Gig Review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown / Gig Photography by Ken Harrison


When I first heard of this line-up I thought it was a tad odd. Bands from two different eras and two different generations of fans – the mighty Echo and the Bunnymen – once princes of the indie alternative scene of the early and mid 80s. And then, James, the kings of 90’s indie dance anthems. Both had highs of success, under the radar and commercially. So this’ll be an interesting Spring gig at the O2 Academy.

So with this kinda double headliner, first act Echo and the Bunnymen, it’s an early start. As we arrive at 7pm, the punters are already arriving – the venue is filling nicely. Photo passes for photographers tonight initially had a ‘questionable’ ‘sign your life away agreement’ for James though this appeared to dissipate. McCulloch and his Bunnymen are fussier (I guess whether you think that he is entitled to be so or just plain arrogant). Photographers are only allowed to shoot from the side of the pit at the front of the stage and only for one song. If that wasn’t enough before they arrive on set, the stage is draped in a dry ice thick smog, and once the band appear, the lighting is minimal (atmospheric you know) and “in your dreams” are words that come to mind with any success of getting a near decent shot.


If you ask me to choose between James and the Bunnymen as to whom I’d listen to it would have to be the Bunnymen. I grew up with these guys, I saw them in their hey-day – at The Odeon – they were class. I know their likely set tonight, for any Bunnymen fan, is should be a delight. Though short, 45 minutes, you get the best from very early, classic indie hits, and then the later commercial sound.

First up with ‘Lips Like Sugar’ the band warm up halfway through the song. Then a treat – a duo of early tracks ‘Rescue’ and ‘Do It Clean.’ I’m in a time warp – taken back to the hours spent in darkened, stick floored goth indie clubs, meandering in the maze of the indie sound. McCulloch, as usual, with floppy mess of hair, is dressed in long dark coat and trademark blackened sunglasses. Like you’d change your image after all this time. “Alight?” he addresses the audience, to a positive response. “Me too…” he replies in his best Liverpudlian drawl.


Next up it’s the later commercial side, less angsty, including ‘Seven Seas’ and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’. The band are on form, the spiraling darkened class riffs are there – I would love to say the set just gets better and better. But it starts to decline. The Bunnymen are visually the same throughout, they don’t do anything ‘exciting’ on stage – they are a band where it is the music that carries them – a ‘close your eyes’ and dance away type of band. But McCulloch is struggling vocally. While he has a unique voice, he’s off the mark. ‘Never Stop’ still remains the indie classic that it is, but he struggles to deliver. “This is the best song ever written” as McCulloch’s modesty prevails and we crawl into a somewhat painful rendition of ‘Killing Moon’. I worry; I know what the final track is – a track that, for me, would probably make my top twenty ever. McCulloch introduces it as “…. the second greatest song ever written…” As the track starts it is indeed the classic ‘The Cutter’. McCulloch swigs from a tinny, obviously with some success, for this track, his vocals return. I had hoped, but for me, the Bunnymen of today are a shadow of their former selves.


Then we get a half an hour interlude. The O2 is sold out tonight, so we’re packed in like sardines. Booth and his ‘band that is not a person’ have a truly loyal fan-base, not in the manic screamy sense – but that of a close-nit community. Surprisingly, James were formed way back in ’82. This means they’ve been around over 30 years. After struggling for success and at times being totally skint, success finally came with the release of ‘Gold Mother’ in ‘90, with a subsequent series of hits. The most successful ‘Sit Down’, re-worked from its original ’88 version, made #2 in the charts in ’91.

Lead singer Tim Booth left in 2001 and returned in 2007 to tour and record new albums; including 2008‘s ‘Hey Ma’. In 2010, they released two mini EPs: ‘The Morning After.’ and ‘The Night Before’. And they’re still recording; new album may appear soon. There are indeed, new tracks tonight. In the busy O2 people are talking, the backing track before the band is on is indistinguishable, but has a tap and bass rhythm that starts to reverberate through the room. You can feel the atmosphere beginning to build. 10 minutes later than billed they appear to a very low key ‘Loose Control’ which starts with a guitar and trumpet before morphing into a jazz rendition. Chillin’ man. The crowd join in and welcome the band with a huge cheer – Booth claps the audience in acknowledgment – “Where is the love? Look’s like it’s here in Birmingham! One.Two… One. Two. Three. Four…” and we’re into ‘Waltzing Along’ as the crowd sing VERY loudly.


