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The Final Word | Saturday, 24 February 2018
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Starshaped: THE BLUETONES / SLEEPER / SPACE / DODGY / MY LIFE STORY / SALAD - Glasgow O2 ABC, Saturd   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Tonight we're going to party like its' 1997! Or is it 1995? I'm not sure.....

All i know is this ; When my kids grow up, they'll ask me "Daddy, What did you do in the great britpop wars then?" And I'd be a little stumped....I mean, I was there. But I can't remember the nineties much. You know what they say. If you can remember it, you weren't there. *looks at the bill*

Ah, 1997. The heady days of yore. Britpop ruled the roost - Oasis seemed unstoppable, and we hadn't heard Be Here Now yet. Every decade or so, we saw a mammoth new wave of British music , which would surface from seemingly nowhere and take over the mainstream. In the seventies, It was punk rock ; in the eighties it was acid house. In the nineties, it was Britpop. It came along and swept all in its' way asunder - whilst a new brace of young bucks came along. every new band was suddenly expected to go top five with their debut single whilst instantly selling out tours before anyone had heard a note and then to sell a hundred thousand albums in the first week.

And then Be Here Now killed everything. The Rolls Royce that was driven into the pool for the album sleeve, for a start. But never mind that, lets go back to a happier time. When we were young. When nobody died , And nobody got older. Because in our heads, we are all still the 20 somethings we once were back in those days. And not just secretly, neither. Lets go back to when we were young, When hopes were high, and waistlines were slim. Tell your kids - You can tell them you can remember the time the "Blur Vs. Oasis" news story made the national TV news. A time when your children could still ask you "What did you do in the great Britpop wars of 1995?" Well, the answer is simple - like most other twenty somethings, I went to the pub, pretended to be cooler than I was, and failed at picking up members of the opposite sex. Then i went home, stuck on "how soon is now?" and wailed along tunelessly to the lyrics "And go home, and you cry and you want to die". . We all did. It is Just that everyone was too cool to admit it. Now, we don't admit because of..well, Morrissey.

Yep, Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. This tour sees six bands on the road, package tour style, presenting not so much nostalgia, as much as the world's first touring indie time machine.

That's why at 2.23PM on a Saturday Afternoon, we find ourselves convened under the largest mirror ball in Europe. In Glasgow's O2 ABC. And so Marijne van der Vlugt ex- MTV presenter and shortly thereafter an indie heartthrob comes out for Salad's first tour in twenty odd years or so, as an acoustic set. Ladies and Gentleman, this is Salad undressed . And forty minutes, later the initially small but rapidly growing crowd has been treated to an engaging, endearingly quirky renditions of some of their goldies and oldies, alongside new material such as the quite fabulous "Relationship Dust". Difficult to tell how it will translate to a full band environment, but there's no signs they've lost it on basis of these few songs. Not every band can take a twenty year break and come back with such strong material, but Salad seem to be one to buck that trend.

Next on the bill are My Life Story . My Life Story were never ever a Britpop band. . No, they were something else. Never mind the Britpop, are you ready for some Britfop? Yes, Britfop. A genre they singlehandedly invented....

Significantly slimmed down, and vastly revamped, only frontman Jake Shillingford remains from the original era. Gone is the mammoth 8 piece string section, replaced by Amy, the new keyboardist who was - as Jake informs us - born the week before their second single ("Funny Ha Ha", played later) was released. And this sees singer Jake Shillingford rebooting the name with a new band - essentially a Jake Shillingford solo band in all but name. And much to my surprise, this incarnation of My Life Story is actually, even tighter and better than the original line up. And that original line up? I've seen them in arenas, in dive bars and... Even at 3.30pm on a Saturday afternoon, this knocks them into a cocked hat

Despite having not released a new album since 2000, tonight sees a smattering of new songs mixed in with classic material. Opening with the new song "Breathe In / Breathe Out" is bold, especially when following it up with one of a multitude of hits in "The King of Kissingdom". Jake Shillingford (now half a century old) kicks his legs high in the air, pulling the moves like in his prime. "Motorcade" , from their debut "Mornington Crescent". doesn't sound like it is 25 years old ; it sounds totally fitting and 100% current. Smattering tracks from their debut to last years "24 Hour Deflowerer", its a entirely successful reboot. My Life Story do something I had never imagined they could do - reboot themselves, and do so entirely successfully. There is a veritable avalanche of hits, new material and deep cut classics, mostly culled from their 2nd album "The Golden Mile.

