The Velvet Trail is the title of Marc Almond’s latest album and it’s a title that describes life’s journey, with all of it’s various twists and turns. The album too has it’s own twists and turns being a somewhat schizophrenic record veering from the upbeat pop of ‘Bad To Me’ to the intense and stripped back title track. Hardly surprising then that the concert at Sage, part of The Velvet Trail Tour featured many songs from the new album and thus itself was something of a mixed affair.
Almond began in upbeat mood with ‘Minotaur’ and the aforementioned ‘Bad To Me’. His demeanour was surprisingly (to me) jaunty. I’d expected a more serious and self aware performance. But Almond showed great showmanship, waving to the upper tiers and being generally demonstrative and theatrical. Indeed, for me it was all a bit much at times and felt a bit cheesy, like Liza Minelli doing Eurovision.
Five songs in we got “Variete” and a slight change in mood, still theatrical but with more of an edge, less cabaret. “These Darker Times” and “Black Heart” followed soon after and I found myself settling into the gig.
Almond then spoke of his childhood and the good times he spent on Southport’s hugely expansive beach, now redeveloped and named the velvet trail. The song of the same name recalls walks on the beach with jet fighters passing overhead possibly from the nearby famous airshow or from Lake District training manoeuvres and it’s a beautiful piece sung with real passion and in front of an evocative video projection. The mood stays somewhat introspective and powerful when my favourite song from the album “Scar” follows. It’s a bitter torch song and Almond’s voice sounds as good as ever as he delivers the lyrics with great emotion.
For me personally this turns out to be the high point of the evening, despite the end of the set and encore containing the songs I (and many others I suspect) had come to hear: “Bedsitter”, “Tainted Love” and (one of my favourite songs of the 80’s) “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”.
To the side of the stage all night there was a glitter ball suspended from a high frame. I’d expected it to be brought forward at this point and for Almond to have been left alone on the stage ‘under the deep red light’ to end the gig on an evocative high. Sadly, the glitter ball remained sidelined, the band stayed put and instead of a heart-wrenching climax featuring Almond’s (still) amazing voice we were ‘treated’ to the kind of mass sing-a-long that I despise. I know that many do not share my view but I’m writing this review so you’ll have to hear me out. I don’t go to concerts to hear 500 semi drunk Geordie revellers sing my favourite songs; if I wanted that I could go to St James’ Park (OK maybe not these days but you understand my point). I desperately wanted to hear MARC ALMOND sing Say Hello, Wave Goodbye. Instead I heard him sing alternate lines in a call/response with Andy Capp and Flo.
So, an interesting gig rather than a thoroughly enjoyable one. Others will disagree.
Reviewer and Photographer: Russell Poad