By track three – Booth can’t resist – he’s off stage in the pit and now on the railings – now standing on the railings, he delivers ‘How Was It For You’ – embarking at one stage into the audience. The megaphone is out for next song ‘Sound’ and he’ll be snake dancing. Couple of tracks later, including a newbie, we get another “One.Two… One. Two. Three. Four…” and nobody it doing what the song title tells us to: ‘Sit Down’. (Fortunately there’s no sight of Peter Kaye plus red sofa). The crowd rolls and sings – we’re back in a sun-soaked festival field. The crowd take over: “Oh sit down, oh sit down, sit down next to me…” the band have stopped playing, the crowd are in charge as Booth conducts them. He’s a charismatic, articulate, yet serious and entertaining front man and this must be a pretty awesome feeling for any band. The crowd doesn’t just sing this – they OWN this – this is THEIR anthem. At the end, the crowd clap and cheer, both at Booth and the guys and themselves. For me, the standout moment of the night.


When you see James you can expect them to do a rolling set of songs. No single night is ever repeated. Last tour they had a rolling setlist of 54 songs and tonight is no different. On top of that members of the band are free to deliver tracks as they wish – so each song is always different. Do not expect the ‘single’ release edition to be performed, as Booth explains: “I’m proud to be in a band which changes the set every night – we don’t know what each other will do – we’re given the freedom to explore – maybe that’s why we’ve been going so long…” as he thanks the crowd for listening. One song may be laid back, another a dervish dance track – accompanied by Booth’s manic dancing. As the set goes on, the songs individually get longer, and longer, each one taking the slow build to riotous crescendo. ‘Born of Frustration’ – yet another that gets the crowd singing (and one that McCulloch, or a very good clone, pops out from backstage to watch). ‘Come Home’ – we’re raving. “You all gonna come to Manchester tomorrow night?” as we get invited to the next gig.


A regular downside at the O2 is the sound. It is not unknown to be dire. And while ‘Sometimes’ delivers and then some – the sound system ruins it – where we are it is just a dirge. A quick break and back onto a dance version of ‘Sometimes’ followed by ‘Johnny Yen’ which includes acknowledgements to those “who died to entertain” – Winehouse and Cobain amongst them. I don’t know what Booth is on – but I want some – he’s still dancing frenetically. ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ starts off acoustic and gathers pace into dance rave, followed by the classic ‘Laid’, in not so classic ‘freeform’, and again the crowd are louder than the band.

And then it’s over. A standing ovation from the balconies and full on adulation from the floor- the punters have clearly had one hell of a blast.

So thought’s on the night? Whilst some James fans probably wondered who this strange band was – McCulloch and his Bunnymen are currently out and about on the scene – they headlined Moseley Folk last year. They are, given tonight’s performance, in my opinion, a shadow of their former selves. I’m sure fans will go for it, but be warned; they don’t appear to be the band they used to be. Booth and James (is not a person) are a full on indie party band, Booth a charismatic and totally engaging front man, and they all love their unique relationship with the audience. If you have 45 nicker going spare – go take a look, make sure you have your dancing boots on. Be prepared to spiral dance on, and on, and on, and on and on, and on, and on….


Echo Setlist:
1. Lips Like Sugar
2. Rescue
3. Do It Clean
4. Seven Seas
5. Bring on the Dancing Horses
6. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
7. (All My Colours) Zimbo
8. Never Stop
9. Nothing Lasts Forever
10. Killing Moon
11. The Cutter

James Setlist:
Loose Control
Waltzing Along
How Was It for You
Say Something
Sit Down
Top of the World
Star (Full Up Version)
Moving On
We’re Going to Miss You
Born of Frustration
Come Home

Johnny Yen
Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)

Fresh as a Daisy – The Singles [2007]
Gold Mother [1990]

Echo and the Bunnymen
Porcupine [1983]
Ocean Rain [1984]
Songs to Learn and Sing (Greatest Hits) [1985][2006]

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