If there is one thing I’m a bit of a sucker for it’s music from my childhood, the kind that really digs deep and resonates with memories of times that were simpler, when childhood innocence was still something I had and tonight’s act is one that has a firm place in my childhood soundtrack.
Deacon Blue don’t really need an introduction, they are one of the many bands celebrating ‘x’ number of years in the business, and what usually comes from bands such as Deacon Blue is a greatest hits album and supporting tour. And you tend to find that in that camp of bands there are some that do it just to top up the bank balance as a heritage act but then there are some that do it because the really do enjoy doing it, and Deacon Blue are definitely one of the latter bands (bearing in mind to back this up they have remained fairly active since reforming back in 1999 with various album releases and shows).
The album and tour is quite aptly called “All The Old 45s”, a line taken from one of their best known hits (and a regular on my playlist) Real Gone Kid. With a title like that you know that the set is going to be filled with crowd favorites which will appeal to the casual fan and the die hard fans alike.
There is no support act tonight as this is a concert of 2 halves. The first half billed as an acoustic set and the second half with the full band energy. Something a few bands/acts have done fairly recently.
It was quite strange, but pleasing, for me. This was only my second arena shoot, and I was the only photographer there, in the pit. This was a bonus.
The stage setup for the first half was quite fitting for the stripped back feel. There were some, what seemed to be, Ikea floor lamps dotted about the place and a few chairs. Towards the front of the stage there were 2 old style microphones dead center. When the band came on the stage they all gathered around these mics and gave a short accapella excerpt from Wages Day that was filled with wonderful harmonies and was met with a rapturous applause as they ended and went to take their seats for the laid back part of the set.
This half was a set of stripped back and re-imagined/reworked songs, with a bit of a country music vibe. Acoustic guitars, a piano, an upright bass, a small drum kit and what seemed like a choir of voices really gave what could have been an intimate performance. Something you could imagine in a much smaller venue, and to be fair, if you closed your eyes you could pretend that was happening. Songs in this half included Queen Of The New Year, Chocolate Girl, A New House and All Over The World (with a few others).
The sound tonight so far is spot on. Well mixed, well balanced, almost recording quality. All the delicate nuances put into this stripped back performance were audible and easily heard. It’s been a long time since I have been to a gig with this quality of sound from such a big band in a big venue.
The crowd sat and intently listened and took it all in, they almost seemed subdued but I think it was more a case of the atmosphere the band wanted to create was having the desired effect as the applause between songs was loud. If there is one thing that Deacon Blue is known for, it is the vocal harmonies and layers, really pulling everything together. Mainly from Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh, but the rest of the band can really pitch in too.
A fantastic first half full of feeling ended with a short interval. It was back down to the pit for me awaiting the second half which, if the first set was anything to go by, should be something special. The stage was rearranged. Gone were the lamps and fairy style lights, replaced with led strips, spots and a row of screens at the back.
Once everyone was back in their seats on came the band once again, having had a break and a costume change it seems they were ready to get the place more lively and involved, asking the crowd if they were in fine voice and ready to sing, and boy were the crowd ready.
They kick off the much more lively set with The Hipsters. The audience were loving it. Although this was a fully seated gig not many backsides were on their seats now, people dancing, swaying, arms in the air and singing along, now party mode has been activated.
The hits kept coming such as (in no particular order) Wages Day, Bethlehem Begins and Loaded, the latter of which was preceded with a story of how when the band first formed and was on the touring scene of Scotland it was one song that really struck with those who went to see them.
There was also some impressive local knowledge from Ricky in this half of the set too. Where most bands would state the obvious city where the gig is being held to get a reaction, Rick asked for the “Wolverhampton Voices” to sing along, then the “Walsall Voices” and finally the “Birmingham Voices”. Top marks for that one Ricky.
You can also tell that the band truly enjoy being up there. It seems genuine. The smiles are beaming, the voices in fine tune, the band are perhaps one of the tightest bands I have seen live, and the energy, well, if you watch the video for Real Gone Kid from back in the day, they still have the same energy, if not more, that they had then. Especially Lorraine. Jumping and dancing all over the place without missing a beat or breath. And all that genuine energy from stage transfers to the crowd who were loving it all just as much.
Now, i’m not ashamed to admit that the crowd were largely on the mature side tonight, but when they played Real Gone Kid my word, the place was literally bouncing, it was almost like going back a few years to watch PWEI in Wolverhampton, a sea of heads bobbing up and down, and a lot of them for the majority of the song, and the majority of the first verse was sung by the crowd and even that was full of energy and joy. This was one of those magical moments for me and, it seems, for may others.
A few more songs and it was “goodnight” from Deacon Blue….. well, no it wasn’t as you all know the score, it was just a brief break before the obligatory encore.
The encore started off with Peace will come and the transition into Dignity was the best song to song transition I have ever witnessed or heard. And of course Dignity was met with one of the biggest pops of the evening along with one of the loudest crowd sing-a-longs of the night. I have to say that at this point I personally got a bit emotional as this is one of those songs that resonates with childhood memories.
This was followed by Fergus Sings The Blues and last was a cover of Keep Me In Your Heart. It was at this point I left the building to collect my belongings and get to the car park before the crowds.
For me tonight has been one of those 10 out of 10 gigs/experiences all round. The staff and security at the venue are friendly and helpful. The crowd was in top form. The sound was superb. The band were fantastic beyond expectations. I’m happy I got to be a part of it and i’m sure anyone that goes will be as happy as I was.
The tour continues in the UK into October. Check the website for details, you won’t regret it.