A curious gig this one, Echo & the Bunnymen’s frontman Ian McCulloch playing an acoustic solo set in very low lighting (at his request) to a seated audience, with support from duo Fairy Down (now renamed Running With Fairies) who were great but a real surprise choice for an Ian McCulloch gig … a nice surprise though.
The auditorium was all-seater for the first of Ian McCulloch’s two nights in Norwich, both of them sold out some time ago. Gentle music was being played before the live music started and looking around the room I must have been slap bang the average age although I barely recognised a soul and felt oddly out of place. However, when Nicole and Alice of Running With Fairies came onstage and started playing I was immediately taken with their sound and drawn into their world. Both taking turns on guitar, and indeed lead vocals, I just loved the harmonies and the richness of their voices. Something very country blues about their sound. These two girls certainly charmed the audience and I was happy to seek them out afterwards to pick up a copy of their freshly (hand)made EP. It was nice to chat with them, they are lovely and incredibly humble and seemed to love Norwich. I think that was mutual. Their updated tour photo now shows them posing outside Soundclash and they planned to spend the following day busking in the city.
Running With Fairies (formerly Fairy Down) will win a lot of new fans through this tour … I am one of them.
Somewhere around 9:15 Ian McCulloch cheerfully took to the stage in his trademark shades, sat down at his “uncomfortable” chair and picked up his acoustic guitar and proceeded to chat with the audience who welcomed him very warmly. On the table beside him was a bottle of water, two mugs, one with cold tea and the other apparently with brandy. I was pleasantly surprised by how chatty, witty and engaging he was, Mac was also happy to oblige playing the classics as well as some of my personal favourites from Crocodiles, it was amazing to hear Villiers Terrace so early in the set. He also seemed happy to field questions about previous Norwich gigs – always classics apparently, so much so that The Bunnymen referred amongst themselves their best gigs as “A Norwich”. I was at their UEA 1983 gig of which he spoke, one of my early ones and still one of the most memorable.
As ever, far from shy he was teasing, witty, and it would appear rather enjoying himself. Teasing the audience for being a little shy got the required singalong response, to which he said mid-song “Ah, singing angels!”
His voice is holding up really well – especially if he has a cold which the box of tissues on the table suggested – and besides the Crocodiles songs I think the impressive highlight was Angels and Devils which was superb. I was not quite sure what to expect from this gig but it certainly wasn’t impressions of Robert Mugabe or limericks from the singer of Echo and the Bunnymen! This part of the evening was plain weird, and just a little awkward. The low lighting he asked for seemed entirely appropriate for the atmosphere and mystique but I found myself wishing for more mystery after the limericks section. Still, it was a nice surprise that he was so chatty and witty in other parts and lovely though it was to hear these songs live overall I found myself yearning to hear the full Bunnymen band again, this being an all-seated affair with the audience very gently and politely singing along just felt slightly surreal to me having grown up with the band soundtracking my younger years, I suppose I am just more used to the full on gig experience I associate him with. With apparent instructions that all the audience should be seated I think the experience was just a bit too … well, formal. Still, the songs were great and as for the question of the Bunnymen playing here again, it could happen, someone asked about the possibility of them playing Norwich and he seemed keen. The band is essentially a duo these days but they continue to make music I adore and in my opinion Ian has one of the best voices ever and there is some great songwriting.
Interesting gig tonight and I am still not quite sure what to make of it all but I guess that the clue was in the title and this was not so much a gig but an evening with Ian McCulloch and he was keen to engage with the audience. The Velvets cover got the biggest cheer of the night but for me it was Villiers Terrace and Angels & Devils. A fine evening with a true music legend, while some of the conversational stuff between songs I enjoyed immensely, the limericks and impressions were not so much my cup of tea and that is OK. Maybe that’s why there were two cups.
Charismatic and with his justified and famous self confidence he entertained for a good 90 minutes or so and the audience looked delighted throughout. He had people laughing, smiling and singing. So long as he doesn’t release an album of limericks I think his musical legend status is assured, certainly in my book.
Interestingly, there was no merch stall nor new album to promote which suggests Ian was touring for the simple reason of playing his songs to an audience. Good on him.
Many thanks to NAC.
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