It’s 1980: Have your cake and eat it to. A little Visage, all of Vienna, finished off with a Mocker and just a lashing of Narc chocolate.
In reverse order, as it turns out, as Midge Ure brings back his own memories of what was for him a fantastic year in 1980, when he found himself freshly down from Glasgow, playing for Thin Lizzy, forming Visage, then being invited to join Ultravox, and work with the renowned Krautrock producer, Conny Plank. Drive a young man crazy. Or at least to drink.
But what’s really on offer on Friday night at the Powerstation, is 80’s rock defined by hemispheric contrast. It really comes home. In Europe, it was still the Cold War, the Berlin wall, Real Politick, the deterrent of MAD (mutually assured destruction). Life was being challenged by the stickiness of old decrepit politicians and the abrasiveness of new age punks. The old prog rock was now electronic prog. It was sombre, serious, combative, even when fast. Just look at Bowie (a damned fine name no matter how you pronounce it, says Midge). He’s been a Hero in Berlin, despite being Low, and his defining statement for the 80s is still Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. Hardly good for morale.
But down under, especially Australia, we have the emergence of Aussie Rock, a livelier, jauntier, confident statement endorsing how lucky we are. Sun, sea, beer and beat. Happy. It crossed the Tasman, and infected Mi-Sex, The Dudes, and others like The Mockers and the Narcs. The singular thing in common, it seems to me, were the keyboards. I noticed it the other week when The Stranglers were preceded by Mi-Sex. And we see it tonight. Keyboard charisma.
I’m not making this contrast to be judgmental, or to preface a preference. It was just different. Contrast is king. Synthesize. But Vive La Difference!!
I didn’t live in New Zealand in the 80s. I never saw the Mockers, nor the Narcs, but I did keep up with the music on my annual pilgrimages. So it was a treat to see Andy Dickson, the Narcs’ singer/songwriter/guitarist open the festivities with a brief, six song set which included two new songs along with a sampling of the old. Andy was in fine voice, and the audience were immediately in the mood with a vigorous handclap. The Narcs are still playing, with a few new members, and they recently opened for Icehouse, so this little cameo is just a teaser and we can see the real thing around and about in some near future moment.
Andy Dickson setlist:
- Summerhill Stone
- No Turning Back
- I Don’t Want To Go To Work Today
- Heart and Soul
- Diamonds on China
- Not Over (Buzz Moller song)
On come The Mockers: Brett Adams on guitar, Geoff Hayden (wearing a Marty Duda hat) on bass, Tim Wedde on ubiquitous keyboards, and ubiquitous drummer, Chris O’Connor. And what about the Great Fagan?
Oh, there he is, bemasked madman merman, self-insanitizing, trident bearing, the old madman and the sea, Hemingway might have said. Grinning like Keith Richard, off comes the mask, and into a new song, Another Casualty. And then comes the back catalogue, one after the other, and we are in 80’s nirvana. The band are in electric form, but from where I am, upfront, but upstairs, the vocals are a little muddy when Fagan gets his mouth too close. No bother, the audience are joining in, revelling in nostalgia. And Fagan is on the prowl, occasionally athletic, right hand shaking uncontrollably as we get the leer. (Thirty) Seven Years not Wasted indeed. One Black Friday, I Swear it’s True. Brett cuts loose.
As I have mentioned already, this is good time, good feeling, Australasian 80’s rock. Forever Tuesday Morning, it’s almost the weekend! Any questions?
- Another Casualty
- Seven Years Not Wasted
- Far From the Madding Crowd
- One Black Friday
- Swear It’s True
- Murder in Manners St
- Alvison Park
- Woke Up today
- My Girl Thinks She’s Cleopatra
- Shield Yourself
- Forever Tuesday Morning
Midge Ure’s band is called, not surprisingly, Electronica. That’s what 1980 was all about, and that’s what Midge is celebrating tonight. Specifically, the year he joined Ultravox and helped turn their fortunes around. It was the age of the synthesizer and it turned rock into electronica. Ultravox were halfway between Genesis and Human League, with long instrumental passages linked by poppy melodies and electronic beat. Conny Plank engineers, or rather “atmospheres”, and somewhere in the music he sees and conjures up the image of an old man playing the same tune at the piano, and just sitting there, playing for an eternity, and getting very tired…(see my interview)
And we’re off. It’s Yellow Pearl, co-written with Phil Lynott and performed originally by Thin Lizzy. Theme from Top of the Pops (not sure if that’s a good thing apart from the money). Two Visage songs, including Fade to Grey and then the next song stays instrumental for a long time and all of a sudden, we’ve reached Vienna (the album), and there we stay.
Midge Ure is immaculate in black suit and shiny pate, and his voice has stayed, if not quite so pure, strong enough to do justice to a forty-year rendering of his 27-year-old self. Except when he makes the same mistake as Fagan, and gets too close to the mic. I’m not sure if this is a sound issue or a Powerstation problem, as the sound desk down below has a new roof, and maybe that is interfering. Certainly everything sounds better when I get downstairs for the last two songs. But it’s a small distraction, and the album sounds fresh and relevant, even forty years later. Russell Field shines like Midge on drums (maybe they polish each other’s pates), Joseph O’Keefe switches between piano, keyboard and violin, and Cole Stacey plays bass and keys. Lots of keys. Lots of contrast. Compare Mr X to Computer Games and I rest my comparison case.
Of course, we are all waiting to see how he does on Vienna (the song) and I can happily report that he pulls it off, voice well away from the mic, and sounding strong if a little lower on the scale. Doesn’t matter. This is nostalgia as well as timelessness.
We all stand still as the album completes, and Midge now takes us on a mini journey through the Ultravox catalogue and one of his own. But not Hope in the Morning Light. I’ll have to wait for next time to hear that anthem of optimism upon Nelson Mandela’s release.
A fabulous night at the Powerstation.
- Yellow Pearl/Visage
- Fade to Grey
- Astradyne (Vienna)
- New Europeans
- Private Lives
- Passing Strangers
- Mr X
- Western Promise
- All Stood Still (completes the Vienna album)
- If I Was (Midge Ure song)
- Reap the Wild Wind (Quartet)
- Death in the Afternoon (Rage in Eden)
- Love’s Great Adventure (Ultravox single)
- Dancing with Tears in My Eyes (Lament)
- The Voice (Rage in Eden)
- Hymn (Quartet)
Radio 13 thanks and credits Stella Gardiner Photography for all images in this review.Please Note: The photographs in this review were taken at the Wellington show at The Opera House, Sunday 8th March