Pocklington, Arts Centre - Saturday, 16th November 2002
by Geoff Styche
"From Ray's magical crescendos, through Rod's dreamlike mandolin to the song's final strains, it would have been easy to close one's eyes and imagine that this rich, full sound was in fact coming from a studio recording, rather than five live blokes"
īThe atrocious driving conditions we had experienced on our way up from the Midlands (including one particularly spectacular aquaplaning adventure!) were all but forgotten the moment Sue and I arrived in the delightful little town of Pocklington. Finding parking space almost exactly opposite Pocklington Civic Arts Centre, at Oak House, was a bonus.
As we were about to enter the foyer of the building, we met Billy coming out to take a last minute stroll around town before the gig. Inside, the Centre staff were friendly and welcoming and a good atmosphere was beginning to build up in the well-organised and efficiently-run bar. The auditorium itself seats just short of 200 people in steeply raked rows, so this was going to be an intimate evening. For reasons explained further on I found myself separated from Sue in the audience: she had a centre front row seat and I was high up on the back row, to stage right (i.e. on the left-hand side of the theatre). I noticed that, missing from behind us, was Prof. Sparks and we were to learn later that, because of space restrictions, the soundboard was being operated from behind the curtains, stage left - which couldn't have been easy.
The audience was composed of a reasonable balance of gender and there was a fair age range present, though those of us who left our thirties behind some time ago easily comprised the majority, which is perhaps why some of them were a little slow in taking their seats.
Consequently the lights dimmed a few minutes after the advertised time of 8.00 p.m. and the lads took the stage to enthusiastic applause. ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS is a strong opener and the audience were soon tapping their feet, John Allett style. At Kettering, on the first night of this run, Billy's banjo had made an appearance on 'WHEN JONES GETS BACK TO TOWN' but there was no sign of it tonight as he reverted to playing mandolin. Straight in after that to the outstanding THIS TOO WILL PASS from Dave, which was very well received.
A little bit of chat now from Billy, whose more relaxed demeanour indicated that all pre-gig tensions had now been released. Introducing a splendid rendition of LADY ELEANOR, he suggested that anyone present who didn't know the song must be at the wrong gig. From where I sat, it was difficult to believe that this song was indeed being played live - and I could see that a spellbound audience felt the same. From Ray's magical crescendos, through Rod's dreamlike mandolin to the song's final strains, it would have been easy to close one's eyes and imagine that this rich, full sound was in fact coming from a studio recording, rather than five live blokes.
Time now for Ian's UNDER THE PROMENADE, expertly interpreted by Dave and followed by Billy's convoluted explanation of how it is almost - but not quite - the title song of the CD. After a cruel preamble about his own domestic relationship, Billy gave us the plaintiff CAN'T DO RIGHT FOR DOING WRONG with a voice as clear as crystal. Rod took the mike next, for FREEDOM SQUARE, having first taken time to explain the origins of the song to us. This was followed by a slightly rearranged GHOST IN BLUE SUEDE SHOES, with Billy stretching the hook just a little on the word "shoes" and he and Dave providing some extra vocal filling over Rod's guitar solo.
And then - as if this band hadn't already demonstrated the breadth of its musical repertoire and versatility this evening - along came Billy's outstanding performance of Mr Hull's almost avant-garde BREAKFAST, a song so rarely given an outing and one which, as Billy rightly said, deserved to be played. More familiar territory for the audience next with the obligatory MEET ME ON THE CORNER, followed by Billy's BORN AT THE RIGHT TIME.The lads blasted out of the first set with Dave cramming so much venom and rage into a cracking STATUES AND LIBERTIES that he found it impossible to stand still, stamping angrily around the stage as he sang and played.
I could see, from where I was sitting, that - despite having been a little less than over-animated - the audience had now been left somewhat stunned.
At the interval Sue insisted that she and I should trade seats (she did, honestly!), so that I could sit down at the front and she could take over my perch in the gods. Having succumbed to her insistence, I immediately understood why she had wanted me to experience the band from this viewpoint. The front row was barely 4 or 5 feet from the mikes and foldbacks - and on the same level, so that you had the impression of actually being onstage with the band. Obviously, the sound mix you get at such close proximity is not the full, balanced and rounded sound you hear from further away - but I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world!
