Marc Almond: Royal Festival Hall, London

BOUNCING ON for his first encore, Marc paused, adjusted his shimmering shirt and briefly addressed his kingdom. “Do you think it was a big mistake to play here?” he enquired politely.

Gutter hearts responded with a loud and rather coarse roar which could have equally passed as a yea or a nay. “Ye-es,” said Marc uncertainly, “I do too. Next time we’ll choose somewhere we can have a bit more fun.

No pretence here, then, that this had been a great gig. But then that is Marc’s style. If he has a personal crisis, it’s a crisis that must be shared and his obvious discomfort at singing about sleaze in such sophisticated surroundings clearly worried him from the outset. At one point he pleaded with the audience to get out of their seats and when they rushed to the front and attempted to fondle his ankles he squealed “That’s better… shake things about.”

Disconcerted by the unfamiliar sight of exposed hearts and bare emotion jigging around at the front of the Festival Hall, security began to get increasingly shifty about the whole affair and a little man was dispatched on stage to whisper in Marc’s ear that unless the audience stopped getting so excited the power would be switched off.

Naturally this information was instantly sneeringly relayed by chanting “We think it sucks, we think it sucks.”

All terrific fun, of course, but not really the purpose of the exercise and a worrying diversion from the point of the concert — the launch of the Marc Almond solo career. And there were clear signs that this was a NEW BEGINNING and not another shambolic indulgence like the Marc & The Mambas affairs. Annie Hogan was still running the band with some deliciously sensitive piano, but Marc was dripping with brand new material (not a single backward glance to Soft Cell and barely an acknowledgement to the Mambas) and the tête à têtes with members of the audience and lingering confessionals from the stage were kept to a minimum. It was almost a proper gig. Almost.

Oddly there were few signs of the nerves Almond insisted were riddling him and he set about his business with an unexpected sense of purpose; the show fairly galloped along. ‘The Plague’ was an early highlight, saving the occasional bum note and a slightly shoddy sound.

Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ was interpreted with a salaciousness that few could have recognised in the song in its original form, possibly not even Porter himself… but it was a rare moment of dirt. Marc’s new material is crisp, bright and determinedly poppy, even when the lyric might suggest a more desperate edge — the excellent ‘Tenderness Is Weakness’ a perfect example. The record company must have been delighted as Marc used conventional rock forms in a manner he never has before, but though they’d never admit it, his devoted gutter hearts seemed a tad disappointed at this previously unseen cleaner side to their hero.

‘You Have’ and ‘Joey Dimento’ were blazing finales — the manic edge happily restored — and a very large Marc Almond hit single is clearly not far away. But there are a lot of things to be resolved here before Marc’s solo career can take off in earnest… one of them being that Marc’s gaudy scenarios and personal confidentiality with this audience can only be effectively encapsulated in the most intimate of surroundings.

As the gutter hearts shuffled out afterwards in their blacks and their purples and their pallid faces, you sensed wariness… a confusion, perhaps, at this wholly untypical well-scrubbed entree to his new career.

© Colin IrwinMelody Maker, 15 September 1984

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