One from the Archives!
October 2019, as it happens…
We arrived to find a room considerably quieter than we imagined it might be, given the attraction on the bill. We’ve seen John Grant fill huge rooms over the years, and while Creep Show might be new to many of his fans, we were expecting a few more punters, even at this hour.
We’ve seen Grant and heard his work in many a varied way, watching him grow with, well, some envy. We’ve been lucky to be standing at the side of a stage while he spent the evening on a grand piano, lucky to catch him perform with his eclectic Icelandic electronic crew giving it some much-needed welly on a Friday night.
We fell utterly in love with what he produced with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Manchester, to this day one of the finest things we’ve probably put into our ears.
It seems like Grant can take a song and layer just about anything over it, electronics, pots and pans, strings, spoons, (scissors?) and it always manages to work. Always. Even as the room started to fill up a little we were left wondering if Creep Show was a step too far for the Grant die-hards, a little too much bleep and bloop and not enough soul and story.
Before we get to Grant and Co we had the small matter of Kincaid and Blancmange to witness, something we haven’t seen before; which is odd for us given the weirdness of the festivals we’ve traversed over the years. Blancmange have been on the go since 1979, they released their first album in 1982, and they’ve played some of the best synth-pop in existence across the world, don’t @ me, it’s true.
Tracks like Living on the Ceiling, Don’t Tell Me and Blind Vision were hits in a world that was still struggling with simple synths. Their set starts with some Windows 95 esque visuals and a pulsating reverb that seems likely to cause a few of the folk in attendance some troubling inner ear issues.
It’s beautifully retro, beautifully 80s, it’s just been turned a little deeper and a little darker, it’s all abandoned carparks, deserted shopping centres and violent run-ins with life long foes in dodgy drinking dens. Neil Arthur‘s voice is gloriously, thankfully, as powerful as we remember, it works perfectly with the newer noise Kinkaid brings, reminiscent of three-minute warning alarms and 80s movies.
You can tell from the outset that Arthur does soundtracks, it doesn’t stop, every track bleeds into the next, it adds to the intensity; the pressure builds as they move through their set. Their set is a masterpiece in making superb tunes and making all that tech do what you want it to, the 80s kids in the room were collectively in awe, especially the bloke in the front row who was dancing with his walking stick aloft.
We always thought our first time seeing Blancmange live would produce a miracle.
Who knew it would be on this scale?
With the room looking decidedly healthier, Creep Show takes to the stage in near darkness and almost complete silence, slowly building the layers until there is a veritable flurry of flashing visuals, distorted vocals and punishing bass, even the ‘Good Evenings’ sound robotic. John Grant though, well, what can you say. It’s hard not to be the centre of attention when you’re John Grant, three minutes into this and yes, it is a John Grant led show as you imagine it, but not as we know it, Captain.
This quartet stands on their own feet as an individual thing, even if they don’t move about very much, and yes, it’s hard to do that when you’re tied to the tech.
They stand side by side like some demented Polytechnic final year show gone wrong, an attempt at a Kraftwerk gig on a seriously stretched Blue Peter sticky-backed plastic budget, we are reminded of the time the fifth years in our school, the bigger kids, made a hovercraft; it looked the part but we all knew it was discarded Peter Storm jackets, old calculators and plywood.
That this is just the second show of their tour doesn’t show, it’s an exercise in absolute musical craftsmanship, sheer perfection, a thought we had by the time they got to their second song. You can tell the attraction of a band like this, the musicians and musos turn up, the room is full of musical nerds, all gathered for the spectacle, we spot Jimi Goodwin propping up the bar.
Grant seems conscious of the fact that he is probably the most well-known artist on stage, he seems intent on taking a more reserved role, hiding almost, tucked in behind a laptop we can only imagine must be the most valuable piece of kit on stage.
Stephen Mallinder, of Cabaret Voltaire fame, takes much of the heat on stage, much of that heat appears to be giving Grant a little room to breathe, time to relax, these are clearly four blokes on a stage for whom the income isn’t crucial, they’re having fun, letting it all hang out, their sci-fi dreams made real; everything is distorted, vocals, synths, even the electronic drum kit, it’s all bathed in a beautiful bouncy bass.
But it is when Grant gets to let loose, when his voice to come to the fore, devoid of electrical interference; that the room changes, the trio on stage with him light up when he gets going, it’s a stupendous thing to watch, there is joy, merriment and love in his voice.
This is a band that came off the back of Grant’s love for Cabaret Voltaire and it shows, they seem to revel in the ridiculousness of it all, having a ball and kicking the second show nerves into touch.
This is proper 80s synth-pop spliced with New York rap, electronica, Max Headroom, Krautrock, Kraftwerk, chaos, Art of Noise, Depeche Mode, and New Order; with a side of Jean Michele Jarre dropped into your bag in case you get peckish later when you stagger home.
This needs to be in a bigger room; this madness of noise, in a festival tent as darkness sets in, with a crowd of happy hippy trippy dancers would be incredible to behold, we have to give love to whoever created the visuals for Creep Show, it was a perfect mix of trance and trippiness, 90s computer games and what we’re fairly sure were minifigs at one point. A splendid piece of work on all fronts, and fonts.
As the lights came up we were left surprised and confused, surprised that in so far as we weren’t sure what to expect, we’d had a ball, seeing something as fresh as this unfold so perfectly in front of you is a lovely thing.
Confused, frankly, by the fact that it’s still £5.80 for a can of warm San Miguel at the Arts Club bar, confused when that can is a quid at Tesco. We’d just love it not to be a Sunday night, it’s hard to party with a frightening To-do list waiting for you on a Monday morning, besides, everywhere closes early, where do we go now?