Especially when the lads came back on! Rod revved up and then they launched into an exquisite UNMARKED CAR. With that wonderful opening riff, created by Dave and so expertly interpreted by Rod, this song has to be one of my favourites among the newer material (and I know for a fact that it was this number alone that sold at least one copy of 'Here Comes the
Neighbourhood' on the night, to a hitherto unsuspecting member of the audience). Rod's solo towards the coda was transcendental and had to be seen and heard to be believed.
A welcome return to the set of THIS GUITAR NEVER LIES (it had been substituted by 'Sadsong' at Kettering) provided a most apposite follow-on from 'Unmarked Car'. The other lads then departed, leaving the spotlights on Dave and Ian for their haunting working of WINTER SONG. Ian says that playing these gigs is "easy" for him; I only wish I could find playing any instrument as expertly as he handles his bass quite so "easy"!
Came there next a fine delivery of LOG ON YOUR FIRE from Billy, preceding the inevitable FOG ON THE TYNE, complete with cowbells (I think), most competently applied at the appropriate moment, by Sparks, from the wings. Introducing the next number, Billy talked about places for "smoking joints" and "drinking wine", which I can only take to have been references to the inflammation that accompanies the arthriticky old joints with which some of us are afflicted and the imbibing of the occasional glass of Sanatogen to which a few of us may be partial. Whatever, a splendid rendition of JUBILEE CORNER followed.
Rod then took on the mantle of front man again to give us an updated and wholly topical SIGNIFICANT OTHER, drawing titters from the audience that were echoed by the man himself at the end of the song. A storming ROAD TO KINGDOM COME shattered the peace next, followed by an equally strong UNFINISHED BUSINESS. The crescendo continued to rise with Billy's deafening ROCK 'N' ROLL PHONE and reached its zenith on the finale number, DEVIL OF THE NORTH, with Rod making a special reference to 'an absent friend'.
Much appreciation abounded from the audience, many of whom - it was obvious - had begun the evening not knowing what to expect. The lads came back on for an encore, RUN FOR HOME, which never quite generated the audience participation it deserved. Nevertheless, there was no doubting their enthusiasm for a band that had given them a first class evening's entertainment: the applause was both sincere and long-lasting.
Having seen the band perform at Kettering on Friday, 9th, Sue and I had been very keen to take in another gig if at all possible. However, by the time we realised we'd be able to make it to Pocklington, all seats had been sold. Then Julie Franks told us that Tim had received the gut-wrenching news that he would have to work on the night of the concert and that he had been kind enough to offer us his front row ticket. Naturally, we snapped up the offer and Tim even had the good grace to provide us with very detailed travel directions to the venue.
I decided to make the gallant gesture of letting Sue have the ticket and so content myself with listening to any residual sound from the comfort of the bar. By the time we arrived at Oak House though, we discovered that Julie had already 'put the arm' on the venue manager to pass on to us any cancelled ticket. (Unknown to us at the time, Julie had a certain degree of clout
because it had been she who had put the venue in touch with Ray to book the band in the first place!). In the event, and most fortunately for me, a cancelled ticket did come my way and thus Sue and I were, by taking turns, able to enjoy the front row company of Edwina, Martyn and Julie (and indeed Peter, later, in the bar).
Apparently, Tim had been somewhat sullen as Julie had left home for the gig and we all felt very sorry for him, having had to miss such a tremendous concert. Accordingly we hatched the idea of asking Rod, after the gig, if he would be kind enough to surprise Tim by 'phoning him at his office. Rod agreed and Julie dialed up Tim's office number on her mobile, handing it to
Rod as soon as it had begun to ring. The conversation at our end went something like this: "Hi Tim, this is Rod. Rod Clements - calling from the gig. Just wanted you to know that you didn't miss much - it was a lousy gig - dead." We thought this would at least give Tim a bit of a laugh - until Rod said, "Oh, I see. Right." and handed the mobile back to Julie, explaining that the person on the other end of the line hadn't been Tim at all. Poor Tim had been out of the office.
Talk about twisting the knife! Imagine the misery of that. First of all you're prevented, at short notice, from attending a concert you've really been looking forward to. Then, you return to your office during the evening to be told by a colleague that a Rod Clements had been on the 'phone for you while you were out! I'm sure you have all our sincerest commiserations, Tim.