Man, Steeleye Span and 10cc at Cardiff Castle

DEKE LEONARD IS getting incoherent.

“I’m goin’ to die, man, I know I’m going to die out there,” he expostulates, lightly thumbing the panic button stage left as what TV newscasters like to refer to as “torrential rain” strafes the grounds of Cardiff Castle and an endless vista of drowned hippies shelter beneath the translucent minarets of their cheap umbrellas.

Someone reverently places an orange pendant around his neck. Leonard snatches it off, eyes bulging, as if it were a loaded scorpion, and then, his fears somewhat mollified, replaces it, collects his Gibson SG and plods manfully out onto the stage, from which a “floating earth” had only a few minutes before been removed.

Foster, Man’s guide, philosopher and friend, groans. “Buxton part two, this is,” he observes mordantly.

Indeed, it seems to be Part Of Man’s Lot to end up playing open-air gigs which turn into open rain gigs. Most of the stage is taken up by 10cc’s gear, which, as per contract rider, Stays Put, which leaves Man, as it had Thin Lizzy earlier, right on the lip of the stage with the rain blowing right onto them.

Let’s hear it for showbiz.

Let’s hear it also for the Cardiff police who wouldn’t let the press coach onto the grounds, thus ensuring that all the imported observers missed Thin Lizzy’s opening set, which was reportedly magnificent (according to an informal poll of stage crew and members of Man and Steeleye Span).

God moves in mysterious ways, because if it hadn’t been for the rain Cardiff Castle would’ve been a great gig for everybody.

It’s an extremely pleasant setting, the place was packed to bursting despite the weather and, as we shall see in a moment, all the bands turned in what were under the circumstances far more than creditable sets.

The audience displayed in full measure the degree of fortitude and enthusiasm which nearly always seems to accompany the juxtaposition of rock and roll and Noah-type weather – indeed, when we arrived the Castle was surrounded by a massive queue which, as we later discovered, was composed entirely of ticketless humans attempting to gain access to the premises.

And so we return to Man, who taking their lives in their hands and the bit between their teeth, play a whompin’ stompin’ set that easily gains in warmth and energy what it loses in subtlety.

Opening up shop as usual with Deke’s ‘7171551’, they punched it out right nice and the audience got its teeth to chatter on the beat. Deke was later to mutter something about “getting through that one on automatic pilot”, but it didn’t sound that way.

Micky Jones in particular played quite exceptionally well, and considering the hardly advantageous circumstances the sound was surprisingly good.

Even though the show had been brought forward by an hour, in order to (a) attempt to compensate for the inevitable delays and (b) get some music in front of a less than comfortable audience, things still ran – inevitably – way behind schedule.

Things got so desperate that grim tales soon circulated about representatives of 10cc and/or the promoters attempting to pull the plug out of Man, but be that as it may, the promoter ended up offering Man £250 to get straight off the stage at one point.

As it was, they ended up reducing their set from an hour and a half to a little under an hour, ending with a damp but exciting ‘Many Are Called But Few Get Up’.

Moving right along, it didn’t take more than three-quarters of an hour to do an equipment change-over and get Steeleye Span on stage (gold star and a tick in the margin to both bands’ road crews).

As the band got the intro to ‘Royal Forester’ off the ground, Maddy Prior was warming up in the wings doing soul dancing and engulfing awesome quantities of wine, and as she hit the stage – the heavens ceased to pour forth their bounty on the unappreciative masses below, who responded by ditching their umbrellas and responding a trifle more physically than they had been able to previously.

It’s been some little white since I last saw Steeleye live, mainly because on the previous two occasions they had seemed to be well under par, and it’s depressing to see a band for whom you have some considerable musical and personal regard playing what is – by their own standards – inferior sets.

Bearing all this in mind, Your Humble Servant is happy to be able to inform you that Steeleye’s performance at Cardiff reminded me of why I started liking them in the first place.

What makes Steeleye happen is the boundless energy set up by Kinetic Powerdrive Ltd. (Rick Kemp and Nigel Pegrum to you), and the chemistry produced by the underpinning of wildly beautiful songs from what seems like a different universe but is simply our own collective past (yeractual National ‘Eritage is what I mean) with the rampaging electrical/technological power of here/now.

When it’s working right the Steeleye time-warp trick is a benign and wonderful thing; a fact which communicated itself more than adequately to the audience.

Owing to time/space pressure and other varieties of mixed-up confusion, Steeleye’s set was somewhat curtailed but they wisely opted to finish their bit with a medley which Peter Knight is fond of referring to as “sum chunes”.

“Sum chunes” means a demented grab-bag of jigs and reels with an escalating accelerando, and the final breakneck whirl resulted in certain members of the Damp And Huddled Masses doing almost exactly that.

Finally, the Main Event, your friends and mine, 10cc, whose show is currently infinitely better than it’s ever been before.

They seem to be rocking out a lot less self-consciously than they used to and they don’t look so much as if they were back in Stockport with headphones clamped round their skulls messing with the Dolbies.

From the opening ‘Silly Love’ to the final booooooogiedown ‘Rubber Bullets’, they gave a fairly convincing demonstration of their credentials as one of Britain’s most consistently interesting and entertaining bands – and also proved that ‘One Night In Paris’ is a far better stage number than anyone would’ve thought when listening to the album.

Now for the bad news.

Despite all the improvements to the show in terms of feel, staging, playing, quality of live sound, etc., a 10cc is still a case of reproducing music conceived and created for/in the studio in a live situation.

It’s no coincidence that they introduce numbers with “and now we’d like to play another track from…” Despite their studio pre-eminence, 10cc will never be a great (as opposed to simply good) stage band until their performances take on an identity of their own and exist as something more than simply stagings of recorded performances.

Groups of the standing of, say, The Who or the Stones and Led Zep develop things to the point where their records and their performances don’t necessarily attempt to duplicate each other, but complement each other; and ultimately your memories of one experience colours the other; producing a far more three dimensional effect.

Even at their best 10cc make me feel I’m watching a videocassette.

Memo to the organisers of the Reading Festival: the first promoter who learns how to control weather conditions will probably end up ruling the world.

© Charles Shaar MurrayNew Musical Express, 19 July 1975

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