Ian McNabb and Cold Shoulder
New Brighton Floral Pavilion
November 23rd 2013
He’s A Genius: Ian McNabb rocks New Brighton Floral Pavilion with the excellent Cold Shoulder.
It’s ironic that opposite the impressive Fort Perch Rock, built to repulse a feared Napoleonic attack in the early 19th Century, the good folk of New Brighton should come under such a sustained bombardment from their own side. Everyone knows that, like all superpowers, Ian McNabb possesses an arsenal that, should he choose to use it, is capable of wreaking mass destruction. For the past few years however, McNabb has quietly pursued a policy of détente, contenting himself with acoustic sets in bars and clubs up and down the land. He is a superb songwriter, musician and performer and has built on the creative foundations laid down with the legendary Icicle Works to produce arguably the finest collection of albums by any solo performer in contemporary music.
Tonight however the fragile peace was to be shattered and McNabb had parked his tanks on the lawns of the New Brighton Floral Pavilion in the shape of the outstanding Cold Shoulder. A Liverpool musician of his quality only needs to whistle down Bold Street and a good band would appear but these guys are really something special as would be proved throughout a stunning two hour set. Already he has a strong contender for best album of the year with Eclectic Warrior, this performance is set to challenge as gig of the year.
It’s a good fifteen years since we last saw McNabb tread the boards of this historic venue on the apex of the Wirral and it has certainly undergone some changes since then. Now all sparkling facades and plush bars, the strength of the new building would be tested to the limit in the Blue Suite. When Ian McNabb plugs in, we face a straight choice between running for cover and digging in to face the onslaught. The brave souls gathered in this room knew what they were in for and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. “Go on Macca, let it rip” was the cry as the lights went down and the newly clean shaven, trilby sporting maestro appeared.
With a count of “1,2,1,2,3,4” McNabb launched his opening salvo with long time favourite Be Prepared To Dream, a classic from his 1994 collaboration with Crazy Horse, Head Like a Rock. Straight from this into the magnificent Smirtin from Eclectic Warrior with such an infectious, rabble rousing chorus that it had this confirmed non-smoker punching the air shouting “Motherfuckers want to see me smoking in a cage” with glee. By the time we hit the third song, No Hero To Me, all resistance was destroyed and McNabb and Cold Shoulder owned the venue and proceeded to give a feedback drenched demonstration of shock and awe. The autobiographical Fire Inside My Soul, again from Head Like a Rock has never sounded better with the excellent Chris Kearney’s guitar lending further depth to what is already a beast of a song.
Cold Shoulder rhythm section of bassist Andy Ashton and drummer Tony Mac are in inspired form tonight and enable the guitar pyrotechnics to fly from the safest of platforms. The 1996 classic Merseybeast is our next stop for the magnificent I’m a Genius and this is followed by High on a Hill from the previous album Little Episodes. This track, which fixes the fat cat bankers firmly in its sights, is powerful enough when performed acoustically so the added power tonight is a rare treat.
The legacy of the Icicle Works is a huge one and would not be forgotten tonight as the all too familiar but still evocative chords of When It All Comes Down flood the venue and the senses. In a flash it’s the mid-80’s again and we’re all free of life’s cares, if only for a few moments. There’s a sense of inevitability with the next “old chestnut” as McNabb describes the sing-along gem that is Evangeline, including a mid-song jam of Gloria. The Icicle Works, purveyed some of the finest and most under-rated moments in rock history to a world that was possibly not fully ready but to hear some of their classics given the full band treatment is always a delicacy to be relished.
However, the past is no place to stay; especially as some of Ian McNabb’s most powerful work has been released in the last few months in the shape of Eclectic Warrior. Introduced as a song about regret, the awesome My Life to Live Again is an engrossing listen at any time but played live it positively drips emotion. You half hope that there may be a different ending to the story tonight but alas no and still “The concierge said “son you came too late””. To climax the show, a pool of feedback gives birth to the achingly beautiful Memory Be Good to Me, Memory Come Back to Me which stretched towards 15 blissful minutes before the band leave the stage.
For the first encores, McNabb returns alone armed with acoustic guitar before orchestrating a joyous singalong of Icicle Works classics Hollow Horse and Out of Season to a rapturous reception. The return of Cold Shoulder to the stage signals the final stage of the conquest as Right on Time swiftly crushes any possible thoughts of resistance. Finally he decides to unleash the ultimate and most unexpected weapon in the fearsome shape of Hurricane Elaine which until now has bided her time tucked away on The Gentleman Adventurer but is now given life in all its breath-taking beauty. McNabb is lost in the storm, hunched over his guitar and consumed by this force of nature before trading guitar parts with Chris Kearney who bravely stood his ground with the help of Andy Ashton and Tony Mac. This storm had the potential to lay waste to Birkenhead, which would have been a shame after Ian had gone to such lengths earlier in the show to establish exactly what people get up to in the evening here, but thankfully it was contained within the building.
So after a sonic barrage of two hours a ceasefire was declared and it just remained for Ian to thank us for ignoring the competing attractions of X Factor and Dr Who and supporting live music. As we all know though, it’s us who owe the thanks to Ian McNabb, Cold Shoulder and the legions of performing musicians who slog it out onstage for our entertainment. After mingling with his disciples, the great man was gone; presumably back to his Liverpool bunker to plan his next attack. He has promised further gigs with Cold Shoulder and another album next year so we can only wait and hope.
All words by Dave Jennings. More of Dave’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his author archive. He is also on Twitter @blackfoxwrexham