Big tunes, big choruses, big orchestras. And big dreams. Its like they never went away.From the high flying kicks into the air in his full length suit, let us not forget this - the world never needed them more than it could possibly now. Be it Jake throwing out packs of playing cards into the audience (as featured on their single sleeve to "King of Kissingdom" to stating the world of pop needs more Harpsichord solo's, My Life Story don't do things by halves. The venue may be less than half full, but the band never give anything less than 100% commitment. Entertained? you will be. Never less that giving it their all, My Life Story tonight end with the huge, epic "12 Reasons Why I love her".

Which makes me realise there's 12 Reasons Why I love them, and that is every single damn song on the setlist. If you've never seen My Life Story before, make sure you don't miss them. Who needs the turgid dirge of complaint-indie when you can have flamboyance, verve, huge lapels, and big gestures? Whether playing to 20 people or 2000, it doesn't matter. My Life Story give it their all. Clutching victory from the jaws of indifference, it is only the size of the bill that means My Life Story don't snatch the prize of band of the day. And only then by a tiniest of amounts.

Before tonight, I hadn't seen My Life Story in 18 years, since a late night in a pub in Leicester where they (unbelievably) got blown off stage by their support act. given how good they are here, Run/don't walk to see them if they are playing near you sometime soon. Entertained you will be. And then some.


Now, Dodgy are one of those bands that if you haven't seen them, you simply feel like you already have, such is their familiarity. Seemingly ubiqitious in the nineties with their massive hits "Good Enough" and "In A Room", they seemingly came from nowhere , and then disappeared back into nowhere shortly affterwards. Which is misleading, because "Free Piece Sweet" was their third album, having been preceded with songs such as the immortal jollyness of "Staying Out For The Summer".

Tonight, with a set culled from their three albums, and an incredibly talkative and affable Andy Clark as frontman, they even manage to overrun their set by 12 minutes. Their hour long set actually lasts 72 minutes.

And what do you get for you 72 minutes?

Two of the world's most affable men cracking jokes and playing tunes, just having as good a time as they can on stage. Andy Clark is permanently chirpy, and Matthew Priest (the John Bonham of britpop) isn't far behind. Unconventionally, they seem to blow their pop load early with their two biggest hits in twenty minutes - opening with "In a Room" and then the ubiqutious, you couldn't escape it cross-over hit "Good Enough" descends into a mass crowd wide singalong. What else you get are a couple of new songs, a couple more hits, and the long time traditional set closer that is "Grassman".

As I look at the back of the venue - its filling up. Very much so. There's more and more people here by the minute, and due to the overrunning set, there's not much time to change over before the next band to come. And the two bands couldn't be more disparate. Because whilst Dodgy seem like a band who have hardly aged a day, Space on the other hand, are one band for whom time has not stood still.

You might remember Space as a twee, but quirky purveyors of some late-era britpop hit singles. Not much could be further from the truth, because it seems like they woke up one morning they said to themselves "Tonight, Matthew, we want to rock. We want to rock like absolute roadfilth. And let there be facial hair, beards and let me like that guy from Monster Magnet!"

They've come a long way since the mid nineties. Having spent the nineties being a britpop band by mistake ; instead now they have found their real roots as a hard-as- nails, razor-sharp psychedelic heavy rock band. And you know what?

That's what they are good at that. really, Really, REALLY good at.

