Royal Festival Hall, London Touring May 23 to August 30
A true pop star is a bundle of contradictions. Marc Almond OBE is 62, and he still looks like a naughty boy. He’s been a chart-topper, a cabaret artiste and an art-rocker.
He sings his Soft Cell hits at shows called Discover The 80s or Let’s Rock Norwich, but still has enough of a following to fill the Festival Hall.
As he comes on stage, his 26th solo studio album, Chaos And A Dancing Star, is in the top 40. The title paraphrases Nietzsche, who said: ‘One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.’
Marc Almond OBE is 62, and he still looks like a naughty boy. He’s been a chart-topper, a cabaret artiste and an art-rocker
Very art rock. But the songs are co-written by Chris Braide, who supplies hits to divas such as Beyoncé, so the songs are catchy.
Braide, born in Warrington, not far from Almond’s home town of Southport, plays keyboards and rhythm guitar. In an un-starry move, Almond hands him rather too much of the limelight, letting Braide sing his own songs, which are merely likeable.
Almond’s persona – impish, emoting, arty but down-to-earth – lends coherence to an improbably assorted career. This show runs for three hours, ranging from T Rex album tracks to torch songs and a melodramatic theme tune for a Russian film, which looks quite unwatchable.
IT’S A FACT
Tainted Love was first recorded in 1965 by Gloria Jones, who was driving the car that crashed killing partner Marc Bolan in 1977.
Halfway through, Almond introduces a guest he first saw on Top Of The Pops in 1970. ‘He’s been described as the Jimi Hendrix of the flute, probably by himself.’ It’s Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull.
As if he hadn’t collected enough genres already, Almond is a prog rock fan.
Anderson, all in black, looks disconcertingly sharp for an old hippie. Brandishing his flute like a guitar, he joins in on his own hit The Witch’s Promise, plus Lord Of Misrule, a new Almond track that may well be about him.
Twenty songs later, Anderson returns for Tainted Love, still magnificent after 39 years, and now adorned by the flute solo you never knew it needed. Meanwhile, the Festival Hall curfew has been and gone.
‘Oh well,’ says Almond, ‘we started five minutes late.’ And he launches into Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, which is much like him – eccentric, but lovable.
THIS WEEK’S CD RELEASES
By Adam Woods
Pictish Trail Thumb World Out Friday
Pictish Trail’s Johnny Lynch runs his Lost Map label and makes his music on the Hebridean island of Eigg. On this new album, there are traces of Scottish forebears The Beta Band, nods to old computer games, and a theme about the usefulness of thumbs
La Roux Supervision Out now
Since 2009, the career of Elly Jackson – the lone remaining member of La Roux – has stuttered, with an avowed revulsion towards fame and the music industry. This, her third record, follows her own instincts, on her own label, and she sounds all the happier for it
Agnes Obel Myopia Out Friday
Agnes Obel’s dark, delicate music, which has made her the toast of nice concert halls across Europe, hovers in a space between the arty intensity of Kate Bush or Björk and the more icily minimalist classical composers. Myopia is far from the neat miniatures of her breakthrough Philharmonics with drifting, wintry arrangements of keyboards, strings and sampled voices. It is sad, beautiful and hard to imagine getting to the bottom of it