It’s approximately 8.25 at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Jim Bob has not long finished an excellent acoustic set and Alice Cooper is bellowing ‘Hello, Hooray’ across the PA system. Whether or not this choice of between set music has been chosen deliberately or is just a welcome coincidence remains to be seen. However, its lyric concerning letting the show begin and pulling in the audience is certainly apt. Tonight, the near capacity crowd are very keen…and – in some cases – especially so, since they’ve got a good idea of the night’s set list. Stourbridge’s finest, The Wonder Stuff, have promised that their first two albums – 1988’s ‘The Eight Legged Groove Machine’ and 1989’s ‘Hup’ – will be played in full. These are albums that still mean the world to most of The Stuffies’ loyal fanbase. They’re also albums that have the potential to be enjoyed by listeners who might not have connected with them that first time around. More than just nostalgia, the coming set is automatically geared towards fantastic songs. High spirits and a lot of crowd singing are both guaranteed.
It’s the middle of December and there’s a conflicting mood in the air. People are gearing up for Christmas so there’s a bustling feel to the city, yet at the same time, it’s the night after a General Election so any excitement is contrasted by the dread of another five years with a Conservative government increasing austerity measures and generally widening an already massive divide between rich and poor.
Taking his place at the mic stand on a sparsely decorated stage, the legendary Jim Bob seems aware of this mood. “I feel like I should say something…profound” he tells the audience, before even playing a note. Quite how profound a man could be while wearing a gold sparkly jacket and sunglasses on loan from The Banana Splits is anyone’s guess. “…Or we could have a sing-song”, he beams, before launching into a stripped down version of Carter’s ‘Is Wrestling Fixed?’, its opening lines greeted with a huge roar. It’s a great performance, but drawing more heavily from the whimsical than the energetic, its a less-than-obvious opener. Nevertheless, the front half of the audience is hugely receptive and even in the bar areas nearer to the back of the venue, bellowing voices are more than evident. Digging further into the Carter back catalogue, the fantastic Billy’s Smart Circus whips up the audience further into a shouting mass – this first dip into the fan favourite ’30 Something’ album boding well for the rest of the set.
Nearing the close of 2019, Black Star Riders are on a high. Their fourth album ‘Another State of Grace’ has gained very positive reviews and their current UK tour has been really pulling in the crowds.
It’s only about twenty past three in the afternoon, but the crowd at the Forum have already experienced superb sets by Mark Morriss and Chris Helme. For so early in the day, the venue had been surprisingly full for the Seahorses and Bluetones frontmen. At this point, it’s less full than it had been, but even the most enthusiastic Britpop fans have to go and eat! It’s a shame that so many have chosen to do so just as Salad are about to appear, but looking at the whole day’s events, Salad are the least traditionally “Britpop” of the day’s acts – only really considered Britpop by virtue of timing. That, and the fact that they’ve always seemed to be one of those “Marmite” bands, so in some ways, the thinner crowd sort of makes sense. Many of those still in the venue have almost certainly come to see Salad specifically and are ready to give their all.
Always known for his self-depreciating humour, Mark Morriss has only been on stage for about thirty seconds before he plays down the fact that he’s released a new album in the last forty eight hours. “This afternoon, I’ll be playing some old songs…and some new ones”, he says, before pretending to be complaining audience members. Nobody is complaining, of course. Star Shaped is so often about welcome nostalgia, but Mark’s fourth release ‘Look Up’ is great and the fans have had nothing but praise for the new record, suggesting it’ll be The Bluetones front man’s most successful solo endeavour to date.