The waiter in Pizza Express said to me, "are you going to the concert"
I replied, "yes"
Then he paused and said, "which one: Marc Almond or Courtney Love?"
It seemed two divas were performing in Shepherd's Bush last night.
As it happens, it was my great privilege to attend the 50th birthday concert of the first artist he mentioned, Marc Almond. In retrospect, attending at all feels a little bit cheeky, as I have been but the most incidental of fans of his over the years. It was only because I liked his most recent album, Stardom Road, that I thought it would be fun to go along and hear those songs sung live. I hadn't appreciated when I bought the tickets the subtlety of the date in question, that emerged later. But am I glad I went.
It's clear to me now that Marc Almond is one of those artists, perhaps (one imagines) like Eartha Kitt or Liza Minnelli, whose world is one of smeared greasepaint and descending curtains: a vivid, over-the-top camp that is taken almost to the level of artform itself in the wild extravagance of performance. But while camp can be phoney, last night's concert was never anything less than totally heartfelt. In fact, at times, it was incredibly emotional. As the crowd sang him Happy Birthday, Marc was overcome to the extent that he had to pause before he could continue. It felt like something beyond a mere concert at these moments, more of a celebration of his life, and survival.
The crowd was a Curate's egg. I was imagining a very gay leathery (clad) crowd, probably of Marc's vintage, and they were certainly there, but there were many more women than I had anticipated. Perhaps from the era where the term Fag Hag was invented? I was standing on the ground floor of the Empire, which after my Pet Shop Boys experience in May is my new favourite way to see a concert. It's one thing if you don't want to dance at a concert, but sitting down, there is always the worry of disturbing the person in the seat behind. Being part of the throng, one is uninhibited. Standing among the fans around me last night, the passion and enjoyment factor last night of those around me was huge. It was a special feeling.
Having listened to the new album a great deal, I felt those songs really stood up in relation to the likes of Jacky, What makes a man a man, The days of Pearly Spencer or, of course, Tainted love and the brilliance of Say hello, wave goodbye. The latter in theory closed the show, but unexpectedly he finished with The curtain falls. Equally, he began with I have lived, and this bookending (the same as on the album) worked incredibly well. The one new song on Stardom Road, Redeem me, was also wonderful, though didn't get the reception that I thought it deserved. Had these die-hard fans not bought the new record? Who knows, but if the inverse was true and I didn't know some of the older songs, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of them.
In fact, all the music was never anything less than anthemic. No duds, no filler. Even when he sang Russian folksongs, it was totally engaging. That said, there were highights, and for me, one pinnacle. That was a song from his 'Tenement Symphony' album called My hand over my heart. Flush with a zillion Trevor Horn flourishes and drowned in strings, this brilliant song had everyone in the entire building chanting along. Hairs stood up at the back of my neck as he soared into the final verse. It was utterly transcending. I'm almost lost for superlatives. It was hands-down the best live musical moment for me of the year, and if you take a look at the Concert Marathon sidebar on this page, I haven't exactly been slouching on that front over the last six months. This moment, combined with the occasion, stole them all.
Marc Almond Mr Sad/What makes a man a man (Live at the Manchester Ritz)