Review and photography by John Hayhurst.

So the 80s comes to Sheffield, the City Hall to be precise, as a line up of The Christians, Altered Images and Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure, remind us of some great tracks from years gone by.

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You would think 80’s Pop and Electronica were a staple diet in the steel city of Sheffield, however the City Hall tonight was a poor show for a weekend performance. Only 500 tickets sold for a venue with a capacity of 2,300 seats, meant that the echoes of yesteryears hits were real echoes in the cavernous auditorium. I’ll admit I’m really only here to see how my schooldays crush and poster girl Clare Grogan has fared in the 35 years since I last saw her perform live on the Altered Images ‘Pinky Blue’ tour.

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Clare Grogan-2Clare Grogan

As I walk in I overhear two people walking out saying “Well who would arrive early to watch Altered Images anyway, they only have one song”. Rather than stop them to point out actually they have many, and once they supported Siouxsie and The Banshees and were a little punkier than pop back in the day – instead I walk in and take my seat in a quite vacant row C.

Weird creaking doors and maniacal laughing sounds are coming from the speakers, and the rest of the Altered Images band are already on stage laughing and waiting for Clare to appear. She’s found a little speaker box in a 99p shop, and putting it next to her mic means that the Halloween sounds are providing her entrance music. The jangly opening riffs of ‘I Could Be Happy’ prompt a sparkly smiling Clare to shimmy and dance in suit and high heels for the next 40 minutes. Who cares that there’s only a few rows of people here and the balcony isn’t even open, that doesn’t stop this Glasgow girl from showing everyone how to have a good time and ‘Don’t Talk To Me About Love’ only gets a few on their feet – but it’s a start.

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Clare Grogan is still a non stop talking, singing, dancing and ass shaking bundle of energy, and as she has already been celebrating another band members birthday with a few glasses of champagne, she will not rest until everyone is on their feet for a boogie. The biggest surprise is when she tells everyone that they are going to play their first single, does anyone know what it was? “Dead Pop Stars” was screaming in my head, and they proceed to totally alt punk it up in front of these 40-50 somethings who didn’t quite know what to make of it. It was brilliant and then having the final trump card of ‘Happy Birthday’ when everyone did finally get on their feet, it was a job well done. How to warm up a crowd in difficult circumstances and the 55-year-old Clare Grogan was the star of the show in my eyes tonight – but I guess I’m still a bit biased.

After only a 5-min interval Garry Christian appears on stage in a flat cap and says “It’s great to perform in front of a full house again”, the deep scouse laughter that followed told you all you needed to know. Whilst it must be quite demoralising for these bands to play in a less than quarter full arena, there are still laughs to be had, and some incredibly tight musicianship to witness. We realise that the band that were backing Clare Grogan as Altered Images were in fact now on stage as The Christians, with only Garry as the main original founder member. That said, he is the voice, the image and the charisma of a truly superb live outfit.

The Christians

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‘Forgotten Town’ opens their set and reminds you that they were once a considerable force in the charts in the late eighties and early nineties, tracks like ‘Ideal World’ and ‘Hooverville’ are still played on BBC and Regional radio stations up and down the country, it’s just a shame that their listeners didn’t make the connection with that and this tour, surely there would have been many more here if that were the case. Here is another band that don’t have a recording contract so are self-producing and promoting their latest release, and after their set Garry is in the foyer happy to sign any bought copies from the merchandise desk.

A very cool Garry Christian and his velvet tones close with the Isley Bros ‘Harvest for the World’ which they successfully covered for charity in 1988. They cleverly intersperse their hits with that track and a brief extract of ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ it keeps the momentum going and they jokingly run out of time too.

The stage is cleared for a minimal electronic based gear, mainly synth looking keyboards and strips of light across the TV monitors that have been showing clips of videos and an introduction film about Midge Ure’s latest ‘Orchestral’ product. However, that isn’t what we are about to witness, so it feels like a strange self-plug just before a guitar/electro romp through some of his and Ultravox hits.

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First off, we get the instrumental ‘Yellow Pearl’ which was actually a collaboration with Phil Lynott (late of Thin Lizzy), many should know this as the 80’s/90’s theme tune to BBC’s Top of the Pops. Midge finally appearing through the smoke wielding a guitar like an axe god, and really pulling this off. His guitar work is understated on his records, but live he is quite blistering and the voice is probably in the best shape it has ever been.

However, opening with some slightly obscure Ultravox numbers might not have been his best move and even the dreary ‘If I Was’ didn’t shift anyone out of their seats. It wasn’t until ‘Sleepwalk’ that we get a change in tempo and attention, the much-needed injection came immediately after when he played ‘Fade to Grey’. This iconic 80’s electro track made famous by Steve Strange’s Visage was actually written by Midge and whilst his vocal wasn’t as delicate as Strange’s, it certainly got everyone to wake up. When you follow that with the ultimate machine slow drumbeat and synth intro of ‘Vienna’ you are finally on to a winner.

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‘Vienna’ was immense tonight and that was down to Midge Ure’s vocals which appear unblemished by time and seem to be even stronger live on stage, you can tell by the way he pulled his head back from the mic and yet still managed the power and pitch of those higher strains. In his backing band was a very talented violinist who made the solo his own, and all 500 of us tonight joined in with the “This means nothing to me…” as some kind of mantra to explain the mystery why there aren’t more people at this event. The hits then followed with a slow burning ‘No Regrets’ and ‘Dancing With Tears in my Eyes’ which really should have been the encore tonight.

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A strange night, three great performances in their own right, albeit maybe weird to have them all on the same bill, other than “they were popular in the 80’s” there really isn’t a strong connection and maybe the £30 price tag was too much for the Yorkshire folk on a Sunday night. I loved it though, it was amazing to see Clare Grogan in full flow again, and the standard of talent on that stage really warranted a much bigger appreciative audience.


Setlists:
Altered Images:
I Could Be Happy
Don’t Talk To Me About Love
Don’t Give Up Girl
See Those Eyes
Dead Pop Stars
Change Of Heart
Bring Me Closer
Happy Birthday

The Christians:
Forgotten Town
Born Again
Greenbank Drive (Papa Was A Rolling Stone)
Words
Ideal World
The Bottle
Hooverville
Harvest for the World

Midge Ure:
Yellow Pearl
Passing Strangers
A Friend I Call Desire
If I Was
I Remember (Death in the Afternoon)
The Voice
Sleepwalk
Fade to Grey
Vienna
No Regrets
All Stood Still
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes
Hymn
Love’s Great Adventure

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