About the gig
Once again, a true icon of British music took to the stage at London's 100 Club. A unique chance to see Marc Almond work the room of one of London's most historic venues, treating the audience to a masterclass in song, performance and stagecraft.
As soon as Almond was on stage, he and his band had launched into their first number, "Tears Run Rings". The track, from Almond's "The Stars We Are" era, instantly charmed the crowd, and it was instantly obvious that this was going to be a very enthusiastic, heart felt and energetic performance. This appetiser made way for Soft Cell's 1981 hit "Bedsitter", which was given a lively celebratory treatment with rapturous choruses, saluting budget hedonists everywhere.
Almond then effortlessly flicked forward a decade to his solo back catalogue with 1995's "The Idol". By this point it was obvious that Almond was enjoying the intimate venue, exuding a wickedly mischievous air, holding his red crescent shaped tambourine behind his head in the manner of devilish horns, for a moment recreating the cover of "Vermine in Ermine".
The pace was unrelenting with Almond announcing new song "Dead Eyed Child", from the upcoming "Atmosphere" album, declaring that it was "a bit rock". "My Love" followed before Soft Cell's "Torch" whipped the audience into an adoring frenzy. The band then switched to a more acoustic set up for "The Days of Pearly Spencer" and "Somethings Gotten Hold of My Heart", two of Almond's biggest solo hits, Almond still mesmerising the crowd with his showmanship.
We were then reminded of Almond's Soul influences as the tempo was stepped up for Northern Soul style renditions of "Down in The Subway" and Frankie Valli's "The Night". No visit to the soul era would have been complete without "Tainted Love", its arrival heralded by its now legendary, electro "BINK-BINK". The ladies toilets emptied as women of all ages ran to the dance floor to answer its call, as if auditioning for one of Tim Pope's videos.
The term "crowd pleaser" doesn't really cover it, but needless to say, the chance to see the definitive version, of such an iconic track, performed in such an intimate venue is a rare treat, and an opportunity that was relished by performer and audience alike. Soft Cell's "What?" followed in the same spirit, with Almond's energy not letting up for a moment, building to a crescendo of bass and tambourine.
Almond's tambourine horns returned briefly for "Run Like The Devil" before he wound things down, beckoning to the crowd, "Let's have a sing along then". The Soft Cell standard "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" proved a fitting final act for the night.
The audience had been treated to a gig that demonstrated Almond's timeless qualities, proving how relevant his music is today. A show that has added to the crowds of people calling for Marc Almond to tour the U.K., and proving that he is as vital a performer as he ever was.
Marc Almond rose to fame as the vocal half of 80s electro duo Soft Cell, backed by electronic synth-pop virtuoso David Ball. Together they secured a place in music history, with a worldwide, record-breaking response to their electro cover version of a fairly unknown Northern Soul track named "Tainted Love", originally sung by Gloria Jones. An obvious place to start perhaps, when talking about the career of Marc Almond, but one which neatly demonstrates the way in which Almond has always called upon varied influences to straddle the mainstream and the underground, and move between genres at will.
Almond like many of his generation grew up with Marc Bolan and David Bowie as role models. Whilst some of this influence was arguably superficial (Bolan and Bowie employed their fair share of glitter and glam themselves), like Bowie, Almond cites Jacques Brel, Scott Walker, Syd Barrett, Lou Reed as key influences, and like Bolan Soul music would also prove appealing (Bolan, was of course, the partner of non other than Gloria Jones).
It was this broad palette that allowed Soft Cell to make their mark with electric cabaret tales of the seedier side of life, such as "Bedsitter", "Seedy Films", and the infamous "Sex Dwarf" sitting alongside the electronic soul of "Tainted Love", "Where Did Our Love Go?" and "What?".
Soft Cell parted amicably in 1984 to pursue other projects, after four highly successful studio albums, a string of hit singles, and popular and critical acclaim. They rightfully took their place along such acts such as The Human League, Depeche Mode, Ultravox and Gary Numan in their chapter of pop history. David Ball went on to produce and mix electronic music, most notably, perhaps, as a founder member of The Grid.
Marc Almond was also able to concentrate on his varied artistic interests, with projects including an album that interpreted the songs of Jacques Brel, subject matters as diverse as Russian Gypsy folk music and French poetry, as well as popular hit albums such as "The Stars We Are", and of course his number one duet with Gene Pitney "Somethings Gotten Hold of My Heart".
Besides Gene Pitney other collaborations have included, Bronski Beat, Nick Cave, Nico, John Cale, Jools Holland, Antony and the Johnsons, and even a live duet with Gloria Jones. Almond also teamed up with Dave Ball again in 2000 for an album and tour.
Almond has also written three books of verse, "The Angel of Death in the Adonis Lounge", "A Beautiful Twisted Night" and "The End of New York".
Although recent years have seen Almond battling his way back to health, and learning to sing again, following a serious motorcycle accident, it would appear he is now ready to take on the world once more, with a new mainstream album of original material due in 2010, and live dates winning five star reviews.
The influence of Marc Almond and Soft Cell is obvious today. The resurgence in electronic pop is more evident than ever, with music from the Soft Cell era being mined ever deeper for inspiration. Almond's impact is felt beyond the realms of electro/synth pop though, with his unique artistry and flair, setting him apart from the crowd. For example, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, has praised Almond, claiming that his own career would not have been possible without the influence of Marc almond.
...Over the years, Almond's artistic choices have veered from the dazzling to the quixotic, but one thing he never is, is boring. That he continues to dodge the cosy 80s pop nostalgia circuit and lazy national treasure status that could so easily be his, preferring to produce work as unusual and essential as this, would be praise-worthy even if the end result were a noble failure. But Orpheus In Exile is both a career highlight and a unique window on a marginalised and hidden history.
...Thankfully, Almond is restored to both rude health and rudeness. Physically, he was strong enough to complete a 150-minute, interval-free show that incorporated almost every segment of his career from Soft Cell (he even sounded enthused on Tainted Love) to his current covers album Stardom Road, via selections from the solo years (Tears Run Rings was a clattering treat), Marc And The Mambas and a remarkable version of his take on Jacques Brel's Jackie, which saw the verses being delivered superfast and the chorus superslow.
After all his suffering, Almond deserves an easy ride. The most joyous aspect of last night was that he didn't need one. *****