Don't be deceived by the records - this lot have more in common with Hawkwind than anything else Not only are they ultra-tight, but their odd mix of chugging guitars, and psychedelic keyboards, complete with video displays, gives the audience something they didn't bargain for. Singer Tom Scott spent the nineties in a baggy jacket and curly hair, but he is now a scrawny, ultra lean bearded and wirey rock god, swigging something strong and alcoholic throughout the set and getting increasing more belligerent and drunk with every passing song. Meanwhile, on stage right? The bass player resembles a shaven headed, goateed mid-level henchman from a martial arts movie

Space are no longer the malleble, fluffy pop band, you'd might remember. No - they are razor sharp, precise, propulsive and tight as hell. New material such as "Killswitch" and "Sharks Be More Friendly" is chopped and changed with old album tracks, and it puts the old stuff to shame as lightwieght. I've haven't seen a more schizophrenic band on stage in years, but one thing Space have is the audience eating out of the palms of their hand. I had expected little, but what I got was an incredible surprise. Tom is a engaging, charismatic, frontman who makes the venue seem as tiny as your living room - and yes, whilst you don't get all the hits (Where are though, "Dark Clouds"?) complete with Cery's from Catatonia on the videoscreens during the big hit "The Ballad of Tom Jones", the now Radio-X jingle that is "Female of the Species" and the one everyone knows that is "Me & You Versus The World".

I've seen Space before, and this is the best, THE BEST, I've ever seen them. By far. They don't just pull it out of the bag, they pull a cracker. They are simply, and i don't say this lightly - the band I like least on record out of all six on the bill, and are absolutely unmissable live.

Any other night, they would have walked off with the "best band" trophy easily (though My Life Story were only a fraction behind), but there again - their biggest opposition isn't how good they are. its how long the next band have been away. Because twenty years is a long time in pop, buddy.

Judging by the size and density of the crowd where it is almost impossible to move, Sleeper are without doubt the most anticipated band of the day. Understandably, deservedly so. Quite how the Bluetones are headlining over them, I have NO idea. Because it seems like everyone,. EVERYONE, is here to see Sleeper. The crowd isn't just full, it is bursting. After all - Sleeper's second album, "The It Girl" went Platinum in the UK - 300,000 copies sold. That was the level as which a band no longer was just selling to readers of the music papers - that the level where the album starts selling to those people doing a weekly shop in Tesco.

From the opening "Pyrotechnician" to the closing "Sale of The Century", Sleeper are rapturously received. If abscence makes the heart grow fonder, then twenty years away from the stage means they are truly loved - and missed. And they have been missed. It is easy to tell that , because songs people have been living with for two decades they never EVER thought they would see again are brought to life again, after years of people thinking it would never happen, are here being brought to life again. And the response is immediate - yes, I do see tears.

Some of these songs - written with a real world incisiveness by Louise Wener - do genuinely speak of people lives'. The little details that a lyricist speaking in broad, grand sloganeering brushstrokes would overlook. One writer once said the genius of Sleeper was that they spoke the way girls really spoke - not in the way that man thinks a woman speaks. And if the last verse of "What do i do now?" doesn't explain better the intricacies of a collapsing relationship perfectly, what does? Well,"Inbetweener" on the first album does.

It is 15 songs, an hour and change. And it feels like it is over in the blink of an eye, so long have we waited. It is a set that seems to alternate between the first and second album one song at a time, with an occasional dip into the third album , an album which was dead in the water and abandoned by the record company at birth (Read Louise Wener's book "Different For Girls" if you want the nitty gritty detail). The highlights are too many to mention - all the hits are present and correct, as is the much underrated "Lie Detector", and the unexpected cover version of Blondie's "Atomic" from the soundtrack to the original "Trainspotting".

But in the final straight of "Sale Of The Century" sees everyone, EVERYONE - singing all the words to the songs - words that even if they thought they had forgotten and didn't know, they knew all along. Its' not the band that make this (this is only their 5th gig in 20 years), who are - if truth be told - occasionally a little disparate, sometimes scrappy and nowhere near as solid as some of the earlier bands.It's the fans ; a moment of unity seeing a band they've missed for the first time in two decades. And it shows.

Dear Sleeper - its been too long. Come back soon. You were missed.

