The Names: German Nights – Album Review
The Names: German Nights
Released 8 September 2017
Recent (2016-2017) live recording of classic Belgian New Wave band The Names venturing over the border in neighbouring Germany….LTW’s Ian Canty hears the one-time Factory outfit on rare old form in Hamburg, Berlin and Freiburg
Belgium only made a mark internationally in New Wave/Punk circles with Plastic Bertrand’s novelty hit Ça Plane Pour Moi. However, after a short while trading as the Passengers, the Names gave a far more credible showing in the Post Punk field. They made their live debut in 1978 and a year later released a single for Warner Brothers called Spectators Of Life. The Names sang in English rather than their mother tongue and as the company were looking into the commercial viability in Belgian acts to the rest of Europe, they fit the bill perfectly. But the band themselves yearned to work for a label based in the UK. A meeting at one of Joy Division’s 1980 gigs at Plan K in Brussels resulted in the “Nightshift” single for Factory and a longer term association with Les Disques du Crépuscule and the associated Factory Benelux label resulted in a single Calcutta and the debut album entitled Swimming.
The legendary Martin Hannett produced the band on these and also their final single The Astronaut in 1982. Soon after the band split with the band kind of reassembling (well singer Michel Sordinia and two other original members Marc Deprez and Christophe Den Tandt) for the 1997 album Nightvision under the name Jazz. The Names proper made their full comeback in 2007 and since then have released two further LPs and toured widely throughout Europe.
Though in the past I’ve heard the odd track by the band this was my first prolonged exposure to the Names and on the whole they impressed me. Though one could forgive them if they were a little less than vital all these years on, they approach the songs here with plenty of vigour and style. Yes on this recording the Names still sound pretty fresh and vital, even bearing in mind the forty years since they formed.
The reconvened band have more than a little of the grandiose majesty that characterised Magazine circa “Secondhand Daylight” about them and also, although it is far from a hip comparison, perhaps a little of the early Midge-era Ultravox too (which despite later horrors actually wasn’t all bad – I’m thinking Sleepwalk/Passing Strangers and most of the first LP). Also they obviously shared something with classic Post Punk bands from Manchester like the Chameleons and Joy Division too, which initially bought them into the Factory orbit in the first place.
The tracklist for this new release on Factory Benelux does feature more than a few delves back into the past but doesn’t ignore their most recent LP Stranger Than You. In fact, Boy With A Gun from that record is probably my favourite track on the whole thing, darned catchy and with plenty of attack. There’s an almost Goth look back on their first single Spectators Of Life and the languid This Is Harmony has a bit of early Simple Minds about its restrained magic. My Angel Of Death is quite beautiful, dreamy Post Punk with Teardrops keys complimenting the upfront vocal of Michel Sordinia.
The Names stock in trade is wistful and evocative Post Punk, sometimes cold and icy, at others warm and sunny. There’s many examples here and though from Belgium they’re steeped in Manchester, even bringing to mind the Smiths a little on Hands Off Love. They never sound like a direct take off though, simply using aspects of Magazine/Durutti Column/The Smiths etc as a starting point and then embossing their own unique stamp. Thus German Nights is a satisfying example of just what they do, bringing a pleasing freshness to their back catalogue. The album concludes with a spirited take on Lou Reed’s archetypal VU rollercoaster What Goes On.
Though perhaps there is an argument that live albums are only really nice as mementos for people who attended the gigs, but in general folk would usually go back to the original versions of these songs if they want to hear them, German Nights offers a glimpse into The Names’ live fire in the modern day. It shows them more than capable of evoking their chilled grandeur in 2017. This doesn’t feel like mere nostalgia as they sound surprisingly quite contemporary here – maybe they were just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. A fine time was clearly had on these particular German Nights.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here