Gig Review and Photography by Ken Harrison

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Neil Arthur and Stephen Luscombe teamed up around 1978, the Blancmange name appearing at the release of “Irene and Mavis” their debut, in 1980. Christened by Daniel Miller as “the maiden aunts of techno” in reference to the old ladies in the launderette who appear on the single cover. The maiden aunts reference still used today (see Stephen Luscombe’s post on the Blancmange website).

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The band contributed to the famous 1981 “Some Bizarre” compilation a track called “Sad Day” (performed tonight to much joy from the audience) 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…”

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 band have just finished touring their new album “Happy Families, Too” a remixed version of their 1982 album “Happy Families” up and down the UK and have stopped off in Birmingham for a club show.

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Tonight’s performance is upstairs in the Club Room at the Après Bar in Birmingham, and is a “special event” set up by David Wright, Clubber, Switch Radio DJ (and may other things), who runs Only After Dark (OAD). Only After Dark is a monthly club night based on the Bowie nights and the Rum Runner/Blitz Club nights of the late ’70s/early ’80s. The playlist being an eclectic mix of electronica/glam/new wave/punk/new romantic/alternative and a big helping of Bowie. Previous appearances have included Rusty Egan (Visage) guesting in the DJ booth, Heaven 17, Martin Degville (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) and a number of other showcase gigs promoting up and coming artists.. After various homes for the club night at Red Lion in Shirley, the Sound Bar, Birmingham and The End Bar in Birmingham, the club night now has settled in Après.

Pre-show, Arthur does a “Meet and Greet” for the audience, by the merchandise stall, chatting with the audience, signing and posing for photographs.

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The stage in the club room is small, and intimate, but just about enough room for Neil Arthur and band to squeeze onto. Stephen Luscombe sadly is still unable to perform due to ongoing health issues. However, original guitarist David Rhodes (now a “Big Time” guitarist for the likes of Peter Gabriel) a keyboard player and sound engineer Adam Fuest, who manipulates the mix live on stage. No sign of Pandit Danesh tonight, the stage is certainly not big enough to get his percussion up there too.

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The club is packed as Arthur and band take to the stage to the cheers of the enthusiastic audience, some of whom have travelled some distance to be here. The show starts with a few Blancmange tracks including “Running Thin” introduced by Arthur as being written at the same time as Happy Families and used on a  (John) Peel Session and “Game Above My Head” before getting into the “Happy Families, Too” album and “I Can’t Explain”. “Feel Me” comes next with Arthur taking a swig of water and proclaiming it to be neat Vodka… and “My God I need it!”

After playing “I’ve seen the Word” Arthur invites the audience to “tell him a story”, but then quickly moves into “Wasted” getting the audience to join in and whistle along. “Living on the Ceiling” follows with Arthur conducting the audience to join in “La, la, la, la la”…… you know the rest. “That’s the end of side one, now you need to turn over” Arthurs quip gets a laugh from the audience. “Waves” begins Side 2, with the album being played in full order, “Kind” then “Sad Day”, Arthur sitting and picking up a guitar for the instrumental track. “Cruel” follows and Arthur introduces the band members before they close with “Gods Kitchen”. As the room is so full, they stay on stage rather than go off to wait for the encore calls. “We’ll play one more” and close the show with “Blind Vision”

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This line up of Blancmange is good alternative to previous incarnations, retaining the characteristic Blancmange sound, but freshening it up with the live mixes. Arthur enjoying the performance, engaging with the audience and band throughout the show. Rhodes guitar is exceptional… a very accomplished performance. It’s easy to see why Peter Gabriel has retained his services for so long. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many effects pedals and guitars in one place before tonight. Arthur brings the band from behind their instruments for one final bow and the show is done. Arthur comes out for a second “meet and greet” session and a proper beer to finish off the night.

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Discography:

Happy Families (1982)

Mange Tout (1984)

Believe You Me (1985)

Blanc Burn (2011)

Happy Families, Too (2013)

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