Saturday, 29 January 2022

A Promise Of Heaven Or Hell In Your Song

Hot on the heels of the triumphant Soft Cell tour late last year and their imminent new album *Happiness Not Included, Marc Almond has announced 5 solo concerts for March and April.

I've only seen Marc Almond live on stage once, in October 1988 promoting The Stars We Are. The album had only been released a few days prior to the concert and ultimately matched it's predecessor, Mother Fist And Her Five Daughters, peaking at #41 in the UK. The previous month, Marc had enjoyed his highest UK singles chart placing in three years when Tears Run Rings made it to #26. Follow up Bitter Sweet didn't fare so well but the next single, re-recorded as a duet with Gene Pitney, would see Marc back at #1.

The Bristol Studio Ballroom sounds grand, doesn't it? It evokes images of faded glamour and a building steeped in history, a perfect setting for Marc's evocative tales of grit and glitter. The reality was a bit different. The Studio was at the top of a multi-storey building, above a cinema and adjoining an ice rink. The Studio itself generally had a main space for the lager louts and pop dance toons, with occasionally some great DJs passing through. There was also a very small side room, with sweat-dripping walls and minimal lighting, for anything deemed "alternative" (for me, this was invariably goth). The main space was where gigs would happen. I don't remember The Studio with any real affection as a building/space, but I had some great times there with some great people, and the collision of queues to get into the various destinations was always interesting, to say the least.

The other significant memories of the Marc Almond gig are:
(1) I ended up going alone and I didn't see anyone else at the gig that I knew; and 
(2) I ended up having to leave early to get the last bus home. 
I do recall that it was Tuesday night, I had the work the next day, I was flat broke and I couldn't afford a solo taxi fare as I lived in some godforsaken suburb, miles away. I'd passed my driving test by then but hadn't yet been able to afford a car and no way were my parents going to lend me theirs to drive into the big bad city.

So, my euphoria at what was a brilliant concert was tempered by being really pissed off as I sat on the bus, rattling my bones with every pothole on its interminable, roundabout journey back home. 

Marc Almond was fantastic. Oddly enough, although I was familiar with his songs, particularly the singles, at that point I don't think I actually owned any Soft Cell, Marc & The Mambas or solo albums, so a fair chunk of the songs were new to me. As the ticket proudly states, there was no "supporting artiste", so it did mean that I managed at least two thirds of the set before having to dash to the bus stop; I definitely made it to Anarcoma, but it's a bit hazy after that. Marc was supported, as on the studio recordings, by La Magia aka Annie Hogan, Billy McGee and Steven Humphreys. The three plus Martin McCarrick had been The Willing Sinners and Hogan, McGee and McCarrick had also been members of Marc & The Mambas, and brought a cinematic lush quality to underpin Marc's singing and storytelling.

There isn't a setlist available for the Bristol Studio gig, so I've referenced the show at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London a few nights later. I've not replicated the full set for the simple reason that I still (still!) don't have all of Marc's earlier albums, including The Stars We Are (and I've long lost the C90 copies of those I did). Instead, today's selection is singles-heavy, plundering 1995's Treasure Box collection, 12" remixes and rarities. 
From the latter, I've included the version of Melancholy Rose from the Videos 1984-1987 (on VHS!) as I love the introduction. Not a spoiler, but I keep mishearing "Circus of Sighs" as "Circus of Size", which always makes me smile. I've also included the Pitney-free original album version of Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart, which was how I first heard the song, on a friend's copy of The Stars We Are, although I missed it being performed live. 
The set was liberally sprinkled with Jacques Brel covers, preceding Marc's 1989 album Jacques, and closed with If You Go Away. I don't have that particular version, so I've gone for the earlier take from 1982 by Marc & The Mamba, in truth just Marc singing and Annie on piano, to stunning effect. Brel's original 1959 song Ne Me Quitte Pas was translated by Rod McKuen in 1966 and the version included here is spine chilling. 

Marc's upcoming concerts will finally provide an opportunity to perform songs from Chaos And A Dancing Star, released in January 2020 just before the pandemic hit. It was one of my highlights of the year but, let's face it, it's going to be a fantastic show whatever he chooses to sing.

1) The Stars We Are (Full Length Mix): Marc Almond with La Magia (1988)
2) Melancholy Rose (Video Version): Marc Almond & The Willing Sinners (1987)
3) Bitter Sweet (The Big Beat Mix By The Extra Beat Boys): Marc Almond with La Magia (1988)
4) Anarcoma: Marc Almond & The Willing Sinners (1986)
5) Tenderness Is A Weakness (With Instrumental Overture) (10" Version By Mike Hedges): Marc Almond & The Willing Sinners (1984) 
6) Ruby Red (Special Re-Recorded Extended Dance Mix By Mike Hedges & Marc Almond): Marc Almond & The Willing Sinners (1986)
7) The Sensualist (Ultimate Ecstacy Mix): Marc Almond with La Magia (1988)
8) Tears Run Rings (The Just Rite Edit By Justin Strauss): Marc Almond with La Magia (1988)
9) Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Album Version By Bob Kraushaar): Marc Almond with La Magia (1988)
10) If You Go Away (Cover of Jacques Brel): Marc & The Mambas (1982)


  1. A great write up. Having been someone who lived in another suburb of Bristol growing up there were times when we would walk home...usually Park Street, Whiteladies Road, Blackboy Hill, across the downs and so on. Some gigs were worth it; others weren't! I have fond memories of The Studio - both for gigs and club nights. Seeing Copey at the Studio was one highlight - I'm sure you were probably there too!

    1. Thanks, Mike! I didn't get to see Copey until 1988, so I was a year out on the (original) Studio gig...though I did see him again many years later at the Academy. Looks like that 1987 gig was one hell of a night...!