Fields of the Nephilim + Balaam and the Angel at The O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, UK – 21st December 2016Posted by Zyllah Moranne-Brown on Wednesday Dec 21, 2016 Under Goth, Rock
Gig Review by Glenn Raybone with Photography by Rob Farrell
It’s the Winter Solstice, and on this shortest day The Nephilim are playing a rare gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I arrive in good time, the motorway wasn’t too bad and it took me nearly as long to park as it did to cover the previous 120 miles. Opposite the venue is a fun-fair, but more entertainment is gained whilst queuing by watching the cyclists, mainly in black, with no lights, competing for road space with other vehicles. It’s not for the feint hearted. I’m also struck by the sight of a steel box right outside the venue; with an open side which it turns out is a male urinal. I’ve no idea where the steaming void goes and it’s clear there’s no hand-washing facilities in the box. As I visibly wince the doors finally open, but there’s no guest list and so a further wait is required, but the entrance foyer really is quite spectacular. I’ve not been to this venue before and I’m told it’s not been restored and is as good as in original condition (ignoring the recent roof collapse which is now sorted).
The guest-list finally arrives at half seven, and I’m in the balcony which is pity as I really wanted to try and grab a set-list from Balaam and the Angel, who are supporting tonight. I have had a chat with a few punters earlier and I’m dismayed none have heard of Balaam, but I did do my best to promote the cause. Let me be honest with you, my main reason for coming down was to see the Brothers Morris, and had they not been added late-on as support I may well have been sat at home watching pre-Christmas crap on the telly. However, they are on and I am here. They open with ‘Isabella’s Eyes’ before treating us to a handful of songs from ‘Sun Family’ and ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. For those who dared to not know who they are Mark tells us they supported The Nephilim some 31 years ago, but they “still have the original line-up”. ‘Slow Down’ is dedicated to Nik, a fan who recently left this earth and one of his last gigs was seeing Balaam in Manchester last month.
After what seems like a few minutes ‘I Love the Things You Do to Me’ is announced as the last song. Forty five minutes wasn’t long enough, but 2016 has been a good year for the Brothers Morris, let’s hope these recent dates will wet their appetite for more in 2017.
So to the main event, Fields of the Nephilim, The Nephilim, The Neff, Carl McCoy. I first saw them back in 1987 in some tiny polytechnic, and came out covered in flour, ringing ears but with complete love. They rarely tour these days, no, correction, they never tour and rarely play, in England we’re lucky to get two of three gigs a year and I had high hopes tonight. I wasn’t disappointed.
Opening with ‘The Harmonica Man’ McCoy strides on stage last, as ‘Moonchild’ starts and it’s sublime, the sound guys need a special mention because the sound was perfect, not over the top and each instrument could be heard, but the key here was the vocal, and in all the years of seeing and hearing Carl McCoy this was the best in terms of sound. ‘Last Exit for the Lost’, the set-closer was stunning, and for any critics of his vocal range, here was ten minutes to put beyond all doubt his talent. It was at times goose-bump inducing. The set was drawn from the whole career, from ‘Trees Come Down’ to the recent ‘Prophecy’, which was available in the foyer for £10 on a single sided red-vinyl single, £25 if you wanted a signed copy. But for me the stand out songs were those drawn from the iconic ‘The Nephilim’ album, this really is a brilliant album, and personally I don’t think it’s been bettered by them.
‘Dawnrazor’ is also majestic, with the crowd arms aloft (but no signs of flour). There is no small talk, no banter, interaction, simply one song after another, and indeed the first words spoken to the crowd are “Thank you and Goodnight” after ‘Last Exit…’ which I must admit surprised me as they’d be on stage for only an hour. We did get two encores, but these were marred by some significant bass issues, and at times I felt for the bass player as he tried to get his guitar to work, new leads, new guitar, he tried everything. He did however get things sorted and ‘Love Under Will’ with its mesmeric bass riff just drew you in. It really was good.
Finally ‘Mourning Sun’ ended the night. It’s not yet eleven and just over ninety minutes, which given their lack of gigs, is a shock. I’m also shocked there’s no ‘Power’ or ‘Preacher Man’, but to be honest had they played for two hours I’d have wanted another few songs. You see I miss The Nephilim, they have some great songs which live create an added dimension with the extra power experienced in the live arena, but they just don’t tour, and gigs are as rare as rocking horse excrement.
So as I make my way back to the car I start to think about what I’ve just seen; Balaam and The Angel, as good as they ever were, and clearly enjoying themselves. They’ve just done a handful of dates to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary release of ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’. Then I started to think about the release date of ‘The Nephilim’, that’s approaching thirty soon, what’s the chances?? Maybe Mr McCoy can be tempted to play some dates, the album in its entirety, and with some dates other than London.
One can hope.
Balaam and the Angel Set:
New Kind of Love
Day and Night
World of Light
Family and Friends
Light of the World
I Love the Things You Do To Me
Fields of the Nephilim Set:
The Harmonica Man
Trees Come Down
From the Fire
Last Exit for the Lost
Love Under Will
See the complete photoset here.