Neil Arthur stands tall at Islington Assembly Hall to prove Blancmange, despite its 40 year existence, had not lost its wobble.
On the last night of an extensive tour, Arthur showcases the beautifully constructed tracks from the latest album Private View, alongside other Blancmange classics. Supporting was none other than Stephen Mallinder, you remember, from Cabaret Voltaire.
As time rolls on, we are often reminded of Jim Morrison’s response to a question posed to him about the future of music…
And here we all were, bathed in intense blue light, an array of synthesizers and wired-in wizardry with Benge providing the electronic beats. Stephen Mallinder (all-round musical polymath) began his skilfull and beautifully crafted set of experimental pieces, which took us on a journey through five decades of avant garde noise.
Beginning with The Set Up which features layers of sounds build in repeated sections of four with additional effects, tunes and beats added each time. The insistent rhythmic drumming underpins the extraordinary fusion of sound as Mallinder speaks into the mic, building to a frenzy before fading away.
Cool Down begins with a repeated section of four notes before an edgy bass riff and intense drum beats begin their syncopated rhythms. Mallinder’s voice once again adds the final layer before the song ends with the repeated initial notes.
Before our eyes, a spell is being woven amongst the crowd who are beginning to move, almost as one, to the mesmeric sound. Shock to the Body brings raw, coarse riffs which alternate between 4/4 and free time, before more tiers of sounds are added with the urgency of single words. The effect on the Assembly Hall crowd is captivating. In Contact, layers of drum beats build up and cross over, syncopated chords are added on top and the whole sound moves toward a fractured rhythm. A louder, buzzier Gravity sounds like Mallinder is experimenting with all possible effects on the synth; one after the other building to create a fierce intensity of sound.
We are with Stephen and Benge, all of us as one, totally immersed in the rhythms, the noise, the music. Mallinder finishes his impressive set with Working (You Are) and Colour, by which time we are totally immersed in his magical world of electronic, distorted musical resonance. The effect is almost tribal; spiritual- religious, even. We could feel the floor vibrating with hypnotic communality as the audience moved gently, almost as one consciousness, simultaneously swaying forwards, totally entranced.
Huge cheers erupt as Neil Arthur (Blancmange) comes on stage at the by now packed to capacity Assembly Hall. The crowd know it, the crowd love it and the crowd cannot wait to hear it!
Neil was joined on stage by Chris Pemberton (synth), Liam Hutton (electro drums and percussion) and Phil Jones (sound). White lights stream out to fill the venue as Neil begins his high energy, confident and classic synth pop set with the vigorous, captivating What’s Your Name, before bowing low to his fans, arms outstretched. He greets London town before launching into Reduced Voltage and then Feel Me; the rich, pulsating synth sound, electronic bass-heavy percussive elements and catchy guitar riffs giving the increasingly appreciative crowd exactly what they want – an exciting and rewarding mix of old and new.
By the time I’ve Seen the Word is aired, Neil has us wrapped around his finger and the crowd are dancing, swaying and loving the complexity of sound. His rich, warm tone is unmistakable and there is something about his easy, assured performance that makes it so much fun out there…
The lyrics to Mindset and The Smiths parody Last Night I Dreamt I Had a Job with their ironic twists and puns capture the imagination of the crowd who are enveloped in this evening of nostalgia and experimentation. Allusions and imagery feature in his songs – they are a trademark of Blancmange and so many know and love these words, chanting and singing along with fervour and conviction. The eponymous and beautiful Waves, with its synthesized melodies and guitar riffs delights the audience and is followed by the erudite and probing song What’s the Time, which asks the listener question after ironic question, ranging from ‘What’s your favourite dog? Your best child?’
Private View, the title track from Blancmange’s most recent album, released in September 2022, has a punchy, repeated drum rhythm which underpins this fast moving song. Hands once more outstretched, Arthur repeatedly implores us to ‘Let go now’ before an abrupt ending heralds the start of All I Want is You, a song full of desire sung in that gorgeously strong warm voice. Take Me follows, featuring some beautiful piano melodies and tender, vulnerable lyrics which showcase Blancmange’s versatility and range.
Of course, what everyone was waiting for was the famous Living on the Ceiling and Blancmange duly made us wait until the very end for this fabulous, ultimately famous, well-loved classic synth pop song. This was the last song of the last show and predictably, the whole place became a pre Christmas retro dance party with many of us remembering short snapshots of our misspent youth, oh the joy.
This was a pure, lovely, happy evening with the best combination of old and new – the whirls and swirls of electronic cleverness, flawlessly accurate electro drumming and stylised melodies combined to create a gloriously retro yet modern synth sound. Blancmange gave an accomplished and infallible performance as stellar as the Assembly Hall glitter ball in full swing – and we loved it!
Blancmange played Islington Assembly Hall Saturday December 10th 2022
Support from Stephen Malinder.
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