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Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015

  by Mary O'Meara

published: 22 / 7 / 2015

Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015


Mary O’Meara at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester is swept away on an emotional roller-coaster of a performance by the iconic and inimitable Marc Almond

I feel like I'm floating along my own velvet trail as I enter the auditorium at Bridgewater Hall for Marc Almond's performance. There's more than a hint of magic in the ether - maybe it's composed of all our hopes, dreams and memories, collectively pooled and ready for Marc to animate. It occurs to me tonight and it's struck me many times before how (like only a small handful of artists I hold dear) Marc Almond has always been part of my musical experience from my later school days to this very moment...it's heart-warming that he's still here, still singing his heart out, still absolutely relevant. He may play in respected, sophisticated venues such as the one I find myself in tonight but to me he's still as subversive and in touch with the city's underbelly, with the raw stuff of real life as he was when he started out on the Some Bizarre label and lived in Soho. He's lost none of his edge, wit or energy. The band emerge and take their places and a small but dignified figure follows. Here he is! Mr Marc Almond! Elegant and at ease, he dives straight into 'Minotaur' from his new record 'The Velvet Trail'. Red lighting sends the stage up in flames and things are off with a bang...For much of the show things switch between pulsating heat and cool, shimmery blueness - between the stomping intensity of the raging sun and the quicksilver lightness of the silvery stars. When the swirling orchestration of 'The Stars We Are' starts, I feel a pang of both sadness and joy. It's great to hear this song again, and it takes me straight back to the days I worked as a shop assistant on Oxford Street (London) and played this on our eclectic staff stereo. Like a lot of Marc's music this song is full of both nostalgia and defiance...there's an appreciation of youthful yesterdays but there's an acknowledgment that deep down we're still the same souls and growing older doesn't mean we don't still cherish those dreams and indeed reach after them. Blankets of stars (courtesy of the lighting crew) wrap the venue in gold, blue and silver, and there really is a sense of being whisked away on a magic carpet. Marc takes a breather, perching on a chair and speaking about being in the moment. He chats to the crowd on and off throughout the night, often having me in fits of giggles: "I can see all your little expectant faces,” he peers out at us "What's he going to do next? What's going to happen? What outrage is going to occur? Those days are LONG gone," he sighs "I barely move round the stage these days - especially in these heels!" That isn't necessarily so as tonight Marc Almond covers that stage at twice the speed of many performers half his age. He's left, right and centre, and everywhere in between and his hands and arms speak a second language, complementing and highlighting the emotion that pours from his being. The centrepiece of the performance seems to be 'The Velvet Trail'. When Marc starts talking about Southport beach and the sad neglect of the fairground and beach by Sefton Council I know what’s coming, yet it doesn’t quite prepare me for how utterly moving his rendition of the title track of his latest album is tonight. We watch him serenade the sand-dunes, standing with such emotional magnitude, imploring the skies for an answer as he weaves his way along this beach-walk in the video on the screen behind the stage. A wave of palpable sentimentality and poignancy washes over the Bridgewater Hall. The song possesses a stark kind of beauty, a lonely yearning that is so often pitter-pattering through this artist’s songs, like a gentle rain that both allows us to express our sorrow but somehow cleanses and renews at the same time. That a brand new song can hold such a pinnacle in a set so full of high-points proves that Marc Almond is at a creative peak and is by no means relying on his back catalogue of hits to draw the crowds. Another new song, 'Scar', follows which only proves the point. Soon after this centre-piece, the pace quickens and Marc invites the crowd onto their feet and a string of records follows. We had the slightly darker numbers in the first half ('Champagne' and 'Darker Times') but I think it would be fair to say the latter part of the set is close to jubilant. Marc’s running around madly yet still manages to deliver note perfect vocals to 'Brilliant Creatures', 'Meet Me in My Dreams' (where he’s a bit miffed that the backdrop is showing Tokyo cityscapes rather than Vegas ones!) and 'Demon Lover'. Fever pitch registers when 'Bedsitter' explodes and I’m happy – but also sad we’re nearing the end. It’s always an excellent live track, and it’s a testament to music’s power to unite the alienated and give them a voice when you hear the crowd proclaim along with Marc “Look around and I can see/a thousand people just like me!” Sadly, it is almost time to finish but not without a rousing 'Soul Inside', 'Tainted Love' and surprisingly but pleasingly 'Gutter Hearts'. For this, Marc straps on a guitar and has some entertaining banter with Neal X (his guitarist whose band the Montecristos opened earlier in the evening). Marc jokes about having taught Neil everything he could, and how Neil was finally getting the hang of it and that Jimmy Page phoned up the other day, but he told him he was too busy to talk. It’s the delivery and timing that makes it all hilarious. It is a real treat to hear Gutter Hearts after all these years. I’d forgotten what a brilliant record it is – but then, the night is filled with brilliant records and those precious atoms of magic are still floating in the foyer when we exit – May they stick to our coats and keep us enchanted until next time… Photos by Melanie Smith www.mudkissphotography.co.uk

Also at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

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Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015

Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015

Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015

Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015

Marc Almond - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 23/4/2015

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