Another of those bands I had not seen previously; like many my first introduction being courtesy of the now legendary ‘Some Bizarre Album’ compilation album released by Stevo (Steve Pearce) back in 1981 – the album pulled together a selection of unsigned ‘synth-pop’ bands and included future million sellers Soft Cell and Depeche Mode together with The The and Naked Lunch; Soft Cell were all ‘sex dwarves’ whilst Depeche Mode came across as purveyors of credible pop.
Blancmange however were just a bit geeky; no gimmick to speak of; their track ‘Sad Day’ brought them to the attention of London Records and between 1982 and 1985 Blancmange had seven Top 40 hits and two Top 40 albums; they were bona fide, if unlikely, pop stars. The frankly daft name, the lack of marketable image belied the fact that Neil and Stephen beneath the surface offered a much deeper, at times melancholic palette of sound, a sound that always separated them from other synth-pop stars – by 1985 though it was all over. Despite being offered countless incentives to reform Neil and Stephen declined until 2010 when perhaps encouraged by the use of ‘Living On The Ceiling’ on the Berocca TV advert, and a remix courtesy of Faithless they began working on their first album for a quarter century.
The result was 2011’s ‘Blanc Burn’ which in turn encouraged Blancmange to return to live performance; a sizeable crowd at Liverpool’ Eric’s venue were clearly delighted to have them back; tonight appearing as a four piece; unfortunately Stephen Luscombe due to his continued struggle with an abdominal aortic aneurysm wasn’t present, however David Rhodes who played guitar on 1982’s ‘Happy Families’ was along with sound engineer Adam Fuest and ‘Ugu’ on keyboards and noises.
Opening with ‘Lose Your Love’ set the tone, Eric’s is an intimate venue, there is no stage so to speak of so Blancmange were immediately able to connect with the willing audience, the huge smile across Neil’s face matching his stature as he joked about dodging the low ceiling joists before launching into ‘WDYF’, and ‘The Western’ which living up to its title did come across as a Ring Of Fire pillaged synth exercise, before Neil using two microphones led us through ‘Ultraviolet’ and the stunning ‘Drive Me’ with its huge techno style bass beats, and live processed sounds conjured up by Fuest; this was Blancmange drawing upon their own musical roots, and using today’s technology manipulating a sound relevant for 2013.
The entire band are clearly enjoying themselves, and ooze humility – perhaps surprised by the size of audience? The material is instantly that of Blancmange, the quirky anti-pop stance is prevalent though Neil and Stephen have crafted an album that is able to reach back whilst looking forward; ‘Running Thin’ perfectly straddled the time void, an ancient Peel Session track that is set for release in 2014, before Neil declared “Were moving up a notch” as he in deep Lancastrian tones bantered with the audience before introducing ‘By The Bus Stop @ Woollies’ complete with a brilliantly banal lyric demonstrating Neil’s love of language and the deep seated humour running through Blancmange.
Having paused to wish an audience member happy birthday Blancmange launched into a play back of the entire ‘Happy Families’ album; ‘Can’t Explain’ was delivered with menace, with measured aggression before following up with ‘Feel Me’ – the ensuing years have been kind to Neil’s voice, deep, rich sonorous tones easy fill the wide expanse of the venue; so relaxed are Blancmange that Neil pauses to open a couple of cans of Boddington’s Bitter (so Northern!!) before we venture into ‘Guide’ which live in this environment amply displayed Neil and Stephens own musical history, clearly a love of Suicide and Alan Vega’s ‘Jukebox Babe’ period; building to ‘Living On The Ceiling’ and then in contrast Neil positions himself on a flight case picks up a guitar to play the haunting instrumental ‘Sad Day’ Encoring with ‘Blind Vision’ before gathering in the front of the crowd to accept the well-deserved plaudits, Neil joking that maybe they would be back to play back the ‘Mange Tout’ album.
This was a genuinely wonderful performance; what Blancmange have done is essentially reclaim their own identity – gone are the pressures of chart targets, demographics and the like – this I would guess is how Neil and Stephen envisaged Blancmange some 30+ years ago. Any band who reform after such a lengthy period are in danger of riding the nostalgia circuit, the crap 80’s revival tours – Blancmange however have once again set themselves apart from their peers, preferring to remain true to their off kilter identity they have been re-energised, their electronic pioneering sound from way back still manages to sound entirely relevant, as each song is given a different more urgent twist as Blancmange redefine their position in pop history – a run through a 30yr old album shouldn’t really be this good, but Blancmange play with real heart and soul and now would be a perfect time to enjoy the experience.
To coincide with the tour Blancmange have specially re-recorded, and rechristened ‘Happy Families, Too…’ – the new recording will be on sale exclusively at tour venues.
Lose Your Love
WDYF (What Did You Find)
Game Above My Head
By The Bus Stop @ Woolies
Happy Families album