Thursday, September 04, 2014

Roland Gift / John Simmit @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 3rd September 2014

Anyone who was alive and kicking (hmmm, good title for a song there) back in the mid 80s might be a little surprised to Fine Young Cannibals’ lead singer playing the relatively intimate Hare and Hounds tonight. Of course he’s kept a pretty low profile for 20 years or so but that didn’t seem to do Kate Bush much harm eh? Maybe he’s just dipping his toe in the water before some bigger solo dates? Whatever the reason tonight’s gig, announced a mere three weeks ago, was unsurprisingly sold out...and more than a trifle moist as a couple of hundred 40-50 somethings packed into the place.

First up though opening act Dipsy...from the Teletubbies. No...I’ve not been on the ‘shrooms again...really. Well, the bloke who played him anyway, John Simmit, in his stand up guise (something he was doing before he was plucked from obscurity and pretty much kept there thanks to being sewn into a lime green costume for four years). It’s pretty unusual to have a stand up opening at a music gig but I’m all for mixing stuff up. He had some fairly good lines and routines and generated a healthy number of chuckles though, which is as much as you can ask for with an audience that’s there for one thing and one thing only.

Joining his 6 piece band onstage Gift looked pretty good, a little ‘fuller’ (as one reviewer tactfully put Kate Bush’s appearance recently), but in remarkably good shape for a bloke in his mid 50s. Of course it’s the voice that matters. Gift was always a distinctive vocalist, singing at the higher end of the scale with a slight quiver in his delivery that hinted at the soul staples of heartache and pain. The good, make that great that it’s still there. Perhaps just a tiny little lower in places the only stretch seemed to be the odd high note during She Drives Me Crazy. And let’s face it 8 year old choirboys would struggle to hit some of those notes. Speaking of the songs the set was a crowd delighting mix of the hits (ALL of ‘em) plus some new tracks from forthcoming album (and soundtrack to Roland’s new self penned film apparently) Return To Vegas. There’s a pleasing old school 60s feel to a lot of the new material with some swirling Hammond organ, girl group harmonies and hooky choruses in there. As I failed to grab a setlist from the clutches of the megafans (some of whom seemed on the verge of orgasm at times) I’d only be guessing at the titles but the country soul of She’s Not Your Girlfriend stood out as a little different and 24/7, with its classic soul style countdown of the days of the week, hit the spot rather nicely. Nice to hear It's Only Money from his self released 2002 album too. It didn't make much of a splash back then but it's a bit of a grower. 

Time and time again it’s the voice that really ‘sells’ each song. You can tell he’s also an actor. There’s a way he inhabits the lyrics, it’s subtle but believable most notably tonight on a surprisingly moving Not The Man I Used To Be. Despite the familiarity of the song it somehow seemed like he was singing it for the very first time. I have no idea of his private life but the performance of this track and several others seemed to have an honesty and rawness that's tricky to fake, no matter how much of an old thesp you may be. Predictably the biggest cheers were reserved for more upbeat stuff though. The intro to Good Thing may still sound like Gloria Jones’ version of Tainted Love but it’s a cracking track. Northern Soul goes 80s pop. Can it really be a quarter of a century old? Jeez.

Despite this being one of his first solo shows for years (although he’s toured extensively with Jools Holland and played the odd revival festival) Gift seemed pretty relaxed up there this evening, even enjoying/enduring a little banter with some of the more vociferous members of the audience. He’s soooo well spoken too. Okay not everyone who grows up in Brum or Hull (Gift’s homes for his formative years) has a regional twang but that accent’s pure Patrick Stewart in places. There’s evidence of a dry wit too. “Does anyone like punk?” he asks at one point. A good dozen or so old punks cheers uproariously “’s some reggae” he deadpanned before launching into a slightly dubby Ever Fallen In Love. That’s the only significant fiddling about they did with the hits, everything else was dished up as nature intended and it was timely reminder of why the Fine Young Cannibals Raw and the Cooked album sold 5 million copies or so. Whether Gift will ever hit (if indeed he even wants to) those dizzy heights again remains to be seen. The voice is still special though, classically soulful but with that tremulous edge soaking virtually every line with emotion.  Not the man he used to be? Nope, even better I’d say.   

Photos courtesy of the lovely Mr Ian Dunn at Principle Photography

No comments: