New 10cc: City Hall, Newcastle

10CC WERE excellent. This is news? No, though in my experience they have never been the apostles of mechanical perfection sneered at by some critics. In fact one of their finest moments was in this same City Hall when the sound man fouled up and ran the tape for ‘I’m Not In Love’ just as they were beginning ‘Un Nuit A Paris’: In a gesture of splendid surrender to the gods they all laid down flat on their backs on stage and got one of those sustained laughs Jack Benny used to hold just by staring fixedly at one of his incompetent stooges.

But the reminiscence leads to speculation. Basically, despite the hit singles and album, the new 10cc has a tough row to hoe, along which a highly polished sequence of tour performances is only the first step.

I don’t think the details of the concert are the whole deal in this case. For the most part they’d deployed a superbly engineered sound to present the songs very much as on record. It was admirable and the audience got off on it with a will meeting the challenge of a set built round Deceptive Bends (eight songs and only ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ from Sheet Music).

I like a lot of the new songs but I know I didn’t respond so well to the aching loss of ‘Somewhere in Hollywood’, ‘Old Wild Men’, ‘Un Nuit A Paris’ and ‘Don’t Hang Up. I accept Graham Gouldman’s explanation as right, proper, and in fact the only approach with a future.

He said simply: “It would be cheating to do the numbers Lol and Kevin sang leads on” – which tend to be the ones they had the major hand in writing of course.

But to me on the night there was no way round the feeling that something was missing, some spark of on-stage personality, some level of emotional depth in the music (which always has been there before, either in hard irony or a sense of the melancholy beauty of failure). However this is not an agonised ‘end-of-the-road-for-10cc’, piece. In the circumstances the show was brilliant and shouldn’t lose them a single fan.

The circumstances: the six piece has been playing together for about a month. Rehearsing diligently as you would expect they have reached that peak of tightness where they do pretty much everything right for an hour and a half. There’s a further stage to come. I’m not insisting they should make mistakes to prove they’re human or any such absurdity but they do need to loosen up and grow into a new musical identity, become the sum of their parts as the old line-up had done so fruitfully.

At the moment of course Tony O’Malley (keyboards), Rick Fenn (guitar) and Stuart Tosh (drums) are to a large degree hamstrung by playing an entire set of material they had no involvement in recording. So some of Rick’s lead breaks sound like rather uncertain imitations of Eric Stewart’s distinctively precise and metallic tones. Tony, a great bear of a blue eyed soulster with Kokomo, has to concern himself mainly with the parts written cleverly but with the far more limited keyboard skills of Eric, Lol and Graham.

Still the potential is there and has every chance to emerge over the next year in concert and then in the studio. Tony was starting to show the scope when he took the lead vocal on ‘Art for Arts Sake’, played a luscious gospel intro to a new arrangement of ‘Ships Don’t Disappear (Do They?)’ and slipped some licks into the hot shit new one ‘Modern Man Blues’ that Richard Tee would have been proud of.

At the end the six lined up, arms round shoulders, took their bow together. Next time round they won’t just be a bunch of songs, they’ll be a band.

© Phil SutcliffeSounds, 11 June 1977

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