Don't tell the Bluetones, but we all know who the true headliners were tonight. Thing is, I think the Bluetones know,. By the time they come onstage, the crowd has significantly, and visibly thinner out considerably. They've been releasing albums throughout the past twenty years, to varying levels of success - and touring constantly, too. If you've wanted to see The Bluetones live in that time, you've had plenty of chances ; in the past 20 years, where Sleeper played 0 gigs, the Bluetones played roughly 450 gigs So without doubt, anticipation for Sleeper was much much higher - Sleeper are, in fact, the only reason I'm been here.By comparison, The Bluetones have played so often it seems like you have to make an active effort NOT to see them. So much so, One day I might end up walking around to the corner shop and find them playing inside unexpectedly .

So, whilst the Bluetones are indubitably much loved by their loyal fanbase, the crowd is very noticeably thinner and smaller than it is for Sleeper.Only the die-hards, it seems, are here for the Bluetones. Thety put on a spirited if perfunctory performance - almost as if they already know before they have taken the stage, that they've been beaten into second place. And whilst most of the hits are present and correct, the level of anticipation is nowhere near as high. Aside from the undeniable pop genius of "Slight Return" and the standalone single of "Marblehead Johnson" (which iw an obscure reference to Bill Hicks) the rest of their set lacks the sparkle, the joie de vive that Sleeper brought to theirs. The Bluetones ply their trade doggedly, and enthusiastically, but knowingly having been pipped to the post.

Ultimately, this a nostalgia trip - one filled with great songs that are much loved , bands that have been much missed and not seen in decades, all wrapped up in a good value for money ticket price and almost a full days worth of entertainment. As deals go, its a bargain. Just two of these together on one bill would probably put you back 30 nowadays, and for a few quid more you get triple the number of bands. As gigs go - it is excellent value for money, with a damn fine set of top notch bands from those heady years. And you know something? At this price it is pretty much unmissably good value.

I don't know who they are going to get for next year, even if there is a next year, But I will be watching with great interest,,, because tonight was the best night I've been out to in a long, LONG time They always say if you can remember it, you weren't there. Well, I was there in the nineties, and if you don't not remember the nineties, don't worry. This is the decade in a day. You'd never be able to tell the difference.

In the 90's the future was bright. Now that future is behind us - but let it shine again one more time. To shine like stars. Just for one day....


Salad Undressed : Planet in the Ocean - Granite Statue - Your Ma - Being Human - Nowhere Near - Motorbike to Heaven - Diminished Clothes - Namedrops - Relationship Dust - Yeah Yeah - White Rabbit - Drink the Elixir

My Life Story : Breathe In Breathe Out - The King of Kissingdom - Motorcade - Neverland - Empire Line - 24 Hour Deflowerer - Emerald Green - Funny Ha Ha - Sparkle - Strumpet - Mr. Boyd - It's a Girl Thing - 12 Reasons Why I Love Her

Dodgy : In a Room - Water Under the Bridge - You Give Drugs a Bad Name - Good Enough - Brand New Heart - Found You - California Gold - If You're Thinking of Me - Never Stop - So Let Me Go Far - Staying Out for the Summer - Grassman

Space:Charlie M - Begin Again - Money - Avenging Angels - Killswitch - Mister Psycho - The Ballad of Tom Jones - Sharks Be More Friendly - Female of the Species - Drop Dead - Me & You Vs the World - Neighbourhood

Sleeper : Pyrotechnician - Dress Like Your Mother - Delicious - What Do I Do Now? - Lie Detector - Statuesque - Vegas - Nice Guy Eddie - Atomic - Inbetweener - She's a Good Girl - Miss You - Lady Love Your Countryside - Sale of the Century

The Bluetones: Bluetonic - Solomon Bites the Worm - Cut Some Rug - Sleazy Bed Track - Keep the Home Fires Burning - Slight Return - Marblehead Johnson - Never Going Nowhere - Emily's Pine - After Hours - Are You Blue Or Are You Blind? - If...

Photos Copyright of, and used with permission of Donna C. Nicoll, 2017


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