Engine Rooms Southampton
23 March 2022
Clare Grogan with her all-new Altered Images pay a mid-week visit to the south coast. A new album is in the offing and Ian Canty was persuaded out of his local retreat to knock up one of his increasingly rare live reviews
One of the things that made Gregory’s Girl such a great piece of cinema was that it got what it was like to attend a British secondary school and indeed teenage life in general in 1980 spot on. I can speak with a reasonable amount of knowledge on this subject, as I was of that age and an inmate of one such establishment at the time.
This film introduced Clare Grogan to most of the general public, but she already was a member of Altered Images by then. They were part of a developing Glasgow post punk scene that was building a head of steam whilst the film was being shot. The band went onto enjoy considerable UK chart success in the early part of the same decade, but they split in 1983 after the Bite album’s attempt at a more sophisticated sound divided fans.
Clare herself concentrated on acting after a solo career only yielded the one single Love Bomb in 1987. A memorable and hilarious appearance in Father Ted was one highlight of her TV and film work. In recent years she has played with a new lineup of Altered Images and now, with contributions from Bernard Butler and Glasgow pop contemporary Bobby Bluebell, a new album entitled Mascara Streakz is being readied for release.
I must admit that my heart sank a little when the PA played some tired old hits like some sort of “I Heart The 80s” compilation before and between the bands. It is probably me, but I’ve taken this hankering for an idealised version of the world 40 years ago as a symptom of a widespread refusal to face up to the present day. When Altered Images broke through with their youthful brio and endearingly slapdash energy, they were an antidote to that 20-something, style over substance gang anyway. Going back further, punk’s no future wasn’t merely an easy excuse to ignore the fact that times change. I suppose I’m as culpable as anyone in reviewing lots of reissues, but for my part I feel observing and understanding history can help us move on.
Even so, maybe I ought to shut my trap and get on with reviewing the gig eh? Magnetic Skies, a four piece specialising in a slightly overblown synthpop sound, opened the show. Actually, they’re fun – covering Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes might be, in the words of my old mate Silly Steve, “a bit ambitious”, but they just about pull it off. Into Paradise, one of their singles was impressive too.
After A Day’s Wait played over the sound system, this new Altered Images aggregation started off with the perfect guitar pop of I Could Be Happy. See Those Eyes follows, before we get the first of four newies, which is the LP title track itself. The indications given by it, Glitter Ball (a co-write with Bernard Butler), Beautiful Thing and The Colour Of My Dreams are favourable and seem to indicate a move towards a very danceable and neat post punk disco sound. These four tunes appear to wisely build on their 1980s history, instead of artlessly seeking to recreate it.
If one has forgotten that AI were baby Banshees to begin with, a blinding take on Dead Pop Stars and a very atmospheric Insects bring home the point. It also provides one with a crucial sidestep away from cosy 1980s certainties. Clare is still a real ball of energy with her voice rendered just a tad more husky. This helps to invest the older material with a certain pathos, an audio acknowledgement that times have moved on and we can look to the present now without regrets.
The happiness she invests in performing and lack of any pretension is truly infectious, it is lovely to observe. For instance, I couldn’t find it in my heart even to begrudge the cover of The Ting Tings’ That’s Not My Name because of the sheer joy that she endows it with. The youthful band are dab hands at rendering the 1980s material with a renewed vigour and are clearly having a great time on stage. If not “originals”, they were excellent at getting the spirit just right.
Bringing down the curtain to the main set is the cool charm of the final single (well the first time around anyway) Change Of Heart and big hit Don’t Talk To Me About Love. But of course, they’re back for an invigorating storm through Happy Birthday. I found this version of Altered Images both endearing and satisfying – what could have been only a nostalgia trip was averted by the promising new material and the vitality of the performance. I couldn’t help smiling, which for a miserable git like me is something and I felt thorough charmed and much the better for enjoying an hour in Clare and her bandmates’ company.
All words and snaps by Ian Canty – see his author profile here