The evening started with Nicole Allan and Alice Reay who were billed as Fairy Down but reiterated several times during their set that they were actually called Running with the Fairies. I don’t know the reason for the name change but personally I prefer the latter....
It’s great to encourage new talent and provide opportunity to hone performance skills so I find it difficult to be critical of an act at the early stages of their career. They’re a folksy sounding, harmony driven duo with very pleasant voices who pen their own work. They delivered 6 or 7 competent tracks ahead of Ian McCulloch taking the stage. Between tracks they made attempts to establish a light hearted rapport with the audience, interacting in a quirky kind of stilted humorous style, finishing with an accomplished cover of ‘Fleetwood Mac’s – The Chain’.
Self confessed as “poor” they directed the audience to their online presence on “FaceAche, Instagram and Twatter” where they’re pictured industriously hand making their own EP covers (which I found endearing). They genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves while performing which is always a positive. They voiced their gratitude for the opportunity to support Ian McCulloch describing it as “probably the best thing that’s ever happened to us”. I wish them well with their future and would encourage them to keep writing and keep performing.
I have to declare a conscious bias and confess from the off that I find it difficult to be objective about Ian McCulloch. I’ve been in love with his voice for 36 years. In 1980 as a thirteen year old coming to terms with the death of my father I was finding the world a tough place; enter the voice of Ian McCulloch, lifting, transporting and providing an introduction to an appreciation of an ‘alternative 80s’ sound – music I could relate to (and a welcome alternative to much of the dross in the charts at the time). His voice has been with me ever since and has been a constant companion throughout the emotional highs and lows that life can throw your way. I’ve seen the Bunnymen several times over the years but a rare chance to experience an up close and personal, more intimate solo acoustic set was too good to miss. A ‘Sold Out’ show.
Ian took to the stage with a growl at the lighting/sound desk, making clear he was the architect of the night’s performance; in control of the way things were going to be. It’s sad that given the average age of the audience he had to adopt a similar strategy to teach acceptable audience behaviour but he did so with his own brand of style, wit and dry humour. I had a quiet internal cheer when he made it clear to someone in the front row that he was sharing his soul; “emoting” and it wasn’t acceptable to have a chat with your mate in the middle of it. I haven’t been so pleased since I witnessed Fish threaten to fill someone in and eject them from the theatre himself during an acoustic set at Tavistock Wharf. Perhaps I’m getting old and grumpy but people never cease to amaze me with their level of disrespect to the stage at acoustic gigs. I don’t get what’s so different to what would be the expected norm for a theatre performance. Anyway, rant over! Yay Ian!
There was no copy of a set list to be had. The evening unfolded with a series of seemingly impromptu performances. It was like sitting in your front room with Ian strumming on his guitar deciding what to play as the mood took him. I noted the following (but forgive me if I’ve missed anything – it was hard to keep remembering to take notes as I drifted away to the inimitable rasp and tone of Ian’s voice).
1. Rescue (Crocodiles)
2. Villiers Terrace (Crocodiles)
3. Proud to Fall (Candleland)
4. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo (eponymous Echo & The Bunnymen)
5. Bring on the Dancing Horses (Songs to Learn and Sing)
6. Zimbo (Heaven Up Here)
7. The Game (Echo & The Bunnymen)
8. Angels and Devils (Ocean rain)
9. Waiting for the Man (Lou Reed cover)
10. Candleland (Candleland)
11. Seven Seas (Ocean Rain)
12. Nothing Lasts Forever (Evergreen)
13. Killing Moon (Ocean Rain)
14. Rust (What are you going to do with your life)
15. Lips like Sugar (Echo & The Bunnymen)
All tracks were interspersed with jokes and anecdotes (I wandered at times if there was a language barrier or if he’d just done such a good job of shutting some people up that they were afraid to laugh too loud). Such is my adoration I’m willing to forgive a dig at Man Utd during his football waffle and would heartily agree with a vote for a few more cheerful Managers in the Premier League.
Testament to Ian’s poetic ability I was laughing at flippant jokes and quips one minute and moved to tears by heart rending lyrics the next. As a solo performance with just acoustic guitar in hand the quality of his craft shone through. Stripped to basics there were elements of tracks that grabbed me as if I was hearing them for the first time yet all maintained the integrity of the more familiar version.
The encore shout was extended as apparently Ian struggled to find a lighter to grab a couple of puffs of a “quick ciggie” before returning to the stage to finish the evening off with the final 3 tracks. It all went far too quickly for me. I could have sat there all night. Thanks Ian for a time I’m glad I didn’t miss!
A shame we couldn’t do better for him than a “shed of a dressing room” and giving him a settee with just one arm (and no, it WASN'T a Chaise Longue....)
Review by Cheryl Williams