken word “ By the Bus Stop @ Woollies” and “Don’t Let These Days” with “Blind Vision” taking a trip back to the 80’s before “Starfucker” brings us back to the present day. Arthur recounts in his dry Lancashire accent about technical problems at a Norwich show, where he had to sing “Old Shep” until they were able to continue. “Feel Me” closes the main set to much applause and shouting for “Waves” from the audience.

As they return to the stage, Dinesh shouts “Jai ho” to the audience again, and they respond with more shouts for “Waves”. The Abba cover (some say the finest Abba cover ever done) “The Day Before You Came” plays with a digital clock counting through the day projected on the rear screen.

Blancmange

The final song; Arthur asks what they should play and the audience give a resounding response “Waves” and he gives in.. “OK, we’ll give it a go” and they do, closing the show with a fitting parting song. The band clearly enjoy the set, Arthur is very chatty, grinning from ear to ear at times and appears to relish engaging with the audience. Arthur takes time to stand at the merchandising stall to chat, sign autographs and pose for pictures. I spend a few minutes talking with Arthur about the Birmingham show, his football and his stage time being a good “workout” while he signs my copy of “Blanc Burn”. I enjoy our chat, he’s clearly a good conversationalist and I’m sure he would be happy to stand there for hours, but I’m conscious of other audience members who also want to chat so make my exit with a handshake.

The venue was not sold out tonight, perhaps 200-250 in a room that could hold around 500. It didn’t affect the audience or the performance, which was far more rounded than the previous evening, with the addition of Dinesh on percussion. I wonder whether a Birmingham and a Wolverhampton show on consecutive nights would have been better served by a single show in a slightly larger venue, or even move the Birmingham show to Wolverhampton given the venue problems of the previous night.

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Blancmange certainly put on a great show, despite the absence of Stephen Luscombe, Graham Henderson covers the spot exceptionally well. The new material is distinctly Blancmange’s in style, but not locked into the 1980’s like other artists new material. I’m hoping there will be further new material from the band, and that Luscombe recovers well enough to take his place on stage to perform it. Welcome back guys, hope you stay around, we’ve missed you.

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Setlist

1 Game Above My Head
2 I Can’t Explain
3 WDYF
4 God’s Kitchen
5 Radio Therapy
6 Drive Me
7 The Western
8 Living on the Ceiling
9 I’ve Seen the Word
10 By the Bus Stop @ Woollies
11 Don’t Let These Days
12 Blind Vision
13 Starfucker
14 Feel Me

Encore:

15 The Day Before You Came
16 Waves

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Listening:
Happy Families (1982)
Mange Tout (1984)
Believe You Me (1985)
Blanc Burn (2011)

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Gig Review and Photos by Ken Harrison

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