Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bittersweet - Marc Almond review

Marc Almond at The Anvil, Basingstoke on Friday, November 12

SINGER Marc Almond has always been something of a chameleon so it could have been a bit of a gamble to see if he was going to provide a big crowd with the songs they knew. However, he is currently celebrating his 30 years in the business with a tour subtitled ‘My Best Bits’, so on this occasion it was a safe bet that the best-loved releases were going to feature strongly.

Almond’s ‘Best Bits’ were described as “hits and A-sides”, possibly a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that after his band Soft Cell’s flurry of Top Five singles in the early 80s, his solo releases have often missed the charts; his duet with Gene Pitney, Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart, being the biggest exception when it hit the top spot in 1989.

However, Almond’s three-decade career gave him plenty of well known electro-pop classics, torch songs and leftfield covers to pull out of the bag with a magnificent flourish. Backed by a four-piece band he never failed to entertain, putting his all into the songs he must have sung so many times before, and donning a wonderfully showy gold lame jacket for part of his performance.

There is a faint nasal quality to Almond’s voice which probably prevents him from being considered one of the truly great singers, but this is overridden by a passion which breathes heart and soul into every song. This is made all the more evident when the music doesn’t so easily lend itself to impassioned vocals, such as the strident hi-NRG beat of 1995’s Brilliant Creatures or Soft Cell’s cold, stripped down synthpop version of Tainted Love.

What was a pleasant surprise was that for such a flamboyant performer Almond was not aloof or precious; happy to chat, he explained that a plaster on his finger was the result of a peck by his parakeet. Although his biggest hits put in their deserved showstopping appearances - Soft Cell’s Torch and What, and 90s solo releases Jacky and The Days of Pearly Spencer - he also had some treats for the real fans, such as less-remembered Soft Cell single Where The Heart is, and a couple of quite amiable songs off recent album Variete.

Early Soft Cell hit Say Hello, Wave Goodbye gave the show the perfect encore, eliciting a pretty impressive rendition of an entire chorus by the audience alone, along with plenty of jocular waving at the stage. However, the real goosebump moment was produced by Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart. Gene Pitney may have passed away in 2006 - in fact, one of his final concerts was at The Anvil, just days before his death - but however much Almond may miss his former collaborator, his powerful solo rendition of the song lacked nothing for being performed alone.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, November 18, 2010

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